By ROBERT DREYFUSS for Rolling Stone Magazine

Most evenings, as the workday winds down at the White House, a small group of aides to President Barack Obama gathers quietly to review the state of the world. It’s safe to say that few Americans would recognize their names. Leading the group is James Jones, the four-star general whom Obama tapped as national security adviser after coming to rely on his counsel during the 2008 campaign. The three others — Mark Lippert, Denis McDonough and Greg Craig — made up the inner circle of Obama’s national security team during the grueling two-year race for the presidency.

“Mark, Denis, Greg and General Jones are the guys who meet at the end of the day and decide things,” says a well-connected defense and intelligence consultant.

As soon as Obama was elected, there were questions about whether his plan to appoint a so-called “team of rivals” to key foreign-policy positions would lead to chaos and derail his agenda. Indeed, many of the strong-willed and sharp-elbowed officials at the top of the administration are more hawkish than the president himself —from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama’s chief rival last year, to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican who was appointed by George W. Bush, to Gen. David Petraeus, the politically ambitious commander of Centcom. Asked about the risk of competing agendas last November, as he named his national security team, Obama told reporters, “Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost. It comes from me.”

Since taking office, Obama has made good on that promise, assembling what, so far at least, looks like a highly efficient, utterly loyal staff at the National Security Council. Mostly unknown outside Washington policy circles, they exercise their power silently, working behind the scenes. They’re not flashy, rarely speak in public, don’t show up on Sunday talk shows — and they don’t leak. But from Iraq and Afghanistan to nuclear disarmament and climate change, they are helping Obama execute the most sweeping reorientation of U.S. national security policy since the end of World War II.

For Robert Dreyfuss’ complete report, check out the latest issue of Rolling Stone, on newsstands now.