WASHINGTON — THE first activities on the daily schedule of President George Bush, even after the cold war and the Soviet Union were history, were always an intelligence and national-security briefing.
President Clinton is a commander in chief with different habits and priorities. The briefings have disappeared from his schedule.
In directing the United States' leading role on the world stage, President Clinton follows mostly scripts drafted in the Bush administration - but without Mr. Bush's close personal attention and consistency of execution.
According to observers from many political vantage points - left, middle, and right - large pockets of Mr. Clinton's foreign policy suffer from lack of serious attention or clear aims.
One of those pockets is Bosnia.
``This is the worst example of a president's handling of the use of force overseas since the 1983 intervention in Lebanon,'' says Philip Zelikow, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a former State Department official and member of the White House National Security Council during the Bush administration. ``The policy reveals nothing so much as a desire to get Bosnia off the front pages of the newspaper.''
``It's really despicable,'' says Walter Russell Mead, senior policy adviser to the liberal World Policy Institute, of what he regards as the dishonest NATO policy in Bosnia. NATO is prepared neither to use military force to change the situation on the ground nor to help the Muslims surrender on Serbian terms, he says. ``All of NATO policy is driven by the need to make this look good in the papers.''
On Friday, Clinton mustered a clear NATO ultimatum to halt Serb aggression. At his urging, the North Atlantic Council threatened the Serbs Friday with airstrikes unless they stop shelling the besieged town of Gorazde immediately, withdraw artillery 1.9 miles from the city center by midnight Saturday local time, and withdraw beyond 12 miles by midnight Wednesday.
The same threat of punitive airstrikes now also applies to any other of the six United Nations ``safe areas'' should they come under Serbian attack.
Mortar and sniper fire continued in Gorazde yesterday, the Serbs were only beginning to pull back 24 hours after the first deadline, Saturday, had passed. Yet NATO airstrikes were held off, at least as of this writing, by United Nations officials who apparently argued that the Serbs were moving toward compliance.
Even the decisive clarity of the NATO threat on Friday, for most analysts, only underscored two points: That it comes nearly two weeks after the Serbs called NATO's bluff by continuing attacks on Gorazde after small-scale NATO airstrikes and only after the Serbs have achieved their military objectives in Gorazde.
Further, while the threat of airstrikes may stop the shelling and save some lives, it does not clearly lead to a stable outcome of the Bosnian conflict. The Muslim population of the city can now exist only as a UN-administered refugee camp sustained by relief convoys.
``Sooner or later, all those people in those pockets are going to get on Red Cross buses and leave the safe areas,'' says Mr. Mead.
The Clinton administration wins credit from critics for seriousness and achievement on many foreign affairs fronts.
On world trade, Clinton adopted the Bush script and worked very hard to open up free trade with Mexico, winning passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement by Congress last fall. In the same way, he has pushed global free trade standards under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade talks. These are controversial positions, but the Clinton administration has pursued them with consistency and energy.
Some credit Clinton with able handling of relations with Russia and other former Soviet republics - winning an agreement in January with Ukraine to denuclearize and mobilizing a Western aid package for Russia last year, for example.
But he gets little credit on his handling of Bosnia, Haiti, or Somalia. All are difficult issues that once could have been viewed through a cold war prism to assess the American interest. Further, Clinton in some ways inherited the endgame of policies established under George Bush. He was left to find a way to extricate, for example, the troops Mr. Bush had dispatched to Somalia.
In Bosnia, the Bush position was essentially that the US could do little for the unfortunate Muslims, advising the Europeans to lead Western policy there. Candidate Clinton was highly critical of this passive policy in the face of the horrors of Serbian ethnic cleansing.
Clinton's Bosnia policy as president has been to lift the arms embargo on the Muslims so they can defend themselves and to launch NATO airstrikes against the Serbs. But he has done little to promote this policy, which has never been adopted by the Western allies. It is also inconsistent with having UN humanitarian operations on the ground, in harm's way, critics say.
Mark Lagon, a foreign affairs specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, sees an administration divided between isolationists who want to concentrate on domestic concerns and globalists who want to strengthen international institutions.
Both for different reasons, he says, are happy to defer to NATO and the UN for consensus. No consensus, he adds, means no action.