Going for the Familiar and the Pragmatic : Clinton chooses an experienced national security team

In choosing his national security-foreign policy team President-elect Bill Clinton has opted for experience over new faces, for pragmatism over any ideological approach to international challenges. The choices are sound, and the collective familiarity with the ways of Washington and the world that his nominees promise to bring to their posts should serve the new President well.

Anchoring the team and becoming the senior member of Clinton's Cabinet will be Los Angeles lawyer Warren Christopher as secretary of state. Along with a number of others named to high posts Tuesday, Christopher served in President Jimmy Carter's Administration as the State Department's second-ranking official. Christopher is known and respected as a patient, persistent negotiator--he won prominence for leading the negotiations with Iran that finally produced the release of the 52 American Embassy hostages on Inauguration Day in 1981--with a strong grasp of detail. He is known equally well for his discretion. In 1991 Christopher led the commission that proposed major reforms in the Los Angeles Police Department. To serve as his deputy, overseeing the day to day work of the department, Clinton has named Clifton Wharton, a highly regarded educator and administrator.

Rep. Les Aspin of Wisconsin, no surprise as Clinton's pick to head the Defense Department, is among the most knowledgeable military experts in Washington. He has served in Congress for nearly 22 years, the last eight as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Aspin, notes the Almanac of American Politics, "may make jokes at the Pentagon's expense, but he has the sturdy faith of interventionist Democrats from Franklin Roosevelt to Henry Jackson that America is a force for good in the world." Aspin strongly supported the Gulf War and--almost alone among those who ventured predictions about its course--foresaw a relatively quick conflict with relatively low U.S. casualties. His long experience assures Clinton of informed advice, and puts in charge of the Pentagon a man who can be sympathetic to the needs of the military without necessarily always buying the products that the generals and admirals are eager to sell.

Anthony Lake, chosen as national security adviser, and Samuel Berger, picked as his top deputy at the National Security Council, both have extensive Washington experience. Lake headed the State Department's policy-planning staff under Carter. Madeleine Albright, who similarly served as a national security aide in the Carter Administration, has been named as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a job Clinton intends to restore to Cabinet status. James Woolsey, a former undersecretary of the Navy who has served under three presidents, is the surprise choice as director of central intelligence, in charge of the CIA and coordinator of all other U.S. intelligence activities.

In their remarks after being introduced in Little Rock on Tuesday, all of the appointees alluded to the diversity of the foreign-policy agenda awaiting the incoming Administration. Terrorism, weapons proliferation, the drug trade and compelling humanitarian needs are all on that agenda. Clinton has picked a team that, in terms of experience and demonstrated competence, can be regarded as well prepared as any in recent memory for the manifold challenges that clearly lie ahead.

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