It’s a Washington truism that every White House likes Cabinet consensus and hates dissent. But that’s especially so with Obama’s team, which has centralized national security policy to an unusual extent. This starts with national security adviser Tom Donilon, who runs what his fans and critics agree is a “tight process” at the National Security Council. Donilon was said to have been peeved, for example, when a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff insisted on delivering a dissenting view to the president.
This centralizing ethos will be bolstered by White House team headed by Denis McDonough, the new chief of staff, who’s close to Obama in age and temperament. Tony Blinken, who was Vice President Biden’s top aide, has replaced McDonough as NSC deputy director, and State Department wunderkind Jacob Sullivan, who was Clinton’s most influential adviser, is expected to replace Blinken. That’s lot of intellectual firepower for enforcing a top-down consensus.
The real driver, obviously, will be Obama, and he has assembled a team with some common understandings. They share his commitment to ending the war in Afghanistan and avoiding new foreign military interventions, as well as his corresponding belief in diplomatic engagement. None has much experience managing large bureaucracies. They have independent views, to be sure, but they owe an abiding loyalty to Obama.