Two faces of the new poet on Capitol Hill

Rupert Cornwell on William Cohen, Bill Clinton's new Defense Secretary

Washington - Say what you like about William Cohen, he is nothing if not bipartisan - in matters literary as well as political. Not only did he take issue with presidents of his own party in Washington's two greatest scandals of the last quarter century: he even crossed the aisle to write a novel with a Democrat.

In that enterprise his partner was the erstwhile Senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart. The end product, a taut and plausible political thriller, was called the Double Man. The title sums up the man: William Cohen, literatus of Capitol Hill, student of Latin, Hebrew and Spanish and no mean dabbler in poetry. And William Cohen the defence and security policy expert, now to be President Bill Clinton's Secretary of Defense.

The job was unexpected. Just a couple of months ago, after he had announced he was leaving Congress out of disgust at its bickering and meanness, the 18-year Senator from Maine reeled off to an interviewer a list of alternative careers. Among them, more thrillers, a job with a law firm, or setting up his own intelligence and defence consulting business. But then the President called. Would he consider working in a genuinely bipartisan national security team for a second Clinton term?

"It's a job where you lose your personal life, your privacy, your family," says the outgoing Defense Secretary William Perry, the most travelled Pentagon chief in history, who in 1996 has logged more than 200,000 miles. To it, Mr Cohen brings the keenest of minds and a reputation of one of the leading lights on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.

But a man who must now run a bureaucracy of 3 million people and an annual budget of over $250bn has never run a business or served in the military.

In the Senate his popularity is huge. Even among Republican conservatives, his vote as a freshman Representative in 1974 for articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, and his fierce criticism of Ronald Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair 12 years later, are badges of honour.

Since then Mr Cohen has grown into an eminence grise of US defence thinking, opposing the extravagant B-2 stealth bomber while searching for a doctrine to guide US military involvements in the post-Cold War world. And though he has never been in uniform, lines from A Baker's Nickel, the volume of poetry he published in 1986, suggest he is fully aware of the consequences of a failure by humankind to keep the peace:

"So when the earth goes red with a thousand suns, you can fire your light into the breast of sky a thousand times, star-drilled into all the hydrogen- headed monsters that rise up from earth and sea contemplating great catastrophe."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: £20000 - £25000 per annum + c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a number ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Sales Consultant - OTE £45,000

£15000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you want to work for an exci...

Day In a Page

Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

Latest on the Labour leadership contest
Froome seals second Tour de France victory

Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

The uses of sarcasm

'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

No vanity, but lots of flair

A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

In praise of foraging

How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food