It is not unusual for a president to try and run foreign policy with a small number of advisors from the White House. This is done to weaken the State Department who sometimes acts as if they have their own agenda - which they do.
But President Obama apparently has an even smaller retinue of advisors than most. And according to the New York Times , one man in particular appears to dominate in national security councils:
Forget Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. When it comes to national security, Mr. Obama's inner circle is so tight it largely consists of Mr. [Denis] McDonough, a 40-year-old from Minnesota who is unknown to most Americans but who is so close to the president that his colleagues - including his superiors - often will not make a move on big issues without checking with him first.
"He is the keeper of the president's flame," said Cheryl Mills, Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff. Brian Katulis, a foreign policy expert who is a good friend of Mr. McDonough, said, "When the president needs to pick up the phone and call someone on national security, that someone is Denis."
When Mr. Obama got word of the Rolling Stone article that would lead to his firing of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan, Mr. McDonough was one of about a half-dozen people he immediately summoned to the Oval Office.
Mr. McDonough is intensively protective of the president, and is well known for picking up the phone - or his BlackBerry - to take people to task, from reporters to Washington talking heads to other Obama officials who go off message. He spent the entirety of his bike ride home to Takoma Park, Md., from the White House late one recent night arguing on the cellphone with a reporter who he believed had mischaracterized an internal administration debate over Iraq policy.
McDonough apparently acts as a bridge between the policy wonks and politicos in the White House in his position as NSC chief of staff. There's always a danger that national security will become too politicized when this kind of arrangement dominates. But with this White House, that hardly seems unusual. It is the most politicized White House perhaps in history so it shouldn't surprise us when national security falls victim to that culture.