National Security: A Dramatic Makeover

By James Kitfield, National Journal, and Graeme Browning

November 16, 1996

Perhaps not surprisingly, the calls began even before the debris was swept from the victory party. Secretary of State Christopher traveled to Little Rock, Ark., for a private meeting with Clinton the day after the election, one last errand after four years and nearly 700,000 miles of frequent flying. Defense Secretary Perry called Arkansas to say that he, too, was through.

Senior-level shake-ups are traditional at the beginning of second terms. Given a series of resignations and likely reshufflings, however, Clinton's foreign policy and national security team will undergo a dramatic makeover.

CIA director John M. Deutch, for instance, is considered a primary contender for the top Pentagon post. Former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, is a possibility at State. National security adviser Anthony Lake and deputy secretary of State Strobe Talbott could switch positions.

As the principals leave the stage or continue to circle in what amounts to a Cabinet-level game of musical chairs, knowledgeable analysts are already assessing the legacies of the recently departed, and speculating about the challenges that await their successors.

``I think President Clinton and his new foreign policy team will face some difficult challenges very early,'' said Robert B. Zoellick, former undersecretary of State for economic and agricultural affairs, and now a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

STATE DEPARTMENT

After an admittedly rocky first two years of setbacks in Haiti, China and Somalia--which prompted Christopher to offer his resignation in 1994--the Secretary of State's team is generally viewed as having found its bearings.

That turnaround began with the successful intervention in Haiti, and was solidified by effective coercive diplomacy to end the war in the former Yugoslavia. Christopher remained a dogged pursuer of peace in the Middle East throughout. However, when Christopher admitted in a recent interview that it had taken the Administration some time to appreciate the importance of vigorous ``U.S. leadership,'' he once again became a lightning rod for critics who say he lacked vision and failed to adequately defend his department from congressional budget cutters.

Besides Mitchell, the most-oft-mentioned replacements at State are about-to-retire Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and U.N. representative Madeleine K. Albright. Dark-horse candidates include former assistant secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton Peace Accords for Bosnia, and former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who'll be leaving his post as ambassador to Japan.

According to sources on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, most of the candidates would be assured speedy Senate confirmation. ``The only candidate that might catch even some peripheral flak would be Albright, because some people fault her for so aggressively promoting multilateralism early in her term,'' a committee aide said. ``I still think, however, that she would be given the benefit of the doubt. Of the names that have been mentioned in the press, the only one that could cause serious trouble would be Strobe Talbott.''

Should the next Secretary of State last a full term, he or she is likely to confront the dangerous disintegration of North Korea, destabilizing leadership transitions in China and Russia, NATO expansion, a Middle East peace process in disarray, the difficult withdrawal of American troops from Bosnia and stumbles on the path to democracy in Haiti.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

When Perry takes a planned trip to Bosnia to spend Thanksgiving with the troops, it will probably mark the end of what by nearly all accounts is one of the most remarkable relationships ever between a civilian Defense Secretary and the men and women in uniform under his command. The mutual respect was noted recently when Air Force enlisted personnel awarded Perry the prestigious ``Order of the Sword.''

That relationship goes a long way toward explaining why many experts view Perry as the standout of Clinton's first Cabinet. When then-deputy secretary Perry took over for Les Aspin in the wake of the 1993 Somalia debacle, a chasm was growing between the White House and the military.

Senior military officers widely credit Perry for successfully straddling and closing that chasm. Besides quality-of-life improvements, Perry's legacy includes major acquisition reforms, marked progress in dismantling the Russian nuclear stockpile and managing a major postwar drawdown without eviscerating the military.

Above all, however, uniformed leaders point to Perry's steady hand at the Defense Department's rudder during turbulent times as perhaps his most enduring legacy. ``Perry represented the only person in the Clinton Administration who was able to articulate a rationale for using military forces in pursuit of national security,'' said retired Gen. Edward (Shy) Meyer, the former Army Chief of Staff.

The leading candidates for the job are generally believed to be CIA director Deutch, who was deputy Defense secretary under Perry, and Nunn, the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Both represent known and respected quantities in defense and military circles.

While the next Defense Secretary will have to address the issues of a troop withdrawal from Bosnia and NATO expansion almost immediately, the biggest challenge remains a $50 billion-$150 billion gap between the Administration's future-years defense plans and the projected costs of sustaining and modernizing the current force.

