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Obama Dispatches Donilon to Israel

As the confrontation with a defiant Iran over its nuclear program grows, President Obama is sending National Security Adviser Tom Donilon to Israel for consultations.

The United States and its allies have in recent weeks ratcheted up sanctions against Iran, but so far with no noticeable effect on slowing the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Donilon’s visit follows a trip by the chief of Israel’s spy agency Mossad to Washington earlier this month, reportedly to talk about the possibility of bombing Iran. Obama and Netanyahu spoke by phone January 12.

From the White House:

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will travel to Israel from February 18-20 for consultations with senior Israeli officials about a range of issues, including Iran, Syria, and other regional security issues. National Security Advisor Donilon’s travel is the latest in a series of regular, high-level consultations between the United States and Israel, consistent with our strong bilateral partnership, and part of our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Daily Telegraph is reporting that senior Obama administration officials have determined that sanctions are unlikely to force Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Officials in key parts of the Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear programme, and believe that the US will be left with no option but to launch an attack on Iran or watch Israel do so.

But there is a strong current of opinion within the administration – including in the Pentagon and the state department – that believes sanctions are doomed to fail, and that their principal use now is in delaying Israeli military action, as well as reassuring Europe that an attack will only come after other means have been tested.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Israel in October, and CIA Director David Petraeus is reportedly in regular contact with senior Israeli officials.

Obama and His Very own Fat Cat Bankers

President Obama is well known for disparaging big wheel bankers, labeling them “fat cats” and describing their pay as “obscene.” But what is less well known is the extent to which he has tolerated them as his most trusted advisers.

The appointment last month of William Daley to be chief of staff is only the most obvious example of this inconsistency. OK, hypocrisy. Sorry, inconsistency.

Daley, as has been (somewhat) widely reported, deep pocketed more that $15 million in bonuses, salary and pensions last year for what must have been some outstanding work for JP Morgan.

But Daley’s predecessor in the job, Rahm Emanuel, also made “obscene” sums as a banker, though it took him a bit longer than Daley. Between the time he resigned in 1998 as a senior adviser to President Clinton and his election to Congress in 2002, Emanuel made $16.2 million as an investment banker in Chicago.

Obama and William Daley
Obama applauds Daley for making $15 million in one year. Photo by Keith Koffler

OMB Director Jack Lew also tried his hand at banking, making about $2 million working for two years at Citigroup, including $1.1 million in compensation for his work in 2007 and a nearly $1 million bonus covering his duties in 2008. He took the bonus just before going to work at the Obama State Department, where he hung out until becoming OMB director.

One of Lew’s jobs at the bank was to head up a Citigroup hedge fund unit that profited from the financial crisis by investing in a firm that bet on the housing market to collapse. Very helpful.

Lew’s predecessor, Peter Orszag, joined Citgroup as Vice Chairman of Global Banking after leaving OMB last summer.

And then there’s National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, who has profited handsomely by helping out fat cat bankers.

He lobbied from 1999-2005 for Fannie Mae, trying to keep regulators at bay while Fannie Mae self-destructed amid accounting irregularities and loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

After leaving Fannie Mae, he went on to carry water for some top investment bankers. According to a Wall Street Journal article on some of the Obamaites 2008 earnings:

Donilon earned $3.9 million as a partner at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where his clients include Citigroup, Inc., Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Obama fundraiser and heiress Penny Pritzker.

Ironically, the man perhaps most often cited as one of Obama’s banker, Treasury Secretary Time Geithner – often said to have worked for Goldman Sachs – has in fact never been a banker, and has spent a lifetime in public service.

The Obama Experience Gap

One of the scarier things about the unfolding events in Egypt and throughout the Middle East is that the people in charge of dealing with it in the United States, though they are impressive characters, lack vital experience.

The Egypt crisis demands people with broad experience in foreign affairs who understand how to manage the transition in Egypt and changes in the rest of the Arab world without allowing Islamists to seize power.

But we elected a man who – whatever one thinks of his policies and personal capabilities – had no relevant experience on his resume for assuming the role of president.

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Clinton and Obama hold a formal picnic to discuss the situation in Egypt.

He appointed a secretary of state whose central foreign policy qualification was dodging fictitious Serb sniper bullets. OK, there’s more than that. But Hillary Clinton was made secretary of state because of her personality and stature, and for political reasons, not because of some wide-ranging knowledge she has of foreign policy.

Clinton taunted President Obama during the campaign with the famous commercial suggesting Americans would surely want her instead of him answering the “3 am phone call” revealing a sudden world crisis. But in fact, though she had been visible in the public eye longer than him, she as a junior senator was little more qualified to get the than he to get the phone.

Actually, Bill Clinton would have been far more qualified and, at 3 am, likely to be awake anyway.

The White House national security adviser, Tom Donillon, had relatively little experience in foreign affairs before becoming deputy national security adviser and then getting the top job under Obama. He is a veteran political hack who also worked for a few years in the Clinton state department, rising to become Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s chief of staff. But he spent the decade before joining Obama’s administration amassing a fortune as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae and then several of the fat cat bankers Obama enjoys pummeling.

Talleyrand and Kissinger these people are not.

We are not a nation run by “experts,” and that is by design. The criterion for power in the United States is votes, not wisdom. But it’s safe to say the Founding Fathers, who initially said only landowners should vote, believed some solid base of knowledge would have accrued to the president and his advisers before they assumed power.

