The FP 50

The 50 most powerful Republicans on foreign policy.

Tim Boyles/Getty Images
Tim Boyles/Getty Images
Tim Boyles/Getty Images

Politics is mostly about people -- and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to foreign policy. From the fire-when-ready rhetoric of a John Bolton to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of a Stephen Hadley to the intellectual suasion of a Bill Kristol, the relentless lobbying and insider machinations of surprisingly few people can often end up defining the foreign policy of entire administrations.

Politics is mostly about people — and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to foreign policy. From the fire-when-ready rhetoric of a John Bolton to the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of a Stephen Hadley to the intellectual suasion of a Bill Kristol, the relentless lobbying and insider machinations of surprisingly few people can often end up defining the foreign policy of entire administrations.

Americans may not realize it (after all, only 4 percent consider foreign affairs much of an issue in this year’s campaign at all), but with the start of the Republican and Democratic conventions, they are merely two months not only from choosing a president, but also from choosing the advisers who will determine the country’s course in the world. So, to peel back the curtain on this rarefied part of the Establishment, Foreign Policy has compiled a list of the 50 Republicans who have the greatest influence on the GOP’s foreign policy. (Next week, we will tackle the Democrats.)The people on this list are all GOP partisans (you will not find serving military officers or career civil servants here), but they come from different ideological traditions and they are currently fighting for the soul of their party’s foreign policy — realists, neoconservatives, even isolationists. If Mitt Romney wins the presidential election he will be handed the keys to the world, and the winner of these battles will determine what he does with it.

Few in politics know how to wield a megaphone like John McCain. Although his White House dreams are over, as the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, the Arizona senator remains a fixture on television, a powerful voice on foreign policy, and a mentor to rising Republican stars, including Marco Rubio and Kelly Ayotte. McCain was instrumental in opposing the “harsh interrogations” of the George W. Bush years and has lately been a key player in Pentagon oversight — warring with the defense industry over its cozy relationship with the military. McCain has also been a leading booster of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, opposing President Obama’s moves to draw down troops in both countries. McCain has ardently championed the Arab world’s revolutionaries, visiting the Libyan city of Benghazi in April 2011 and consistently calling on the Obama administration to intervene in Syria. “The time has come for a new policy,” McCain said in March 2012. “The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces.”


From his perch atop the masthead of the neoconservative Weekly Standard, which he co-founded in 1995, to his omnipresence on talk-show panels, Bill Kristol has often defined GOP priorities abroad — from China in the 1990s (“one of the world’s most repressive regimes“) to Saddam Hussein in the early 2000s (“not unlike Stalin, whose ruthlessness he admires“). A leading supporter of the Iraq war, Kristol in 1997 co-founded, with Robert Kagan, the Project for the New American Century, a Washington-based non-profit promoting American political and military leadership across the globe, including bringing democracy to the Middle East. Kristol — former chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and foreign-policy advisor on the 2008 McCain campaign — has a knack for picking vice-presidential nominees, too, having been an early advocate for Sarah Palin and this year’s pick, Paul Ryan. He has, however, criticized Romney, recently urging the candidate not to shortchange foreign policy on the campaign trail. “Reminder to Mitt Romney,” Kristol wrote in July, “With respect to the presidency, national security isn’t a bug; it’s a feature.”

Once ranked the most powerful woman in the world by Forbes on account of her “unparalleled level of trust with and access to” then-President George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice ruffled her share of feathers in the White House and State Department. John Bolton, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney have all criticized her since she left office, claiming she misled the president about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and generally lacked the experience needed for her post. “Don can be a grumpy guy,” Rice fired back at Rumsfeld. “We all know that.” Part of the reason for this grumpiness may be that Rice generally had her way in shaping the foreign policy of Bush’s second term, when she was secretary of state and neoconservative hawks were in retreat. Despite sequestering herself in academia during the Obama presidency, the scholar-turned-diplomat is still a towering figure in the Republican foreign-policy establishment and was even floated — briefly — as a longshot VP candidate after speaking at a Romney fundraiser in June; she’ll get the nod to make the nominating speech for Paul Ryan this week in Tampa instead. She has also recently begun to dip her toe back into the policy waters, calling on Obama to arm the Syrian rebels and criticizing the president’s trade policies in Asia.

