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White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mona Sutphen Has a World of Experience

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Sutphen chose Obama, and had some explaining to do, less to her husband than to Berger.

"I told him you get what you put into this, and I always complain that there are no compelling people in public policy, and Obama is," Sutphen recalled. "And I didn't think he had much of a chance to win."

Lake and Susan Rice, now the U.N. ambassador, brought her onto the foreign policy "core group" of the campaign. She worked with Jeffrey Bader, now at the National Security Council, on China, Japan, the Koreas and other East Asian issues.

In her writing, she has identified two of those countries -- China and Japan -- as "pivotal powers" whose success should not be seen as a threat to the United States but as a benefit to its economic and security interests. Last year, a few months before the slowing economy blossomed into crisis, she wrote, with Hachigian, that a borderless "new world" is "shaped most by technology, not ideology."

"The ideology rivalry is a sideshow," the two wrote. "Pivotal powers want to get ahead. The almighty dollar -- or ruble or euro -- is their ideology."

As the global economy slows, Sutphen said recently, "we will be getting more ideological debate in the world, just as we are at home. . . . But the kind of Cold War-esque notion of should there or shouldn't there be private property, or should the state run everything, those ideological debates are not for this generation."

After Obama's election, Sutphen worked on the transition and was tapped for her current post, where she coordinates the various policy councils to make sure "what we believe a policy is, what we think its intention is, stays consistent as it moves through the process." She acknowledges being "something of a fresh face" among the group of senior advisers who have known the president for years, including through the highs and lows of an initially quixotic campaign.

But her previous White House experience gives her a better sense of executive-branch intangibles, such as the importance of setting the right pace for devising and pushing new policy and how to manage the complexities of interagency politics.

"They have the benefits of knowing him more intimately, and a collective history that I will never share," Sutphen said. "I don't feel I should be a part of it. But I think they have been very receptive to the other perspective I bring."

Her day begins at 7:15 a.m. and her week rarely ends.

The walls of her small office, a few doors down from the president's, are still bare. Photos of her kids -- 4-year-old Sydney and 20-month-old Davis -- perch on a nearby credenza. Felix Rohatyn's book "Bold Endeavors," on how public spending on infrastructure can generate economic activity, sits well-thumbed on her desk.

"We're in one of these really major moments, forks in the road, and we're deciding whether to do X or to do Y in ways with implications far into the future," Sutphen said. "I see now from where I am how clearly we are at one of these moments. I don't remember feeling that way when I was in government before."


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