Richard PerleKnown as ‘The Prince of Darkness’ for the radical nature of his opinions, Perle was a foreign policy adviser to President Reagan in the 1980s. A director of the Jerusalem Post, part of the Hollinger Group chaired by Lord Conrad Black, the ferociously pro-Israeli proprietor of the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Perle is chairman of the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board. His star rose with the success of the US military campaign in Afghanistan and his influence grew as war against terrorism gripped the attention of the White House. Two errors, however, have undermined his position. In a misjudged interview with BBC Radio in August, he claimed that the UK would support an American attack on Iraq, a statement that infuriated Downing Street. The crucial error, however, was to invite the obscure Rand Corporation analyst Laurent Murawiec to give a presentation on his views about the future of Saudi Arabia.

The highlights of the presentation, which claimed the US’ oldest and most important Middle East ally was ‘the kernel of evil,’ were leaked and seized upon by critics of Perle and the unilateralists as evidence that they were behaving irrationally. Observers say the affair fatally undermined the credibility of the unilateralists at a critical moment in internal debate within the administration.

Donald RumsfeldThe Secretary of State for Defence has been the dominant personality in the war against terrorism so far. With the US military launching its biggest campaign since the Gulf War, Rumsfeld has dominated the headlines with witty, almost daily press briefings in the Pentagon in which he has charmed and cajoled the Washington press pack. Frequently, it seemed he has set the tone for the whole administration with his asides often trespassing into the areas of responsibility of his cabinet colleague Secretary of State Colin Powell. Like Perle, however, hubris came in unscripted statements to Pentagon staff in August in which he described the West Bank and Gaza as ‘alleged occupied territories’. Rumsfeld’s pro-Likud views are well known, but the statement aggressively infringed Powell’s prerogatives and directly contradicted President Bush’s earlier statements in which he called for the creation of a Palestinian state including the West Bank and Gaza. Opponents of the unilateralists seized on the words with glee and Rumsfeld’s star, and that of his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, has started to wane.

Ariel SharonDarling of the unilateralists, the prime minister of Israel seized the opportunity created by the US’ campaign against terrorism to launch all out war against the Palestinian Authority. His attitude to the plan to attack Iraq was unclear until he called in August for an early military strike against Saddam Hussein. The intervention and its timing seems to have been designed to support the unilateralists in the administration. Israel has consistently sought to prevent multilateral approaches to Middle East issues. In 1991, former Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was forced by Washington to attend the Madrid Middle East summit and begin the process that eventually led to Israeli recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Sharon will fear that a new multinational approach will put similar pressure on him to recognise a Palestinian state.