America’s most prominent neoconservative writer, Robert Kagan is the rare public intellectual simultaneously in vogue with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. A loud opponent of the “American decline” refrain, he seems to sit perpetually in the Washington spotlight, producing a stream of headline-grabbing essays and books. Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, he was a leading supporter of the 2003 Iraq war and many say he is one of Romney’s closest foreign-policy advisors. In February 2010, Kagan co-founded the Working Group on Egypt, a coalition of bipartisan experts pushing for political reform in Egypt — long before the Arab Spring and the fall of the Mubarak regime. And Kagan has remained a consistent, vocal skeptic of the Obama administration’s highly touted “reset” with Russia, arguing for a clear-eyed assessment of what Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency means for U.S.-Russian relations. All this despite the fact that his wife, Victoria Nuland, a onetime advisor to Dick Cheney, is now the spokesperson for the Obama State Department.


As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Buck McKeon oversees the Pentagon’s massive, $650 billion war machine — a powerful post in an age of belt-tightening. No surprise, then, that he has emerged as one of the most vocal and influential critics of shrinking the defense budget. McKeon fiercely opposes the so-called sequester, which would deeply cut defense spending unless Congress reaches a new budget deal before January. Ronald Reagan, McKeon quipped in July, would “turn over in his grave if he saw what we have done” to the Defense Department budget. The southern California congressman has also questioned the administration’s foreign-policy leadership, writing in Politico that “the teleprompter is dark and one of the most rhetorical presidencies in U.S. history is silent as it looks to the exits in Afghanistan.”


Bob Zoellick had barely left his job as head of the World Bank when Romney appointed him to lead the transition team tasked with planning national security positions in a potential Romney administration. The move agitated the GOP’s neoconservatives, who consider the former deputy secretary of state a soft-on-China, hard-on-Israel realist — a “George H.W. Bush, old-school Republican,” in the words of one critic. Zoellick helped modernize the World Bank in his five years as president, opening its vast data archives to the public and overseeing the first increase in its general financial resources in 20 years. Respected by members of both parties (Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has called Zoellick a “remarkably effective leader”), the 59-year-old former marathon runner is likely to continue to influence the economic debate from his new posts at Harvard and the Peterson Institute — or, given his insider role in the Romney camp, as a member of the cabinet, perhaps in Geithner’s current role or in Foggy Bottom.


He may still be recovering from a March heart transplant, but the man who was perhaps America’s most controversial — and most powerful — vice president is still game for the occasional political jab, calling the Obama presidency an “unmitigated disaster.” Cheney also recently described Romney as the “only” man he trusts to make the right foreign-policy decisions in crisis situations (though, in a rare moment of GOP criticism, he also said that John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate was a “mistake”). Meanwhile, daughter Liz has taken up the family torch — collaborating on her father’s memoir and helping host a recent Romney fundraiser at her parents’ home in Wyoming. In 2009 the younger Cheney, a lawyer who worked on Middle East issues in the Bush State Department, founded the controversial organization Keep America Safe, dedicated to critiquing Obama’s “radical” foreign policy. She recently moved back to Wyoming, where she has been campaigning for Romney, raising speculation that she may be considering her own run for office. She is also a Fox News analyst (and has at least once challenged her father’s views: “Rarely do I disagree with best VP ever but @SaraPalinUSA more qualified than Obama and Biden combined,” she tweeted in July. “Huge respect 4 all she’s done 4 GOP”).

The only female committee chair in the House of Representatives, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the body’s leading foreign-policy legislator and a frequent thorn in the Obama administration’s side, castigating the president for playing “political games with U.S. foreign policy.” Whether criticizing the president’s relationship with Israel and her native Cuba, calling for the United States to scale back U.N. funding, or pushing for a harder line against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, she’s a strong voice not only for GOP interests but also for her constituents back in Florida — a key battleground in the upcoming election. Most recently, Ros-Lehtinen helped shepherd through Congress a bill tightening sanctions against Iran.

With more than $20 million in donations, Sheldon Adelson almost single-handedly bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign this year. The staunch pro-Israel hawk, who opposes any land concessions to the Palestinians, has since hopped on board the Romney money train and gotten behind a high-profile effort to convince Jewish voters to vote Republican, even traveling on the candidate’s recent trip to Israel. Not one to mince words, at a recent major fundraiser Adelson reportedly referred to the president as a “crybaby” who should be in diapers. The Las Vegas mogul has also attracted some unwanted attention with his controversial casino interests in Macau, including a federal investigation into allegations that his employees made illegal payments to Chinese officials. Adelson has pledged up to $100 million to the effort to defeat Obama, which should be more than enough incentive for the Romney campaign to keep him happy.

A veteran of Romney’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, Jim Talent is said to be one of the former Massachusetts governor’s closest aides on foreign-policy issues. The one-time Missouri senator was ousted from his seat in 2006 by Claire McCaskill, but he remains an influential Republican powerbroker and lobbyist. Along with former Senator Bob Graham, he co-chaired the congressionally established Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, which published its final report in 2008. With strong conservative credentials, Talent, often mentioned as a leading candidate for defense secretary in a Romney administration, has become a powerful voice within the campaign’s inner circle and is one of the few Romney advisors trusted to speak on the record.

