Just who exactly has the attention of the leading presidential candidates right now when it comes to foreign policy, especially on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East? Who could potentially end up occupying key posts in the next administration?
The Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses and the Jan. 8 New Hampshire primary will undoubtedly result in a dwindling list of viable presidential hopefuls.
And with that weeding out, the virtual "who's who" list of policy wonks advising the candidates, with their long résumés and potential political baggage, will begin to crystallize.
Perhaps no set of advisers has received more press -- or more scrutiny -- than the team that's been assembled by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a leading Republican contender. An Oct. 15 story in Newsweek claimed that Giuliani was relying heavily on neoconservatives, a school of thought that has fallen out of favor in Washington because it has been imputed that neocon theorists dragged us into "the debacle" that is now Iraq.
Much of that media attention has centered around Norman Podhoretz, the longtime editor of Commentary, who is now a senior adviser to the Giuliani campaign. Earlier this year, Podhoretz penned an article in that publication advocating the bombing of Iran.
Charles Hill, Giuliani's chief foreign-policy adviser, argued that the team of roughly 60 advisers, both formal and informal, spans a considerable ideological spectrum. He said that attacking Iran is not part of the campaign's platform, although Giuliani has stated he will not allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons.
"Norman's views are unique to Norman. I can say that his views on Iran are very well-reasoned out, and we appreciate them," said Hill, a one-time aide to former Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Hill added that he administers a weekly teleconference with the other advisers, and they are all in constant touch via e-mail, but he alone brings major foreign-policy ideas to Giuliani. "We have debates and discussions on every issue."
Other senior advisers include Harvard professor Stephen Peter Rosen, who some consider to hold hawkish views; Robert Conquest, a respected historian who advised former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and Former Wisconsin Sen. Robert Kasten, who chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations.
Daniel Pipes, founder of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and a vocal critic of radical Islam, has also advised the campaign, but is not officially part of the team, according to Hill. Pipes was cited as an adviser by Newsweek, but it's not clear if his role has changed or been diminished in recent months.
"Each candidate has emphasized different aspects of foreign policy. For Giuliani, it's been the war on terror; for McCain, it's been Iraq," stated Pipes, who wouldn't, however, discuss his role in the process.
Other GOP contenders have also assembled extensive teams of advisers, although not quite as many as Giuliani. One major confidante of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney include U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, who has also expressed concern about Muslim groups within the United States that may be supporting terrorism.
According to campaign spokesman Alex Burgos, other key advisers are Steven Schrage, an international-law specialist and former State Department official; retired Maj. Gen. James "Spider" Marks; and former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber.
Campaign staffers for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did not provide a list. But according to one compiled by The Washington Post on Oct. 2, McCain's advisers have familiar names: former Secretaries of State George P. Shultz and Colin Powell; retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush; and R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director. Generally, these names call to mind the "realist" school, which advocates an "evenhanded" approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Also mentioned was Richard Lee Armitage, who served as President George W. Bush's deputy secretary of state, and is perhaps best known for his role in the Valerie Plame scandal that ultimately resulted in the imprisonment of I. Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Armitage was the government official who leaked Plame's name to several reporters.
Staff for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did not respond to a request for a list of consultants. He was not included in The Washington Post, probably because he wasn't considered a serious contender until recently.
On the Democratic side, the leading candidates have also accrued consultants with credentials.
"Sen. [Hillary] Clinton is proud to have a broad range of the nation's leading foreign policy and military advisers supporting her campaign," Lee Feinstein, Clinton's foreign-policy director and a State Department deputy under former President Bill Clinton, wrote in an e-mail. The campaign would not provide specific names.
But according to the Post, Clinton's advisers include former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright; Samuel R. Berger, Bill Clinton's national security adviser; Gen. Wesley K. Clark, a 2004 presidential hopeful; Richard Holbrooke, Clinton's ambassador to the United Nations; Martin S. Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel; and former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson -- husband of Plame -- whose criticism of the Bush administration's use of evidence to push for the Iraq invasion apparently led to attempts to reveal his wife's identity.
The paper also cited U.S. Rep. Joseph Sestak (D-District 7). Sestak, a retired vice admiral, said that he's working on outreach to military veterans for the Clinton campaign, but downplayed his role in policy pronouncements.
He did note that "her vision is right in tune with what I believe."
U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) also works with a number of veterans from Bill Clinton's administration. Some of these include: Susan E. Rice, Clinton's Africa specialist at the State Department; W. Anthony Lake, Clinton's national security adviser; Dennis Ross, Clinton's chief Middle East negotiator; and Robert Malley, Clinton's Middle East envoy. Malley, a participant in the 2000 Camp David talks, asserted in a 2002 article published in The New York Review of Books that the Israelis, and not Yasser Arafat, bore the brunt of the responsibility for the failure to reach a lasting peace settlement.
An Obama spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
According to published reports, former Sen. John Edwards' considerably smaller ensemble -- with the exception of Michael Signer, a one-time aid to former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner -- is largely made up of retired military men. These include Irving N. Blickstein, former assistant deputy chief of Naval operations; Gen. Paul J. Kern, former Army Materiel Commander; and Gen. Lester "Les" Lyles, former commander of Air Force Materiel.
How much influence do these famous folks actually have? That depends on the candidate, according to Harvey Sicherman, president of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and an adviser and speechwriter on the elder Bush's 1988 campaign.
"If you look at the writings of a particular adviser and listen to the candidates speeches, and if you see a fair amount of 'plagiarism,' you have influence," said Sicherman, who took a job in the State Department after Bush's victory.
He added that when it comes to foreign policy, unwritten rules exist. One is that: "If you support Israel, it helps you, and if you don't, it hurts."