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.