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former director of policy planning at the State Department, is often said to represent the “realist” wing of the GOP. In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, Haass served as a key aide to Colin Powell at State and suffered alongside his boss as neoconservatives came to define U.S. foreign policy. Since then, Haass — who supported a broader multilateral coalition ahead of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and later criticized the effort as a “war of choice” has become an advocate of what he calls “nonpolarity,” a view of the world through the prism of different power nodes, many of them non-state actors. Today, he is said to be on the short list to serve as Romney’s secretary of state.

Famous for his fiery criticism of the United Nations while he served as its U.S. representative during Bush’s presidency, John Bolton has continued to articulate GOP foreign-policy positions as a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute — lately calling for U.S. intervention in Syria, a harsher stance toward Iran, and a closer relationship with Israel. Bolton, a lifelong conservative who campaigned for Barry Goldwater as a teenager, strongly endorsed Romney for president in January, saying “I think Gov. Romney is the person who can best lead the party, best articulate our conservative principles and is most likely to beat Barack Obama.” He is an informal advisor to the campaign and has been floated as a potential secretary of state if Romney takes the election in November. But whether he would be confirmed is another question — the last time his number came up, the Bush administration ran into a buzzsaw of opposition on Capitol Hill and had to wait until the Senate was out of town to get him through.


Dan Senor is the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, where, according to one Washington Post reporter, he did “a masterful job of spinning the media” about the U.S. war there. Married to Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor, Senor spent years working for the Carlyle Group and a Wall Street hedge fund, building a formidable Rolodex before becoming one of Mitt Romney’s top foreign-policy advisors, with a particular focus on the Middle East. Senor is the co-author of Startup Nation, a book touting Israel’s economic dynamism — likely the source of Romney’s controversial musings on Israeli culture during his July trip to the country, much of which was orchestrated by Senor. Described as the candidate’s chief emissary to Israel, Senor was recently named senior advisor to Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan — a move seen by some observers as an effort to beef up the vice presidential candidate’s foreign-policy chops.


Paul Gigot arguably rules the world of conservative punditry as gatekeeper for the Wall Street Journal‘s hugely influential editorial and op-ed page, as well as the moderator of Fox News Channel’s “Journal Editorial Report.” Under Gigot — a former Asia correspondent and, later, weekly columnist for the Journal, a role that earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 — the newspaper boldly criticized Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign in July, calling on the candidate to differentiate himself from the president with a specific plan for fixing the economy. (Earlier in the campaign, Gigot had fruitlessly encouraged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run.) Still, the Obama administration, including the president’s foreign policy, has borne the brunt of the Journal‘s censure — with Gigot calling out the president for failing to act more decisively in Syria. “He doesn’t want anything to explode overseas,” Gigot said of the president, “in Syria, Iran, North Korea, or anywhere else that might interfere or that might suggest that things aren’t going well.”


A veteran of several Republican administrations, Rich Williamson is among the most prominent of Romney’s foreign-policy advisors. After stints as a diplomat under George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, dealing primarily with multilateral organizations, Williamson ran for the Senate in Illinois in 1992 but lost. During the George W. Bush administration, he served as the special envoy to Sudan, a portfolio that included the crisis in Darfur, and he was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, later renamed the U.N. Human Rights Council. In the 2012 campaign, Williamson, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has become the Romney team’s go-to attack dog on foreign-policy issues, calling Obama’s North Korea policy his “Jimmy Carter moment,” for example.

When Henry Kissinger speaks, the world still listens. In a review of his most recent book, On China, Romney advisor Aaron Friedberg writes that Kissinger “may be the most influential figure in the making of American foreign policy since the end of World War II, and he is certainly the most prolific.” Since leaving the State Department in 1977, he has penned more than a dozen books on public policy and advised numerous policymakers, including President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on the war in Iraq. Since the Arab Spring, Kissinger, whose name has become synonymous with realpolitik, has expressed concern that the United States has abandoned traditional balance-of-power diplomacy in favor of humanitarian interventions that lack a “clearly articulated strategic concept.” On Syria, in particular, he has counseled against military intervention, warning that “[i]n reacting to one human tragedy, we must be careful not to facilitate another.”


As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and foreign operations subcommittee, Lindsey Graham walks the line between being a hawkish Air Force reserve colonel and a defender of the State Department and foreign aid. “You’ve got to have more options than just dropping bombs on people,” Graham said last fall (though earlier this year he supported cutting aid to Pakistan and Egypt far below the president’s request). Still, since first entering Congress in 1995, Graham has been a prominent voice for U.S. military intervention abroad — from Iraq and Afghanistan, to Syria and Iran — and has helped lead the fight to protect the defense budget from sequestration. Like his close ally John McCain, Graham has shown a willingness to cross the aisle, opposing the Bush administration’s interrogation system; and last year, he called for the GOP presidential candidates to “step up their game” on foreign policy.


