THE WORLD FROM...Washington

D.C. style-setter Clinton has begun to send signals that domestic, not foreign, affairs will come first

IN Washington people may be getting too wrapped up in this presidential transition. On Monday, a man walked into a Georgetown clothier and bought an expensive suede bomber jacket off the rack. "He said he saw Clinton wear one for a TV interview and he liked the look," says the salesman who helped him.

It's bad enough that America has always regarded First Ladies as fashion role models. In the gentler, role-reversal '90s are men fated to suffer through a period of Bill Clinton chic? It could be difficult - the McDonald's near the White House will be jammed with men drinking water after a morning jog. And how does Clinton get his hair to look like that?

Things might be worse. At least neither Clinton nor Gore is partial to brown plaid suits, as Ronald Reagan was. The cat-vs.- dog question is already getting much play here, though - is Socks, the Clinton feline, less presidential than the famous Millie, the Bushes' dog? More seriously, one of the most important policy questions now debated in official circles is whether President-elect Clinton will send his daughter Chelsea to a D.C. public school.

All this is to point out that even though the election is over, the mood in the United States capital is still introspective. The view from Washington, frankly, doesn't extend very far.

Some voices are warning that after he takes the oath of office Bill Clinton will have to spend more time on foreign affairs than he currently plans. But there's also the political realization that the US electorate didn't just vote for more attention to domestic affairs in the abstract.

In other words, they don't really think that what's going on in the world right now deserves more presidential concern than their problems.

"People will look at Bosnia and say, `Forget it, we have homeless people in Pittsburgh, let the Germans take care of it," says Robert Litwak, director of international programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, here in Washington.

Foreign policy just seems less important now that security threats have diminished while economic woes have gotten worse. Even if Clinton wanted to be a foreign-policy president, and press beyond his mandate for greater intervention in Somalia or ex-Yugoslavia, he'd have a hard time counteracting the latent isolationism now rising in the country.

And bad things could happen, of course - yet more Serbian aggression, destabilization in Hungary, all-out civil war in a former Soviet republic. "Any instability in central Europe will affect our security interests," warns a State Department official worried about the US attention trend.

The symbolism of Clinton's first transition actions, however, couldn't be more pointed. True, he's emphasized that other nations shouldn't try to take advantage of the presidential changeover and that US foreign policy for key issues - such as Iraq - will in essence remain unchanged.

But he has also promoted the formation of a new economic security council along the line of the current National Security Council - thus raising the importance of one subject while downplaying the other.

One symbol still to watch: the order in which Clinton appoints his Cabinet. In past administrations, the secretary of state has often been named first - Bush appointed James Baker the day after the election. But Clinton may first fill jobs that deal with the economy.

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