INTELLIGENCE

Deutch last year assumed control of a CIA struggling to define its role in the post-Cold War world even while it coped with a series of scandals.

Crises included the Aldrich H. Ames spying case, revelations of CIA involvement with a Guatemalan military officer implicated in the murder of an American, an embarrassing breakdown in tradecraft that led to the exposure of spy agency operations in France and discovery of a hidden $4 billion fund at the super-secret National Reconnaissance Office. More recently, the agency has been buffeted by unsubstantiated news reports of a CIA connection to Nicaraguan drug traffickers in America.

Not surprisingly, the no-nonsense reformer has endured a rocky tenure as head of U.S. intelligence. After firing two CIA officials over the Guatemalan incident and instituting restrictions on the recruitment of informers with shady or criminal backgrounds, Deutch has been vilified by many CIA insiders.

Despite attempts by the House and Senate Select Intelligence Committees to pass major reform legislation this year, very little of substance was actually enacted. Deutch attempted to push through a major consolidation of eight intelligence and defense imaging agencies into the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, but disparate turf concerns of the CIA and the Pentagon, and the intelligence and defense committees on Capitol Hill, stymied major changes.

Those most often mentioned as possible replacements at the CIA are deputy attorney general Jamie S. Gorelick, a former Pentagon general counsel; outgoing Sen. William S. Cohen, R-Maine; and deputy CIA director George J. Tenet.

Chief among the challenges facing the next director are such threats as terrorist organizations, global organized crime groups and arms proliferators. Dealing with those challenges is likely to prove doubly difficult given new restrictions on and increased attention to the recruiting and handling of ``dirty assets.''

To be successful, the director will also have to explain why its spies cannot all come in from the cold with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. ``The biggest challenge for the next [intelligence chief] will be clearly explaining what the mission of the CIA and national intelligence is in the post-Cold War world,'' said Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the agency. ``It's hard to sustain support for intelligence when your longtime enemy has disappeared.''

UNITED NATIONS

A number of analysts maintain that Albright engineered one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Clinton's first Cabinet.

Early in her tenure, she was largely seen as promoting assertive multilateralism conducted largely through the United Nations. After United Nations-led peacekeeping debacles in Somalia and Bosnia, however, she worked to lower expectations.

Albright is credited with pushing a number of needed reforms at the United Nations. In internal Administration deliberations, she was also seen as a strong voice for establishing war crime tribunals in Bosnia. Some analysts maintain, however that her much-publicized efforts to oust U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali at the end of his present term may leave many bitter feelings for a successor to smooth over. There's also the matter of the roughly $1 billion in unpaid dues that America owes the world body.

Because she is considered a long shot for Secretary of State and has privately stated her wish to continue at the United Nations, Albright may well prove a rare island of continuity on Clinton's foreign policy team. In that case, instituting further reforms and winning support for the United Nations on Capitol Hill may be her greatest challenge.

VETERANS AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT

Cabinet officers have checked out or are being urged to leave, but not VA Secretary Brown. The man The Wall Street Journal recently called ``the most powerful Clinton appointee never to appear on a Sunday morning talk show'' also appears to be the Cabinet member most secure in his job.

Brown, a former marine whose right arm was disabled in Vietnam, has turned his passion for veterans' rights and his intractability on budgetary matters (he once talked the White House Office of Management and Budget [OMB] into adding more than $1 billion to its budget proposal for the VA) into a powerful force within the Administration. While he has battled both fellow Cabinet members and Congress on a number of occasions, Brown has also presided over a hefty 9 per cent growth in the VA's budget during that time.

A former lobbyist for the Disabled American Veterans, Brown has the enthusiastic support of the veterans' lobby. ``He's one of the strongest advocates for our side that we've ever had,'' said an officer of a key veterans' organization who asked not to be identified. ``Most of us would prefer that he stay [in the Cabinet] because the alternative isn't that attractive.''

That ``alternative'' would be Hershel W. Gober, an old friend of Clinton's who currently serves as the VA's deputy secretary. While Brown has given no indication that he plans to resign, veterans' lobbyists say that Gober wouldn't be nearly as effective in the top post. Brown's partisan political skills would also be missed.


By James Kitfield, National Journal, and Graeme Browning

November 16, 1996

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