“Bush’s brain” lives on in Obama’s Washington, hammering at the president’s economic and security policies through ads produced by his influential Super PAC, American Crossroads. A characteristic message accuses Obama of hiding behind “excuses” for the struggling economy, including “headwinds from Europe” and the Arab Spring. American Crossroads has raised more than $100 million in the 2012 election cycle, and in an article in FP’s March/April issue, the former White House deputy chief of staff averred that the president is a “strikingly vulnerable” candidate who can easily be painted as “naive and weak on foreign affairs.” He urged Republican candidates to adopt a “center-right” critique of Obama’s foreign policy — which is exactly what the Romney campaign has done.


Matt Drudge may have started out with what he described as an “adequate curriculum vitae for a post at 7-Eleven,” but after breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, the creator of the endearingly retro Drudge Report the original political news aggregation site, which now clocks close to 1 billion pageviews per month — has become a potent political force. In 2006, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and a book published the same year described Drudge as playing a critical role in John Kerry’s 2004 defeat. This time around, Drudge, widely thought to be close to Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades, seems to be lending a hand to the former Massachusetts governor; earlier this summer his “scoop” that Condoleezza Rice was being vetted to be Romney’s running mate looked an awful lot like an attempt to get criticism of Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital out of the headlines.


Even Ron Paul’s critics have to admit that he made the GOP primary debates a lot more fun to watch. As his opponents competed to see who could promise a greater increase in defense spending or talk tougher on Iran, Paul remained doggedly committed to an isolationist foreign policy — attacking the military-industrial complex and describing his opponents’ saber-rattling as “absurd and dangerous.” “We cannot talk about fiscal responsibility while spending trillions on occupying and bullying the rest of the world,” the Air Force veteran and longtime congressman wrote for FP in 2010. But if someone is going to move Paul’s vision forward, it’s probably his son Rand, who rode the Tea Party wave to the Senate in 2010. Since his election, Paul has called for “conservatives to admit that the military budget is going to have to be cut,” putting him at odds with GOP leaders. Paul is even sanguine about  the possibility of sequestration — defense cuts that will kick in automatically if Congress fails to reach a budget compromise — arguing that it will force the military to become more efficient. A fixture at his father’s campaign rallies, Rand is frequently mentioned as a possible future GOP presidential candidate in his own right.

A former Army officer and FBI agent, Mike Rogers has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s fight against terrorism, at one point accusing the president of waging “lawfare” rather than warfare. As chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rogers has been a leading voice for cybersecurity safeguards, and he co-authored the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which would allow the government and private companies to share information about cyberattackers and their tactics. The bill passed the House and is awaiting a Senate vote. In April, Rogers told reporters, “America will be a little safer and our economy a little better protected from foreign cyber predators once this measure is enacted.”


With his syndicated column running on op-ed pages throughout the country and his frequent appearances on Fox News, Charles Krauthammer has a powerful platform to promote his hybrid neoconservative-realist vision for U.S. foreign policy. While he likely found little to agree on with Obama, Krauthammer has been among a select group of journalists invited to off-the-record discussions with the president. Krauthammer has defended Bush-era interrogation techniques, arguing that torture is justifiable in cases where “the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information [is] likely to save lives.” And in recent columns, Krauthammer has slammed Obama’s handling of the Syrian situation, calling his attempt to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution “slavish, mindless self-subordination to ‘international legitimacy.'”


Now at the U.S. Institute of Peace, Stephen Hadley was a central figure on President George W. Bush’s foreign-policy team — serving as Condoleezza Rice’s deputy before taking her position as national security advisor — and one of the architects of the Iraq war. More recently, he has advocated negotiating with the Taliban to end the conflict in Afghanistan. “Efforts to reach a settlement should include an approach to Taliban elements that are ready to give up the fight and become part of the political process,” he wrote with John Podesta in Foreign Policy. Known as an influential, behind-the-scenes operator, Hadley is well-regarded within the GOP and one of its most sought-after advisors. He is whispered to be among those being vetted for the top job at State in a Romney administration. Recently, he has criticized Obama for letting the United States “follow” rather than “lead” events in Syria and called on him to abandon the U.N. diplomatic route in favor of more robust support for the rebels.


