US Presidential Elections: Clinton to place foreign affairs in safe hands

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Washington - A nemesis- inviting guessing-game - Who Gets What Job in a Clinton administration - is in its third or fourth round in Washington. On the domestic side, the names pile up like autumn leaves. On the foreign policy side, four or five names keep appearing at the top of the heap, writes John Lichfield.

Secretary of state, it is confidently predicted, would be one of two men, both dependable and uninspiring: Warren Christopher, deputy secretary of state under Jimmy Carter, now practising LA law; or Lee Hamilton, Democratic Congressman from Indiana, a noted anglophile and senior Clinton foreign affairs adviser.

These are 'the kind of old family retainers you turn to if you want to do nothing challenging and keep out of trouble,' said one Democratic official. 'They're safe, obvious,' said one former Reagan administration foreign policy adviser. 'They tell you that Clinton wants to put foreign policy in dependable hands and get on with his domestic agenda. Clinton can't afford another Bay of Pigs because of incompetent staffing.'

But a veteran Democratic insider, and friend of Warren Christopher, believes neither man is in line for the job. 'Christopher is too soft for the top job. He's an ideal number two. In any case, he wants to be attorney-general, not secretary of state. Lee Hamilton is in line to be chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress. I'm convinced both he and Clinton think he can do more good for a Clinton administration by staying put.'

So who will be the first Democratic secretary of state since Ed Muskie 12 years ago? 'Quite frankly, there is no obvious candidate with the charisma and prestige and experience to be immediately acceptable, both at home and abroad,' says a Kennedy- vintage Democratic foreign policy expert. 'More than any other position, maybe, 'state' shows the vacuum of Democratic talent after being out of executive office for so long.'

One theory gaining ground in Washington is that Governor Clinton - who likes to surround himself with quality, likes surprises and has promised a bipartisan administration - might offer the State Department to Colin Powell. General Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through the Gulf war, national security adviser to Ronald Reagan, is hugely respected in both parties. He has never revealed his political leanings but people who know him well suspect he has ambitions to run for president one day - as a Democrat. Another dark horse candidate for secretary of state is said to be Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.

The new secretary of defense would most probably be Congressman Les Aspin, chairman of the House of Representatives Defense Committee. Mr Aspin is said to be reluctant to leave such a powerful job to become a mere defense secretary but the voters of Wisconsin may remove his luxury of choice. Mr Aspin's re-election campaign is in trouble. He may be one of the senior victims of the anti-incumbency mood terrifying congressmen of both parties this year.

The most likely candidate for national security adviser - the president's personal consultant on foreign affairs - is Anthony Lake, chief of planning in the Carter State Department. Mr Lake is regarded as highly clever, experienced and pragmatic (not unlike Brent Scowcroft, the incumbent). Another possibility is said to be Michael Mandelbaum, professor of foreign affairs at Johns Hopkins University, a Clinton chum since their student days in England.

For director of central intelligence - at a time of intense post- Cold War teeth-gnashing over what the CIA is supposed to do these days - there are two principal contenders. Dave McCurdy, a Democratic congressman and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, or William Crowe, chairman of the joint chief of staffs