Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has gone from an 8-year-old fleeing Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's regime to one of President Obama's chief foreign-policy antagonists. The 59-year-old Florida congresswoman -- the only female committee chair and the most senior Republican woman in the House of Representatives -- regularly lambastes the White House for wasting money on a bloated State Department budget while being weak-kneed in handling enemies and helping allies, notably Israel. Ros-Lehtinen's whirlwind of activity makes her nearly impossible to ignore, whether she's introducing legislation that would slash U.S. funding for the United Nations, calling for funding Syria's rebels, or moving to condition aid to Egypt on its transition to democracy. In her short time heading Foreign Affairs, she has become known as a highly political chair. As one House aide told Foreign Policy, "She and her staff often go for the jugular."
In one of her most popular songs, Peng Liyuan, a star singer of the People's Liberation Army, croons, "Our future is in the field of hope." Peng's future has nearly arrived: As the wife of Communist Party heir apparent Xi Jinping, Peng will likely become first lady when her husband replaces Hu Jintao as president in 2013. Ever since Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, was blamed for some of the worst excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Chinese first ladies have kept a very low profile. Unlike her three post-Mao predecessors, however, 49-year-old Peng is famous in her own right: Her melodic voice has made her one of the best-known singers in China, and until a few years ago she was much more famous than her husband, the career politician. Besides working on social causes (she is a World Health Organization goodwill ambassador for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS), she might also bring grace and charisma to a government often seen as out of touch with the people.
Indonesia, long the punch line of jokes about Third World corruption, boasts an economy that is much cleaner, stronger, and more promising than it was in 2005, when Sri Mulyani Indrawati took the reins of its Finance Ministry. A former IMF executive director, the 49-year-old University of Illinois Ph.D. instituted a wide-ranging ministry housekeeping, sacking corrupt tax and customs officials. Indonesia weathered the global financial crisis better than most, chalking up an average of roughly 6 percent in annual GDP growth since 2005, while increasing its rolls of income-tax payers from just over 4 million to nearly 16 million in just five years. Now a managing director at the World Bank, Indrawati has often been mentioned as a possible head of the institution -- if, that is, the United States were ever to allow a non-American to take the helm.
A holdover from the regime of deposed President Hosni Mubarak thought to be close to the toppled first lady, Fayza Abul Naga, 61, has become the unlikely face of the growing rift between Egypt and the United States. She rose through the ranks of Egypt's foreign service and served as Mubarak's chief negotiator in the long battles with U.S. diplomats over how much control Cairo could have in disbursing billions of dollars in U.S. aid. Now, more than a year after the revolution, she still wields real power and appears to be exceeding even the directives of Egypt's new military rulers to press the prosecution of 19 American NGO workers in Egypt -- part of a larger case against U.S. and Egyptian NGOs for allegedly being the "foreign hands" leading the country astray. The crisis put the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt at risk, but Abul Naga has refused to back down, insisting that Egypt could do without U.S. assistance. If she keeps this up, it may have to.
The oldest daughter of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is also the most likely successor to his vast media and political empire. She's chair of Fininvest, the holding company with an estimated value of more than $8 billion through which the Berlusconis control Italy's three major private television networks and the soccer team AC Milan. She also chairs Italy's largest book and magazine publisher and sits on the board of the investment bank Mediobanca. With her father forced to exit the political stage dogged by personal and legal scandals and complaints of economic mismanagement, there has been widespread speculation that the family's political mantle might pass to the 45-year-old Marina Berlusconi. Although a number of members of parliament and right-wing newspapers have publicly urged her to run for prime minister, Berlusconi hasn't committed to politics yet, dismissing speculation as "hypothetical." Then again, her dad was once similarly evasive.