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Hamilton’s Disciples

A new generation of Obama’s senior officials learned at the feet of the legendary Democrat.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Along with Vice President Joe Biden, for many years the most senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lee Hamilton has nurtured Democratic foreign-policy hands who now occupy senior positions in the Obama administration. What these staffers had in common, Hamilton told Foreign Policy with a self-deprecating grin, is that "they were quite young, had a lot of energy, excellent academic credentials, a deep knowledge of foreign affairs, and were a lot brighter than their boss."

Among them:

Chris Kojm, chairman of the National Intelligence Council. From 1984 to 1998, he served in a variety of capacities with Hamilton starting on the Europe and Middle East subcommittee, which Hamilton chaired, and ending as deputy director of the full committee’s Democratic staff.

Denis McDonough, chief of staff on the National Security Council. Hired by Hamilton just out of graduate school at Georgetown, McDonough worked on Latin America from 1996 to 1999 for what was then called the House International Relations Committee.

Dan Restrepo, senior director for Latin America on the NSC. He served on the Democratic staff of the committee from 1993 to 1996.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and President Obama’s chief foreign-policy speechwriter. Rhodes was Hamilton’s speechwriter and assistant at the Wilson Center from 2002 until 2007. 

Mara Rudman, chief of staff for Middle East envoy George Mitchell. She was majority legal counsel to the House committee from 1993 to 1995 and minority chief counsel from 1995 to 1997 and from February to May 1999.

Dan Shapiro, senior director for the Middle East on the NSC. From 1993 to 1995, he served as a staff member on the committee’s subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.

Along with Vice President Joe Biden, for many years the most senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lee Hamilton has nurtured Democratic foreign-policy hands who now occupy senior positions in the Obama administration. What these staffers had in common, Hamilton told Foreign Policy with a self-deprecating grin, is that "they were quite young, had a lot of energy, excellent academic credentials, a deep knowledge of foreign affairs, and were a lot brighter than their boss."

Among them:

Chris Kojm, chairman of the National Intelligence Council. From 1984 to 1998, he served in a variety of capacities with Hamilton starting on the Europe and Middle East subcommittee, which Hamilton chaired, and ending as deputy director of the full committee’s Democratic staff.

Denis McDonough, chief of staff on the National Security Council. Hired by Hamilton just out of graduate school at Georgetown, McDonough worked on Latin America from 1996 to 1999 for what was then called the House International Relations Committee.

Dan Restrepo, senior director for Latin America on the NSC. He served on the Democratic staff of the committee from 1993 to 1996.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications and President Obama’s chief foreign-policy speechwriter. Rhodes was Hamilton’s speechwriter and assistant at the Wilson Center from 2002 until 2007. 

Mara Rudman, chief of staff for Middle East envoy George Mitchell. She was majority legal counsel to the House committee from 1993 to 1995 and minority chief counsel from 1995 to 1997 and from February to May 1999.

Dan Shapiro, senior director for the Middle East on the NSC. From 1993 to 1995, he served as a staff member on the committee’s subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.

Andrew Swift is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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