Jim Jones: Diminished Clout?

Where has Jim Jones been? As the White House navigated its response to the Iran crisis, President Obama's national-security adviser was nowhere to be seen. In fact, Jones was out of the country dealing with another thorny issue on Obama's plate: the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. An administration official, who didn't want to be named discussing internal logistics, tells NEWSWEEK the trip had been in the works long before the surge of violence in Iran—and that Obama understood its importance and had encouraged Jones to not reschedule.

But Jones's absence at the height of what has been Obama's biggest foreign-policy crisis led to additional speculation about his clout. Some have suggested the former general hasn't been a good fit in Obamaland, a PR problem fueled, in part, by Jones himself. He has been perhaps the least--visible national-security adviser in more than a decade. While Condi Rice and Sandy Berger were highly interactive with the press and enjoyed close relationships with their bosses, Jones has ceded that ground largely to deputies Mark Lippert and Denis McDonough. Both campaign veterans, they're tight with Obama and are often with him during foreign trips and meetings with top leaders. "They are the gatekeepers," says one member of Congress who deals frequently with the White House on foreign-policy issues and who didn't want to be named discussing variations on the typical White House power dynamic (where Jones would be point man). Jones's No. 2, Tom -Donilon, has also been doing heavy lifting.

Jones's defenders say he's given his deputies more power so he can oversee the big picture. Months ago, Jones announced plans to restructure the National Security Council, eliminating "back channels" of influence so the president could get information more efficiently. Jones said he'd be the main conduit. That hasn't happened—in part because Obama thrives on varied perspectives.

There are more complaints: other -national-security officials, who don't want to be named publicizing turf battles, say a fight between the CIA and the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, about how much power the DNI has to name chief U.S. intelligence representatives overseas was brought to Jones's attention a few weeks ago. They're frustrated that he has not sorted it out yet (an NSC spokesman declined to comment).