POLITICO Details Donilon’s Fannie Mae Years

POLITICO has a good rundown on newly installed National Security Adviser Tom Donilon’s career, with a detailed examination of his time as a lobbyist for Fannie Mae.

From the story:

One part of Donilon’s résumé that went unmentioned in the Rose Garden Friday — the six years he spent as a top executive of Fannie Mae at the height of the housing boom — made him a problematic choice for any Obama administration job that requires Senate confirmation.

Donilon left the firm as it was mired in an accounting scandal in 2005, three years before Fannie Mae’s spectacular collapse when the mortgage market imploded in 2008. Investigators never accused Donilon of wrongdoing in the accounting scandal, but Fannie ultimately paid $400 million to the federal government to settle charges that the company misstated its earnings from 1998 to 2004. The government sued three top Fannie Mae executives to recover millions in bonuses based on the allegedly falsified reports, but Donilon was not among them.

A former official who led one of the main investigations into Fannie Mae said Friday that Donilon didn’t play a role in the misstatements but tried to pressure lawmakers to derail the probe.

“He was in charge of the lobbyists. … That process involved using the Hill to rein in the regulators,” said Stephen Blumenthal, former acting director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. “That was always Fannie Mae’s approach. And there’s no question that Congress played a major role in enabling Fannie Mae to escape regulation and avoid increasing their capital, which is what eventually killed the company.”

“I don’t think he was part of the problem, but he wasn’t part of the solution,” Blumenthal said. “Mr. Donilon was not a target of the investigation. … Was he an enabler? Absolutely.”

A 2006 report on the federal “special examination of Fannie Mae” is replete with references to Donilon, who worked at the firm from 1999 to April 2005, first as senior vice president and general counsel, and later as executive vice president for law and policy. The report quotes from a 2004 Donilon e-mail plotting efforts to resist federal regulators’ attempts to force changes in Fannie Mae’s executive structure.

“Do you have any sense of the basis on which the agency believes that it has the authority to mandate practices in this area, hard to believe they have a safety and soundness rationale. … We should speed up our work on the interaction between bank regulators and the SEC … Should we start working with the BRT [the Business Roundtable], Chamber [of Commerce], ABA [American Bankers Association] etc now?” Donilon wrote to a colleague.

The report also describes Donilon as part of a group of Fannie Mae execs who exchanged “scripts” in advance of meetings of Fannie Mae’s nominally independent compensation committee.

Of course, even absent the accounting scandal, any involvement with Fannie Mae is politically precarious for a simpler reason: The firm became insolvent in September 2008 and was taken over by federal regulators. Since that time, the federal government has pumped at least $145 billion into Fannie Mae and cohort Freddie Mac. According to independent estimates, long-term costs of bailing out the two firms could range from $389 billion to $1 trillion, depending on how the real estate market fares.

Tom Donilon, The Four Million Dollar Man

President Obama today announced that National Security Adviser James L. Jones, disliked in Obama circles, is leaving earlier than expected, to be replaced by his deputy Tom Donilon, who is liked in Obama circles.

Well, he didn’t announce it exactly like that, but that’s what’s happening.

Some may find this comforting. It was nice back in the Seventies when the United States was protected by none other than the Six Million Dollar Man. In Donilon, Obama has something almost as good: The Four Million Dollar Man.

Chinese President Hu Jintao congratulates Tom Donilon on making $325,000 a month in 2008

Because that’s what he earned in 2008. It’s time to start spreading the wealth around, for goodness sakes.

Donilon has been steadily accumulating wealth for years. He lobbied from 1999-2005 for Fannie Mae, trying to keep regulators at bay while Fannie Mae self-destructed amid accounting irregularities and loans to people who couldn’t afford them, driving the housing market and the economy off a cliff and into a ravine so deep that NO ONE CAN FIND THEM.

Having done his share to wreck the economy, Donilon went on to assist some of the financial fat cats Obama is always complaining about. From an April 5, 2009 Wall Street Journal article on some of the Obamaites 2008 earnings.

Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon earned $3.9 million as a partner at the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where his clients include Citigroup, Inc., Goldman, Sachs & Co., and Obama fundraiser and heiress Penny Pritzker.

Four million bucks in one year. Where’s the Hope and Change? NO HOPE!

I’ll bet Donilon can afford a flat screen TV.

Donilon has been trying to seize power for years, and now he’s finally got it. In his pursuit of power, he’s worked for the following people: Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Joseph Biden, and Barack Obama. Pretty good pickings.

He’s basically a good political operative who works very hard, and Obama likes him.

But, where’s the change? NO CHANGE! Come on! This guy’s a bigger insider than Henry Kissinger, without, so far as I can tell, much experience in national security before joining the Obama White House. He rose to become former Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s chief of staff in the 1990s, but does this qualify for him for his current position?

Oh, and the brass doesn’t seem to respect him. According to Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars,” Defense Secretary Gates thought he would be a “disaster” as National Security Adviser.

It’s OK that the nation’s foreign policy is being run by a Secretary of State without foreign policy experience and a National Security adviser without a long history of national security experience. I DON’T MIND AT ALL!!!!

I do mind.

A good rundown of Donilon’s bio – and those of the other members of the Donilon Washington clan –  can be found on the Washington Post’s Who Runs Gov.