Mona Sutphen life and biography

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Mona Sutphen biography

Date of birth : 1967-11-10
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-06-24
Credited as : Civil service worker and author, White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy , Obama administration

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Mona Sutphen (also known as: Mona K. Sutphen) born November 10, 1967 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States is an American civil service worker and author. She serves as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy in the Obama administration.

Mona Sutphen brought years of experience in both the public and private sectors to the Obama Administration when she became White House Deputy Chief of Staff under Rahm Emanuel in January of 2009. A foreign policy expert with experience in top-level politics under the Clinton Administration and in international business affairs as a managing director at consulting firm Stonebridge International, Sutphen became an early member of Barack Obama's advisory team during his run for the presidency in 2008. After Obama's election in November of 2008, Sutphen served on the administration's transition team and was quickly named to one of the White House's top slots. Sutphen also serves on the Council on Foreign Relations. In addition to her work behind the scenes, Sutphen co-authored the foreign affairs book The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive While Other Powers Rise, which was greeted warmly upon its 2008 publication by Simon & Schuster.

Sutphen was born in 1967 into a household that challenged the mores of its time. Her white Jewish mother and black father married earlier in the decade in a small, lunch-time ceremony in Kansas City, Kansas, because neighboring Missouri law prevented interracial marriage at that time. The couple later relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Sutphen was born. Her mother worked as a legal secretary and her father worked for the National Labor Relations Board. "It was a political household in that we talked about politics a lot. But it was more community organizer-y, politics with a small 'p,'" Sutphen explained to Scott Wilson of the Washington Post. After completing her bachelor's degree in international relations at the all-women's college Mount Holyoke in 1989, the future White House official took a position with advertising agency Leo Burnett in Chicago, Illinois.

Sutphen soon decided to forsake advertising for the U.S. Foreign Service in 1991, preferring the opportunity to make a difference in the world over simply contributing to product sales. That position took her first to Bangkok, Thailand, where she monitored human rights and democratic activities in neighboring Burma, and later to Sarajevo, Bosnia, where she worked to ensure the success of the conflict-ending Dayton Peace Accords. Sutphen then temporarily left public life to pursue graduate work in international political economy at the London School of Economics. Upon completion of her master's degree, she took a job with Bill Richardson--then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations--before beginning her first stint as a White House official in 1998 as a special assistant to then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger when Richardson joined the Clinton Administration as Secretary of Energy. During her tenure at the White House, Sutphen also played a minor role in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, conducting an interview with the intern for a job with Richardson in 1998, shortly before the news of Clinton's involvement with Lewinsky became headline news.

After the inauguration of President George W. Bush in January of 2001 brought a new raft of Republican staffers to the White House, Sutphen left Washington, D.C. for the private sector--without the intention of ever returning to the hectic world of federal politics. Recalling the urgent beeps of a pager so ceaseless that its sound lingered in her ears long after the call had stopped, the former staffer told Ben Gibberd of the New York Times in 2007 that "I sit around now and think, 'Was I crazy?'" That same year, Sutphen married Clyde Williams, a former adviser to Bill Clinton and, in 2009, a political director for the Democratic National Committee. The couple had two children: Daughter Sydney, born in 2004, and son Davis, born in 2007.

Sutphen took brief turns at an Internet company and a food distributor before again taking a position with Berger, who had founded the consulting firm Stonebridge International in Washington, D.C. As a managing director at Stonebridge, Sutphen advised international corporations on global business opportunities. Over the next several years, she split her time between Washington and New York City but had little desire to return to the public sector; however, in late 2007 Sutphen endorsed then-underdog candidate Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Despite her history of service under Clinton--and her husband's own involvement with rival candidate Hilary Clinton's campaign--Sutphen signed on with Obama. Although challenged by both her husband and long-time colleague Berger on her decision, Sutphen remained firm in her commitment to the candidate's vision. Although, she later admitted to the Washington Post's Wilson, "I didn't think he had much of a chance to win." Throughout the grueling campaign season, Sutphen acted as one of Obama's primary foreign policy advisers alongside such veterans as Susan Rice, who later became the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Jeffrey Bader, who went on to join the National Security Council.

In 2008, Sutphen--along with former Clinton-era colleague Nina Hachigian--employed her foreign policy expertise to pen The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive While Other Powers Rise. Based on the premise that the growth of such relatively new international powers as India and China posed less of a threat to the United States' continued dominance than the United States' own foreign policy decisions, The Next American Century argued that cooperation rather than dominance was the key to the health of future international relations. Speaking to Washington Post's Wilson about the work, Hachigan explained, "We thought we were writing a foreign policy book, but what we learned in the end is that if the United States wants to strengthen its position in the world, it has a lot to do at home.... Mona is extremely unsentimental. She doesn't cling to the way she'd like things to be. She sees them as they are." This clear-headed approach won over many critics and political thinkers on both sides of the ideological divide. Reviewing the book for Booklist, Jay Freeman commented, "this is no partisan rant. [The authors] make solid points and offer sensible solutions."

A member of Obama's transition team, Sutphen became one of the President-elect's earliest appointments when he named her one of the White House's Deputy Chiefs of Staff alongside Jim Messina a few weeks after his election. Sutphen assumed her role when Obama took office in January of 2009. As the Deputy Chief of Staff, Sutphen acts as a vital force shaping White House policy and works to ensure that the administration develops consistent policies that achieve the administration's desired goals. She has also continued to advocate for an inclusive global outlook, with the United States working with growing Asian and South American nations such as China and Brazil.


Born in 1967 in Milwaukee, WI; married Clyde Williams (a political adviser), 2001; children: Sydney, Davis. Education: Mount Holyoke College, B.A., South Hadley, MA, 1989; London School of Economics, M.Sc., London, England, c. 1990s.


Worked for Chicago advertising firm Leo Burnett, 1989-91; officer, U.S. Foreign Service, 1991-2000; special assistant to National Security Adviser Sandy Burger, 1998; managing director, Stonebridge International, c. 2001; volunteer foreign policy adviser, Barack Obama's presidential campaign, 2007-08; served on Obama's transition team; named Deputy Chief of Staff, 2008. Co-author of The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive While Other Powers Rise, 2008.

Selected writings

* (With Nina Hachigan)The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive While Other Powers Rise, Simon & Schuster (New York City), 2008.

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