Jamie Fly worked under both Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates as the Defense Department’s assistant for transnational threats policy, as well as on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff as director for counter-proliferation strategy. Since 2009, Fly — whose resume also includes stints at the Republican National Committee, the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank, the American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. Embassy in London, and the U.S. Senate — has kept busy as executive director of the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative, co-founded by Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor. Fly also writes frequently for National Review, the Weekly Standard, and FP’s Shadow Government blog, regularly ripping into the president over Iran, Syria, and the defense budget.


The career paratrooper, four-star general, and former acting Army chief of staff retired in 2003 but became one of the chief architects of George W. Bush’s 2007 troop surge in Iraq when a paper he co-wrote for the American Enterprise Institute, calling for an additional 30,000 troops on the ground, prompted the president to bring him on board in an advisory role. Since then, Keane has been a strong critic of Obama’s drawdown in Iraq, calling his decision to bring home all combat troops in 2011 an “absolute disaster.” “We should be staying there to strengthen that democracy, to let them get the kind of political gains they need to get and keep the Iranians away from strangling that country,” he told the Washington Times last year. Now chairman of the Institute for the Study of War and a regular on Fox News, Keane was a strong supporter of military intervention in Libya and has said that conflict with Iran is “inevitable.”

Once the counsel on the House International Relations Committee and an Illinois congressman after that, Mark Kirk has deployed to Afghanistan on multiple occasions as a naval reserve intelligence officer and has emerged as a leading Senate voice on Russia and the Middle East. A skeptic of the U.S-Russian reset and an opponent of cooperation with the Kremlin on nuclear arms control, Kirk and fellow Senator Jon Kyl were once described by a Russian diplomat as “monsters of the Cold War.” Despite being sidelined by a stroke in January, he has been quietly marshaling support for harsher sanctions on Iran. The junior senator, who filled Obama’s vacant seat in 2010, is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee and appears to be positioning himself to be the next big foreign-policy heavyweight in the GOP, with the imminent departure of Kyl and Dick Lugar from the Senate.


This father-son duo is making the Zakheim name synonymous with GOP foreign policy. One of President George W. Bush’s so-called Vulcans, father Dov has been a recurring character in Republican Defense Departments over the past two decades, including as a senior official during the Reagan administration and then as Pentagon comptroller during the second Bush administration. Today, the elder Zakheim, who blogs for FP’s Shadow Government, is a senior foreign-policy advisor to the Romney campaign and has called for U.S. intervention in Syria, while vocally attacking what he sees as disastrous cuts to the defense budget. His son Roger, meanwhile, is one of a group of Republicans on the Hill looking to prevent those cuts. The younger Zakheim — a Defense Department official in the second Bush administration who currently works on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee for Chairman Buck McKeon — is a key member of Romney’s shadow cabinet on international issues and co-chairs its defense working group.

A former staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Danielle Pletka is currently a vice president at the American Enterprise Institute and a doyenne of Washington’s neoconservative circles. An expert on national security, terrorism, and weapons proliferation, she also offers regular congressional testimony on Iran and the Middle East. Pletka has lamented the “silent coup d’état” in Iran in 2009, chastised the Obama administration for “sitting on its hands for days” while Muammar al-Qaddafi marched on Tripoli, and attacked the president for his handling of the Syria situation. (In a recent Washington Post op-ed, she argued in favor of using American airpower to create a “joint air-patrolled safe zone,” as well as a “corridor” for refugees.)


A Romney advisor and professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where he runs the Strategic Studies program, Eliot Cohen is the author or editor of more than half a dozen books on military history. (In 2002, prior to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush let slip that he was reading Supreme Command, Cohen’s magnum opus on civilian leadership in times of conflict.) Once an Army reservist and a supporter of the Iraq war, the neoconservative Cohen criticized the administration’s handling of the occupation in a 2005 Washington Post article called “A Hawk Questions Himself as His Son Goes to War.” Despite those qualms and his criticism of the term “war on terror” (“Terror is the tactic, not the enemy“), Condoleezza Rice tapped Cohen in 2007 to serve as State Department counselor. A staunch supporter of Israel who has argued that the United States should “seek the overthrow of the Islamic Republic” in Iran, Cohen wrote the foreword to Romney’s foreign-policy white paper, released last fall, which accused Obama of “waffling on trade agreements with friends” and “currying favor with our enemies.”


The 91-year-old George Shultz has served as secretary of labor, Treasury, and state and worked in three Republican administrations, so it’s not surprising that the Romney campaign lists him as one of the candidate’s advisors. But the Hoover Institution fellow is also out of step with the contemporary GOP on some major issues, favoring a carbon tax to cut emissions and joining with fellow éminences grises Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William J. Perry to call for a world without nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, his credential as one of the men closest to Ronald Reagan (and his approach to the Soviets) still lends him significant behind-the-scenes influence within the party.

