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Clinton Taps Albright, Cohen For Top Positions in Cabinet

By Peter Baker and John F. Harris
The Washington Post

With one eye on the history books and the other on a Republican Congress, President Clinton Thursday nominated U.N. Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright to be the first woman to serve as secretary of state and Sen. William S. Cohen to be defense secretary and the first Republican in his Cabinet.

Clinton also tapped national security adviser Anthony Lake to take over as CIA director for his second term and promoted Lake's deputy, Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, to replace him at the White House.

Clinton settled on his choices after personally agonizing through a month-long, hurry-up-and-wait process in which new frontrunners seemed to emerge every week. In the end, the personnel shuffle served a pair of political purposes: muting criticism from some feminist activists, after women strongly favored him in his reelection and reaching out to the GOP congressional leaders he will have to work with for at least two more years.

Albright's rise was all the more remarkable because early on she was described as a "second-tier" candidate behind others with less experience but more personal rapport with Clinton. Now the tough-minded diplomat whose family escaped the Nazis in Czechoslovakia is slated to become the highest-ranking woman in the history of the United States, fourth in the line of succession to the presidency itself.

Cohen, a moderate with a famously independent streak who is retiring after 24 years in Congress, propelled himself to the top of the military hierarchy on the strength of his job interview. Long enamored with the idea of including a Republican in his inner circle, Clinton developed a personal chemistry with the part-time poet and spy novelist during several recent meetings.

Surrounded by his new lieutenants during an Oval Office ceremony Thursday, a hoarse-throated Clinton was clearly taken with the pattern-breaking nature of his picks even as he downplayed the importance of their demographic qualities.

"Am I proud that I got a chance to appoint the first woman secretary of state?" Clinton asked rhetorically. "You bet I am. My mama's smiling down at me right now. But that is not why I appointed her."

Similarly, he said, "I would never have asked Senator Cohen to join the Cabinet solely because he's Republican. It would have been folly. I think he is uniquely well-qualified at this moment in history. So am I glad that I have a Republican in the Cabinet? Yes."

For all their novelty, though, three of the four are known commodities who served Clinton in his first term.

Collectively, they face the task of continuing to redefine America's role in the post-Cold War era as the world's sole "indispensable nation," as Clinton termed it. During the next term, the president and his new team must find ways to bring home U.S. troops from Bosnia and central Africa safely and successfully, get the Middle East peace process back on track, usher in the expansion of NATO without alienating Russia and find new ways to engage China.

Individually, each of the new nominees has more on the plate. Albright was picked in part because Clinton believes she will aggressively defend the State Department's dwindling operations and foreign aid budgets before Congress. Cohen must figure out how to modernize weapon systems during a time of austerity. Lake takes over a CIA rocked by a recent spy scandal and somewhat unsure of its mission in the new world order.

In addition, Cohen and Lake bring virtually no management experience to the task of running two of the biggest and most notoriously difficult bureaucracies in government.