Clinton picks experience before charisma

THE president-elect, Bill Clinton, settled yesterday on a foreign affairs team heavily dependent on Carter administration veterans, which will have the task of shaping American policy for a fast-developing new world order.

As he pushed to complete his cabinet by Christmas, Mr Clinton confirmed his choice of Warren Christopher, 67, to head the team as Secretary of State. He will be joined by Les Aspin, 54, a Democrat in Congress, as Defense Secretary and Anthony Lake, 53, as National Security Advisor. Mr Christopher's deputy will be Clifton Wharton, 66, an insurance executive and former Chancellor of the State University of New York.

Other related appointments, announced by Mr Clinton at a press conference in Little Rock, include James Woolsey, a conservative Democrat, as new CIA chief and Madeleine Albright as Ambassador to the United Nations with cabinet status. Both Mr Woolsey and Ms Albright were officials in the Carter administration. The choice of Ms Albright will also help Mr Clinton fend off criticism that he has not appointed enough women to high office.

Mr Clinton's choices may be lacking in movie-star charisma but closely reflect his bent towards an activist world policy, driven less by the realpolitik of the Bush administraion and more by a moral concern for democracy and human rights.

The philosophy is more or less personified in Mr Christopher. Quiet-spoken and deliberate, his reputation as a foreign policy dove was formed during his days as number two in the State Department in the Carter administration.

Les Aspin, a long-time server in the House of Representatives, has argued for a re-skewing of priorities for America's military might away from purely strategic concerns and towards a commitment to humanitarian causes. He would have favoured an earlier US deployment to Somalia and probably argued for greater involvement in Bosnia.

Underpinning the new stable will be Anthony Lake as Mr Clinton's National Security Advisor in the White House. Now an academic at a Massachussetts college, Mr Lake, a self-deprecating figured, has made plain his belief in a foreign policy based on the benign use of US capabilities abroad. His deputy will be Samuel Berger, a Democratic Party insider, who worked with Mr Lake in shaping Mr Clinton's foreign policy position in the campaign.

Underlining the new dangers of the post-Cold War era in Little Rock, Mr Clinton spoke sombrely of 'going into a really volatile world'. His would be a 'foreign policy of engagement', he said, dedicated to human rights, resolving regional conflicts and deterring the proliferation of arms.

The extent to which the team springs from the Carter days in part reflects the paucity of foreign policy experience within the Democratic Party, which has been out of the White House for 12 years. None of the appointees has personal experience of high office.

A few in the Democratic Party may be disappointed not just with the absence of personal flair among the team's members but also that the choices themselves were not more imaginative.

The expected activism of the team will probably show itself initially in the new administration's handling of both the Somalia and Bosnia crises. Mr Clinton may prove relatively sympathetic to calls made by the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, to keep US forces in Somalia for an extended time before handing over responsibility to the UN. As a demonstration of his commitment to moral foreign policy, Mr Clinton has also promised to get tougher with China and open the door to refugees from Haiti.

That Mr Christopher and Mr Aspin are known quantities together with their combined reputation for dependability, will doubtless offer some reassurance to America's foreign partners, including Britain.

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