A rising political star from New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where she has supported nuclear weapons modernization and argued against an “artificial timetable” for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which she visited in 2011. In February, the former state attorney general — who was mentioned as a contender for Romney’s vice president, despite having served less than two years in the Senate — further burnished her foreign-policy bona fides by travelling with Senate heavyweights John McCain and Lindsey Graham to the Munich Security Conference, which McCain likened to the defense community’s Davos “without the Hollywood aspect.” Ayotte has also been a strong critic of defense sequestration cuts.


It is a testament to how much the Republican Party has changed since the outset of the George W. Bush administration that the man credited with coining the phrase “axis of evil” is now shunned by the GOP establishment. And it is a testament to that man, David Frum, who served as a speechwriter in the Bush White House, that he still matters to the party. In the heady days following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Canadian-American Frum provided much of the public rationale for going to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but ever since he left the White House, his views have largely fallen out of favor with the Republican Party. After founding the now-defunct conservative political group blog FrumForum on the day of Obama’s inauguration in 2009, he was fired from the American Enterprise Institute in 2010, just days after criticizing the GOP’s approach to the health-care debate. Now an author and Newsweek writer, he has emerged as a full-throated critic of the Republican Party’s rightward turn.


The freshman senator from Florida might be best known as one of Romney’s (former) potential picks for the VP slot, but Marco Rubio has also emerged as a foreign-policy player in his own right. Fluent in Spanish and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence as well as the Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio has made trips to Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, Libya, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Observers closely eyed a foreign-policy speech Rubio gave at the Brookings Institution in April, in which he named neoconservative Robert Kagan’s book The World America Made as important in shaping his view of U.S. responsibilities on the global stage. Rubio has also aligned himself with the likes of John McCain (supporting a more active U.S. role in Libya, for instance) and George W. Bush (insisting that the United States can’t rely on the United Nations to deal with Syria and Iran). But Rubio, whose parents emigrated from Cuba, holds relatively moderate views on immigration — he has floated an alternative to the Dream Act that would grant legal status to some children of undocumented immigrants — opening a rift with more conservative members of the GOP. According to at least one fellow senator, Joe Lieberman, Rubio is a “workhorse” when it comes to foreign policy.


Randy Scheunemann has emerged as one of Washington’s most influential behind-the-scenes players. He has consulted for foreign governments from Georgia to Taiwan, though, perhaps surprisingly, his powerful boutique lobbying firm has represented liberal investor George Soros’s Open Society Institute as well. Scheunemann was a top advisor on John McCain’s 2008 campaign and advised Sarah Palin on foreign-policy issues after the race, though he cut ties with the former Alaska governor in 2011. More recently, Scheunemann worked with Russian opposition groups to help pass the Magnitsky Act, a bill that would allow the United States to sanction Russian officials accused of human rights abuses. He also recently cosigned a letter with other prominent neoconservatives calling on the Obama administration to establish safe zones in Syria.


When leftists took over the Harvard campus in 1969, Elliott Abrams was one of the few students who banded together to keep the campus open. It was a fitting start for one of America’s most prominent neoconservatives. As an official in the Reagan administration, Abrams oversaw Latin American affairs at the State Department and played a part in the Iran-Contra scandal, which led to a conviction for concealing information from Congress. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush as he left office. Abrams made a return to national political life, however, during the George W. Bush administration, serving as one of the masterminds of the Iraq war and also orchestrating what some describe as a failed coup attempt against Hamas in Gaza. Today, Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and in recent weeks he has provided foreign-policy briefings to vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan.

As chair of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, global health, and human rights and of the Congressional Executive Committee on China, Chris Smith is a longtime critic of human rights abuses in China and a leading voice calling for the United States to do more to fight them. During the high-stakes negotiations this spring surrounding blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, Smith helped deliver Chen’s message to Congress, chairing a dramatic hearing to which Chen himself phoned in with a plea for safe travel. Smith has since accused the Obama administration of failing to stand up for Chen’s cause: the fight against forced abortions. He has also accused China of “stealing U.S. jobs.”


A George W. Bush administration diplomat and international relations scholar, Mitchell Reiss is staying in the political fold as a foreign-policy advisor on the Romney campaign. Reiss was the State Department’s director of Policy Planning under Colin Powell and, later, Bush’s special envoy for Northern Ireland before taking his current position as president of Maryland’s Washington College. Although Reiss also advised Romney during his 2008 campaign, the two publicly clashed earlier this year over whether the United States should negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan, with Reiss supporting the idea in a blog post for FP. Romney publicly repudiated Reiss’s remarks during a Fox News debate, saying that “the right course for America is not to negotiate with the Taliban when the Taliban are killing our soldiers.” Some campaign-watchers have nonetheless suggested Reiss could be national security advisor to a President Romney.

