Clinton's Carter-Look Foreign Policy Team May Mix Old Idealism, New Pragmatism

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

LAST week President-elect Clinton announced a foreign policy team that could easily be dubbed "Jimmy II: The Legacy."

With the exception of Defense Secretary-designate Les Aspin, every member of the team served under President Carter, the last Democrat in the White House.

Secretary of State-designate Warren Christopher was Mr. Carter's deputy secretary of state; Anthony Lake and Samuel Berger, the Nos. 1 and 2 at the National Security Council (NSC), were director and deputy director, respectively, of the State Department's policy planning staff in the late 1970s; United Nations Ambassador-designate Madeleine Albright was an NSC staff member under Carter; and CIA Director-designate James Woolsey was Carter's undersecretary of the Navy.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?

"There is probably more of the Carter legacy [in foreign policy] than in any other part of the Clinton administration," says Gaddis Smith, a Yale University historian who has written a book about Carter's foreign policy. In particular, Dr. Smith adds, Mr. Clinton's team represents the idealistic foreign policy tradition of Carter's Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, as opposed to the more hard-line faction led by National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

"The human-rights face of the Carter administration is back in power," Smith says.

As a result, many analysts predict that policy concerns that dominated the Carter years - promoting human rights, democracy, and international cooperation - will come to the forefront under Clinton. In fact, that change already may have started in the waning days of the Bush administration, when the president ordered US troops into Somalia on a purely humanitarian expedition.

The Clinton administration "will be concerned with democracy, more willing to use force in a variety of situations, more concerned with environmental and economic issues," says Morton Halperin, an analyst who worked with Mr. Lake at the NSC under Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s. "They're not radical changes, but changes of emphasis."

Refocusing on human rights concerns conservative analysts. They blame Carter's focus on the human rights records of American allies for allowing rulers friendly to the US, such as Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran or Gen. Anastasio Somoza Debayle in Nicaragua, to be overthrown by anti-Western forces.

"I'm worried that there'll be a replay of the disasters of the Carter era," says James Phillips, a foreign policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "I'm concerned about [the Clinton team] looking through rose-colored glasses at world problems and overestimating the prospects of good relations with regimes that have different objectives from the US."

Or as one official who served in the Carter period puts it pithily: "The Vance crowd has triumphed. What evidence is there that they'll do better this time?"

Some observers feel the evidence is twofold: First, the world situation has changed dramatically in the past decade, and, to a lesser extent, so have the men and women who crafted Carter's foreign policy.

The very nature of the old Brzezinski-versus-Vance, conservative-versus-liberal feud has been turned on its head by the end of the cold war. Hard-liners like Mr. Brzezinski could once be relied on to advocate military intervention abroad to counter communism; Mr. Vance and other liberals, by and large, opposed the use of military force. But now that the Soviet Union is no longer a threat, conservatives are far more hesitant to commit armed forces to the field, while many liberals appear gung-ho about sen ding US troops on humanitarian missions to Somalia and possibly elsewhere.

The change has been evident in many members of the Clinton team. Lake, for example, was one of the chief theoreticians behind Vance's stand against military intervention. Yet today, judging by his work as a foreign policy adviser to the Clinton-Gore campaign, Lake favors not only the US presence in Somalia but also a stepped-up role in Bosnia.

"There is much more willingness to use military force, especially in limited kinds of situations," says Mr. Halperin, who is a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Some former Carter officials trace the greater willingness to use force to the experiences of their administration. In particular, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the seizure of hostages in Iran showed the limits of diplomacy: In both cases, Carter felt compelled to use military power, albeit covertly, to strike back at US enemies.

The members of Clinton's foreign policy team are "pragmatic liberals," says Joseph Nye Jr., a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., who was a top official in the Carter State Department. "The pragmatism comes from the experiences of the [1970s] period and what's happened since. They know force is needed and how you apply it has to be done carefully."

Donald McHenry, who was US ambassador to the UN from 1979-81, says the Carter years not only toughened Mr. Christopher, Lake, and the others, but also taught them lessons in teamwork.

"I believe there'll be less competition between State and NSC," Mr. McHenry says, because the Clinton appointees saw how debilitating the competition between Vance and Brzezinski was.

Clinton's choices, he adds, are "problem-solvers who'll work well as a team."

Share this story:

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.

Loading...

Loading...

Loading...