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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moderate Cohen Untried as Manager

WASHINGTON -- In choosing departing Senator William Cohen to be his next secretary of defense, U.S. President Bill Clinton has opted for a man who is likely to be able to help defend his military policies before Congress and the public, but is inexperienced at running a bureaucratic behemoth like the Pentagon.

Cohen, 56, is a moderate Republican who has earned respect and credibility on defense issues among lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill. Charismatic, he has proven effective in making the case to voters on key issues. And he is highly regarded among top officials around the world.

Clinton said Thursday he decided upon Cohen partly in hopes that Cohen -- as a Republican who enjoys good relations with many Democrats -- can help quell Republican sniping on defense issues and forge bipartisan support for the administration's defense policies.

But it still is an open question whether Cohen, who was leaving the Senate this year after spending the bulk of his career as a lawyer and lawmaker, will have the determination and managerial ability needed to keep the armed services in line and push them into addressing the challenges they are facing.

Harry Summers, a retired Army colonel now serving as a defense analyst, says Cohen is "quite knowledgeable'' about defense issues and effective on Capitol Hill, but notes that there are "two components'' to the Pentagon's top job -- the political side and managing the bureaucracy.

Cohen, if confirmed, as expected, will face no dearth of challenges during his first few months in office. By law, the Pentagon must conduct a sweeping review of the current defense policy and make formal recommendations on how to change the size and mission of the nation's military for the 21st century.

He also is likely to have to defend the Pentagon's budget against increasing attacks from liberals, who want to transfer some of the money to popular domestic programs, and against constricting amendments by conservatives, who want to limit Clinton's authority to deploy troops abroad.