Denis McDonough is President Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser and Chief of Staff at the National Security Council. He’s also from a Minnesotan Catholic family that has significant ties to the local church, as Dan Burke notes in his recent profile of Obama’s “spiritual cabinet.”
Denis McDonough was in eighth grade, he heard his older brother, a Catholic priest, deliver a homily entirely in Spanish. McDonough soon learned Spanish himself, and became an expert on bridging cultural gaps.
Now . . . McDonough is working to strengthen international bonds strained by the Bush administration’s go-it-alone approach to foreign policy.
Traveling by the president’s side on overseas missions, the 40-year-old Minnesotan is a crucial player in Obama’s quest to engage Muslims, find common cause with the Vatican, and restore the country’s moral authority.
McDonough helped craft Obama’s landmark address to Muslims last June in Cairo, and the robust defense of American foreign policy—including the waging of “just wars”—during the president’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Norway.
A key component of Obama’s foreign policy is the Catholic concept of the common good, McDonough said. “It’s a general posture of seeking engagement to find mutual interests, but also realizes that there is real evil in the world that we must confront,” he said in an interview at his West Wing office. “The president also recognizes that we are strongest when we work together with our allies.”
In addition, McDonough has schooled Obama on the internal politics of the Catholic Church, an institution he knows intimately. His brother Kevin was vicar general of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, another brother is a priest-turned-theologian, and his best friend in Washington is a Redemptorist priest. A graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., he helped vet a young theologian on the faculty, Miguel Diaz, to become ambassador to the Vatican last May.
Image: President Barack Obama meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough on Air Force One en route to Cairo, Egypt, for the president's address to the Islamic world. McDonough has helped craft Obama's policies, and the Cairo speech, in moral terms. (Pete Souza/The White House.)