US and the World, Ch. 2

President Clinton's top national security picks included no surprises. With the exception of Defense Secretary-designate William Cohen, he has essentially reshuffled his players. The result clearly breaks some interesting ground - with the first woman secretary of state in Madeleine Albright, and the bow toward bipartisanship with Republican Cohen - but does it presage any foreign policy breakthroughs?

The recurrent criticism of Mr. Clinton's policy toward the rest of the world is that it has lacked coherence and direction. Whether Haiti, Bosnia, or trade relations with China, the Clinton approach has seemed more reactive than reasoned. A big picture, a blueprint of America's role in a changing post-cold-war world, has been hard to spot.

To be fair, that line of criticism might well have awaited anyone taking the foreign policy reins at this juncture. Security and defense relationships are rapidly evolving; regional conflicts are bubbling up as old repressive systems crumble; democracy struggles for expression in lands that have no experience of it; and the global economy lunges ahead.

The latter part of the Bush administration and the first four years of Clinton's were spent just trying to get footing on this new ground. The newly announced team knows the terrain firsthand. Can they now lay out a foreign and national security policy map that will assure allies, warn potential adversaries, and - not least - give average Americans a clearer sense of why their country acts as it does on the world scene?

Ms. Albright will bring to her job an understanding of the value, and limits, of the United Nations as a linchpin of the US response to situations like Bosnia and Rwanda. She'll have to get beyond the bad feelings left over from Washington's insistence on ousting Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali - an episode she helped engineer.

The new top diplomat also brings a long personal commitment to democracy and human rights. She'll have ample opportunity to demonstrate how America's stand for those basics can coexist with the need to work closely with authoritarian regimes like China's.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Cohen will have to go beyond theory with the strategic restructuring of the US military that has been much talked about ever since the Soviet Union's collapse. Changing world conditions, changing technology, and changing budgetary politics demand a retooling of the country's armed services. The former senator from Maine spent years preparing for this job as one of Congress's top national security thinkers. Now he'll be able to take the helm of the Pentagon bureaucracy and see if he can move it toward the streamlined military of the 21st century - all the while bringing along an often balky GOP-led Congress.

The other two members of the new team, Anthony Lake at the Central Intelligence Agency and Sandy Berger as national security adviser, contribute needed policy expertise in such areas as the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Both are close Clinton associates, who have the ear of their boss.

Mr. Lake will also need the ear, and hearts, of a still demoralized CIA staff, which came a long way under the capable leadership of outgoing director John Deutch, but has been rocked anew by the Harold Nicholson espionage case.

Can this team, as a whole or through the genius of any one member, provide fresh vision and purpose? The answer to that question will depend to a large extent on the foreign policy commitment of the man who has selected them.

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