Televangelist Billy Graham’s son has worked with the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse to bring attention to the violence in Sudan and has been a major backer of South Sudanese independence — at times partnering with Hollywood liberals like George Clooney. Franklin Graham has also become known for inflammatory comments about Muslims, once suggesting that Obama is a Muslim under Islamic law. His influence under a Romney administration may be limited, since he has also suggested that “most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith.” In a Washington Times op-ed last April, Graham called for airstrikes against Sudanese air bases in order to prevent attacks against civilians in the country’s Nuba mountains.

Neoconservative writer Jennifer Rubin’s blend of reportage and commentary in her Washington Post blog Right Turn, which often takes on foreign-policy issues, seems to make news as often as it covers it. Rubin had developed a controversial reputation while at Commentary magazine (editor John Podhoretz called her a “phenomenon”) with articles like her hotly debated “Why Jews Hate Sarah Palin.” At the Post, Rubin has battled with colleagues and was the subject of a column by the paper’s ombudsman after a retweet that some argued amounted to a call for Palestinian genocide. But even her fiercest critics acknowledge that she has access to conservative power players and enjoys a close relationship with the Romney campaign, drawing criticism from the left but revving up her right-wing readers for a fiercely contested election season.

Conservative Jon Kyl, for now still the GOP’s No. 2 man in the Senate, remains one of the party’s most influential congressional voices. A longtime critic of arms control, he was Obama’s chief adversary during the 2010 debate over New START; although he would ultimately vote against the treaty, Kyl secured a commitment from Democrats to generously fund modernization of the country’s nuclear weapons complex. Kyl has also emerged as a vociferous critic of potential intelligence leaks from the White House to the press. “It all boils down to whether or not Eric HHolder should really step aside put the county first and advise the president, ‘Look, for your sake, for the country’s sake, we really ought to have an independent look at this,'” Kyl told Fox News in June. He is set to retire from the Senate after the November election.

Now the aging dean of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, Brent Scowcroft, 87, served as national security advisor for presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, helping guide U.S. policy during the tumultuous fall of the Soviet Union. Scowcroft gained prominence as an assistant to Henry Kissinger and worked for his high-powered consultancy, Kissinger Associates, before joining the Bush administration. A West Point graduate and former lieutenant general, he is currently the president of the Scowcroft Group, an international business consulting firm. A stalwart of the centrist, realist school of GOP foreign policy, Scowcroft has stayed on the sidelines in 2012, and his evident unwillingness to endorse Mitt Romney has withheld a certain establishment imprimatur from the Republican candidate. In recent years, Scowcroft has made a habit of breaking with his party. He opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and he has applauded elements of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.


Snowe’s retirement at the end of this year will mark the end of a 15-year era in which the two lawmakers from Maine defined Congress’s political center. Snowe and Collins have been consistently ranked as the least conservative GOP senators, which has made them targets of furious lobbying by Democrats looking for the votes to push through legislation opposed by the Republican right, including the New START treaty with Russia, the DREAM Act immigration reform, and the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. Nevertheless, as ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, Collins blasted the Obama administration for its “blind spot when it comes to the war on terrorism,” referring to its decision to read Miranda rights to “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. As a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Snowe has pushed for greater oversight of intelligence agencies and criticized the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance activities. Though the two have been nicknamed “the sisters” for their nearly identical voting records, they are reportedly not overly fond of each other.


During the Bush administration, Michael Hayden oversaw some of the most controversial aspects of the war on terrorism. As NSA head, Hayden was an architect of the warrantless wiretapping program, which he says was “effective, appropriate, and lawful.”  Appointed director of the CIA in 2006, Hayden has publicly acknowledged that the agency made use of waterboarding, which he supported but said was probably illegal. (Congress outlawed the practice in 2008.) During his tenure, he expanded the use of drones in borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a strategy that the Obama administration has doubled down on. Today, Hayden serves as a principal at the Chertoff Group, the consulting firm founded by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and he is widely considered one of the foremost experts on cyberwarfare. He serves as a foreign-policy advisor to the Romney campaign, though he has broken with the GOP candidate on certain issues. For example, Hayden has argued strongly against striking Iran’s nuclear program, saying that within the Bush administration “the consensus was that [attacking the country] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.” Romney has said he would consider taking armed action.


