Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nominees Reflect No Foreign Policy Vision

WASHINGTON -- In picking a new foreign policy team, U.S. president Bill Clinton opted for good group chemistry but gave the United States no clear signal of the direction he hopes to take in world affairs during his second term.


The two central figures charged with shaping the way the United States relates to the world around it over the next four years -- Secretary of State-nominee Madeleine Albright and the choice for national security adviser, Samuel Berger -- have long-established friendships both with the president and each other, friendships forged during the general election campaigns in 1988 and 1992.


The styles and interests of the two also seem complementary. While Albright has gained a reputation among colleagues for pushing American positions at the expense of potentially broader compromise during her tenure as U.N. ambassador, Berger is known as a skilled consensus-builder who showed a rare talent in his present job as deputy national security adviser for weaving together seemingly contradictory views into positions that all can support.


Albright exudes confidence when in the public spotlight, enjoys television and articulates U.S. policy well, while Berger is little known outside the White House and seems to like it that way. Albright's personal background and interests draw her heavily toward the political challenges in Europe; Berger's strong suit is economics and East Asia.


With the selections, which included Sen. William Cohen as defense secretary and Anthony Lake, the current national security adviser, as director of the CIA, Clinton has achieved what aides have long claimed was his overriding consideration in selecting a national security team: collegiality. Lake is a known entity and a team player, while Cohen is known to be comfortable with this group.


"He's picked a team that can work very well together," summed up one White House official. "This is a Clinton hallmark at this point."


But with both Albright and Berger far better known for the way they work than any doctrine they profess, many foreign policy specialists were at a loss to interpret any message in the new team.


"I don't see any vision in this collection," said Richard Haass, director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. "This doesn't answer anything about what we're going to see in the second term. I think it reflects Mr. Clinton's uncertainty in foreign policy."


While the exact direction of Clinton's second-term foreign policy remains uncertain, all signs point to a more active U.S. role in world affairs. In their formal remarks Thursday at the White House, both Clinton and Albright referred to the United States as the world's "indispensable power." That assessment is a far cry from the early months of Clinton's first term when the new president and his secretary of state, Warren Christopher, believed the world could survive with the United States playing a more passive role.


In recent interviews, Albright has stressed the need for American assertiveness.


In a meeting with a group of foreign affairs correspondents here last October, Albright devoted her opening remarks to the plight of Burma's prominent dissident Aung San Suu Kyi, whom she had met during a visit to the Asian country last year.


"Her commitment to human rights is not only strong, but at a gut level," noted Michael Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. "There was a kind of bonding between the two when they met. She was extremely involved at a personal level after that."


With Clinton facing a series of diplomatically tricky issues over the next year, including NATO expansion and forging a new relationship with Russia, some of those who have watched Albright's sometimes-abrasive style at the United Nations wonder if she is the right choice.


White House officials, however, claim Berger can provide the balance needed to soften Albright's views.