The national security team named by President-elect Clinton Tuesday reflects the outline of his emerging foreign policy: long on reassurance and continuity--and more cautious about innovation than candidate-Clinton sometimes seemed to promise.
During his presidential campaign, the Arkansas governor offered a policy geared for the tumultuous new world that has followed the end of the Cold War: a new emphasis on U.S. economic goals, more attention to promoting democracy in Russia and other countries and a more activist approach to ending the war in Yugoslavia.
But in the weeks since his election, Clinton's statements have come down on the side of caution in all these areas. Likewise, his choices Tuesday all came from the broad center of the Democratic foreign policy Establishment. "These aren't people to lead crusades," one influential Democrat noted.
Notably missing from the new team, for example, was a clear voice for integrating economic policy into the national security agenda. That is one of the most important and far-reaching changes Clinton has proposed. But his aides admit that they have not mapped out a clear way to do it.
The emphasis on caution has been deliberate, Clinton and his advisers say. One of the signals the President-elect wanted to send--to both Congress and the world--was of continuity with the Bush Administration where continuity is warranted.
With his agenda dominated by domestic economic concerns, Clinton has no apparent desire to devote more time and energy than necessary to international issues--and thus shows little appetite for bold departures from the past.
"I always tried to make the point that I thought we needed some continuity and some change . . . " Clinton said Tuesday, after introducing his national security team. "I don't think that you can make change in an area this important unless you also know what needs to be maintained."
"We need bold new thinking to guide us in this new era," said Warren Christopher, the Los Angeles lawyer nominated for secretary of state. "But our Administration will pursue these goals with an appreciation of history . . . " he added. "American foreign policy is a continuum."
Foreign policy and national security experts and Clinton transition aides described the nominees in glowing terms: Christopher as a masterful negotiator and unfailingly judicious decision-maker, national security adviser nominee Anthony Lake as a brilliant policy-drafter and gifted conciliator, defense secretary-designate Les Aspin as an eminent defense intellectual and congressional tactician.
But the cautious, mainstream character of the group drew private grumbles from some of the neoconservatives and economic nationalists who supported Clinton's campaign--and who had hoped to see some clearer departures from tradition.
"The question about Bill Clinton isn't an old-fashioned ideological question that you can talk about in terms of left or right," said one transition official who asked not to be named. "The question is whether he is going to turn out to be an idealist or a realist and whether he is going to have real ideas."
In that sense, several Democratic moderates and neoconservatives said privately that they were disappointed with the selection of Christopher as secretary of state, because they expect him to be less innovative than their preferred candidates, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) and Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), might have been.
But they acknowledged that Christopher had clearly won Clinton's confidence during the campaign--and that the Californian would be skilled at implementing whatever policies the new President decides on.
The question, they said, is who will do the designing?
"It's going to be a very formidable intellectual problem," said Roger Morris, who served with Lake on the National Security Council staff during the Richard M. Nixon Administration. "The Clinton Administration doesn't really have a foreign policy yet; someone's going to have to give it one. And it's not going to come from the bureaucracy; the bureaucracy is way behind the curve."
"This is a pretty centrist group," said a prominent Democratic foreign policy expert who, hoping for a job in the Administration, also asked not to be named. "Christopher is left-center, Aspin is center, (CIA nominee R. James) Woolsey is right-center. But it's all pretty moderate."
If the Clinton Administration is going to design a new foreign policy for the post-Cold War world, in other words, it will probably be a gradual, cautious process, by men and women whose careers were formed in the old school.
Many expect the central role in "conceptualizing" to fall to Lake, a veteran strategist who played a major role writing Clinton's widely praised foreign policy speeches during the campaign. Those speeches required Clinton to work out a more detailed global strategy and more specific policy positions than ever had been demanded of him as governor of Arkansas; aides who were present said that they watched as a "chemistry" visibly developed between the two men.
"The relationship between a President and his national security adviser can be very important in formulating policies if they develop an intellectual relationship of equals," said Morris. "Bush and (Brent) Scowcroft had that kind of congenial relationship and that could happen again here."
One of the key themes Lake helped develop, associates said, was the idea of promoting democracy around the world as a central purpose of American power. But how that broad commitment affects U.S. diplomacy in practice has not yet been worked out.
Still, one transition aide said, it provides one clue: "If there are any new departures in foreign policy, they are going to come from the White House, which means Tony," he declared.
But that assessment could turn out to underestimate the role of Christopher--and of Clinton himself.
Based on his track record as deputy secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter, Christopher might be expected to focus his energies on hands-on negotiations on a few key issues: economic and arms control deals with Russia, the war in Yugoslavia, the Arab-Israeli peace talks.
But a secretary of state can assemble a formidable team of strategists himself--as Secretary of State James A. Baker III, better known as a negotiator than a theorist, did during the first three years of the Bush Administration.
Indeed, Christopher cited two of history's strongest secretaries of state on Tuesday as his models--George C. Marshall and Dean Acheson, who served at the beginning of the Cold War under President Harry S. Truman.
By the same token, Lake has told friends that he views Scowcroft, President Bush's unassuming but powerful national security aide, as the model he would like to emulate.
And, of course, Clinton inevitably will play the most important role--even if he tries to limit the time he spends on foreign policy.
Like every President-elect, Clinton has said that he wants his team to act in harmony, not in bureaucratic warfare. The new Administration may benefit from two recent examples: Clinton himself has pointed to the Bush regime as a model of cooperation, while both Christopher and Lake witnessed the disarray caused by internal conflict during the Carter Administration.