A rising star in the George W. Bush administration, Kristen Silverberg served as an aide to Paul Bremer in Iraq after working as a domestic policy adviser to chief of staff Andy Card. Ultimately, she rose to become assistant secretary of state for international organizations and the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. A former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (and blogger for Foreign Policy), Silverberg is now president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a group pressing companies to stop doing business in Iran. She also chairs the Romney campaign’s working group on Europe and has been a spokesperson for the campaign. Tying the Obama administration to the current crisis in Europe, she told the New York Times that “the United States still has the chance to correct course, but not if we sustain four more years of Obama-styled deficits.”


A former Minnesota congressman, longtime lobbyist, and early supporter of the war in Iraq, Vin Weber now has the ear of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. A board member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Endowment for Democracy (which he previously chaired), Weber brings some foreign-policy heft to the Romney campaign. But Weber recently stumbled into a spot of trouble when it emerged that he was a registered lobbyist for a Brussels-based group propping up the government of Ukraine, despite its recent anti-democratic moves.

The largest pro-Israel group in the United States is not AIPAC; it’s John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which claims more than one million members and has done more than just about any other organization to make Israel a defining foreign-policy issue for evangelical Christians in the United States. The popular television preacher roots his support for the Jewish state in biblical text. “We support Israel because all other nations were created by an act of men, but Israel was created by an act of God,” he writes on his website. Despite his controversial past claim that “God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land,” for which he has since apologized, Hagee has been praised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his advocacy work. In 2008, John McCain’s presidential campaign distanced itself from Hagee over his comments about the Holocaust and other remarks attacking Catholics and attributing Hurricane Katrina to God’s anger over homosexuality. He appeared at a controversial “prayer summit” with Texas governor and GOP hopeful Rick Perry during the recent primary, but like other evangelical leaders, Hagee has been relatively quiet on the subject of Mitt Romney.

Paula Dobriansky’s decades of foreign-policy experience range from directing European and Soviet affairs at the National Security Council to a top position at the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency. Most recently, for all eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, she served as under secretary for democracy and global affairs in the State Department, where she dealt with issues ranging from human rights to the environment, in addition to overseeing U.S. policy in Northern Ireland and Tibet. A former director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Washington office, Dobriansky is now a fellow at Harvard and a member of Romney’s foreign-policy advisory team. Suggested for a top State Department post under a President Romney, Dobrianksy has recently criticized the president for failing to lead the global response to the crises in Libya, Iran, and Syria. “The Obama administration’s approach to Libya — waiting for and then hiding behind France and the United Kingdom — simply will not work in dealing with current challenges and those that may emerge in the next three to five years,” Dobriansky wrote in the Wall Street Journal in July

A career CIA man who spent years as a case officer in Africa and reportedly played a role in the capture of Carlos the Jackal, Black was the head of the agency’s Counterterrorism Center on 9/11 and had warned of a possible attack months earlier. After the attacks, he organized the CIA team tasked with pursuing al Qaeda leaders, famously telling President Bush, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” In the early years of the war on terrorism, Black was an outspoken public advocate of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Black left government in 2004 to manage Total Intelligence Solutions, a division of controversial security contractor Blackwater, and today works at Blackbird, another Beltway-based defense contractor. Black met Romney in 2007 and has advised the candidate on both presidential runs, organizing briefings from his former intelligence colleagues on topics ranging from Pakistan to the Egyptian revolution to Iran’s nuclear program. He has been described by Newsweek as Romney’s “envoy to the dark side.”

A protégé of Richard Haass, Meghan O’Sullivan emerged as one of President George W. Bush’s confidantes within his war councils. As National Security Council coordinator for Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush administration, she became intimately involved in formulating strategy for both countries and was credited by many as one of architects behind the “surge.” In the early days of the war, she served in Iraq as a deputy to Paul Bremer and once narrowly escaped a rocket attack on her hotel by tiptoeing along a ledge outside the window of her 10th-floor room after her door was blocked. Today, she is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a key member of Romney’s foreign-policy brain trust.


A staffer in Ronald Reagan’s Defense Department under prominent neoconservative Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney is today best known as a Washington Times columnist and a leading voice warning about the supposed dangers of Islamic sharia law being imposed in the United States. Gaffney is currently promoting a dubious 10-part online documentary on Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of U.S. institutions. A controversial letter warning that State Department advisor Huma Abedin might have ties to the Brotherhood — which was sent by Rep. Michele Bachmann and several other members of Congress to the inspectors general at five government agencies — was based on a report by Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy. Like Newt Gingrich, Gaffney has also been outspoken in arguing that the United States is in grave danger from an electromagnetic pulse attack that could cripple the nation’s electricity grid. “The EMP threat to America is real and potentially catastrophic. Our enemies know this, and either have obtained the means to inflict such devastation or are well along in the process of acquiring them,” he warns.

Sulome Anderson is a journalist based between Beirut and New York City. Follow her on Twitter: @SulomeAnderson.

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