Albright for State Cohen for Defense

Foreign policy team: A woman at Foggy Bottom, a Republican at the Pentagon.

December 06, 1996

ALTHOUGH HEADLINES will accurately shout that President Clinton has appointed a woman as Secretary of State for the first time in history, diplomats around the world know a larger truth: that with Madeleine Albright in charge of Foggy Bottom there will be profound changes in the chemistry of American foreign policy.

In contrast to the ever-cautious Warren Christopher, who provided an aura of badly needed stability when President Clinton first moved into the White House, Ms. Albright is likely to add boldness and passion to American diplomacy. She has proven her bona fides as a team player as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, else Mr. Clinton would not have appointed her. But her world view calls for the projection of American power where it can be effective -- even in situations where vital U.S. interests are not obviously at stake.

"My mind-set is Munich," the Czech-born Albright said a few months ago. "Most of my generation's is Vietnam." In this she differs with such notables as Gen. Colin Powell, who disagreed with her advocacy of bombing attacks on Bosnian Serbs, and with Anthony Lake, the national security adviser now slated to be head of the CIA. It may prove providential, though, to have an outsider like Mr. Lake in charge of the troubled, ingrown intelligence community.

***

More crucial will be Ms. Albright's relationship with Mr. Clinton's choice for Secretary of Defense, Sen. William S. Cohen, a Maine Republican who fulfills the president's professed desire to bring the official opposition into his Cabinet -- especially on its foreign policy team.

Mr. Cohen's Republicanism, however, has been decidedly maverick and moderate in character. As a young member of the House, he voted to impeach Richard Nixon. As a member of the Senate, he approved a report critical of Ronald Reagan's role in the Iran-contra scandal. But he has sided with his conservative ,, GOP colleagues on most issues and is respected on both sides of the aisle for his expertise in intelligence and national security affairs.

What remains to be seen is whether Mr. Cohen can get his arms around the Pentagon, which has been described as the biggest business establishment on the planet. He has had no executive or administrative experience, as was also the case with the first Clinton Defense secretary, former Wisconsin Congressman Les Aspin, who left unhappily after a year.

Mr. Cohen will succeed Defense Secretary William Perry, widely viewed as one of the most effective men ever to hold the Pentagon job. It will be Mr. Cohen's task to curtail such high-cost projects as the B-2 bomber fleet and concentrate on the procurement of weapons systems more attuned to military threats in the post-Cold War world.

With the Albright and Cohen appointments, President Clinton apparently has succeeded in putting together a foreign policy team likely to sail through the Senate confirmation process. Sen. Jesse Helms, the often obstructive chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was quick to praise Ambassador Albright, who had strong support from women's groups eager to have one of their gender in the most prestigious of Cabinet posts. Maryland's Sen. Barbara Mikulski was in her corner from the beginning. As for Mr. Cohen, he is likely to gain the approval of his colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

***

Within the cozy confines of the White House itself, Mr. Clinton will get daily briefings from Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, who is moving up from deputy to chief national security adviser. Mr. Berger's selection is not subject to Senate confirmation.

Still to be chosen will be a successor to Mrs. Albright as U.S. representative to the United Nations. Her appointment came one day after she prevailed in forcing Egypt's Boutros Boutros-Ghali out of his job as U.N. secretary general. This last hurrah was a fitting finale to her tenure as a tough, often-caustic advocate of U.S. policy at the United Nations. She will be long remembered for her comment that Cuba's shooting down of an unarmed American passenger plane did not take cajones, the Spanish word for testicles, but cowardice.

Pub Date: 12/06/96

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