Three Musketeers of US Foreign Policy Cooperation - on Display in Ohio This Week - Is a Hallmark of This Troika

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At least one morning a week, usually Wednesday, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright meets Defense Secretary William Cohen and National Security Adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger at the White House for breakfast.

The private, informal agenda-setting session over croissants is one example of how the Clinton foreign policy triumvirate - nicknamed the "ABC" by staffers - has built a close rapport.

Their unity was put on display this week as the three top officials rallied public support - during a televised (and ultimately contentious) meeting in Ohio - for a possible military strike against Iraq. Yesterday, Ms. Albright spoke to college students in Tennessee and South Carolina. It is a level of foreign-policy partnership that some experts consider unprecedented. "Albright, Cohen, and Berger have achieved a degree of cooperation and consensus that is unusual and unique," says Allan Goodman at Georgetown University in Washington. In the increasingly complex and nuanced world of post-cold war diplomacy - and particularly as a showdown with Iraq approaches - it is vital that senior US officials speak with one voice to avoid sending mixed signals to allies and foes alike, experts stress. "This team has the uncanny ability to realize that foreign policy does not depend on where you sit, but on the needs of the nation in a particular crisis," says Professor Goodman, executive dean at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service and a former colleague of Albright. Past team members, by contrast, "have been the nation's chief rivals in making foreign policy." Other experts are less glowing, however. They say the threat of war against Iraq has led to a show of unity, overshadowing discord among the three over other issues and day-to-day tactics. "The potential for war has a way of concentrating the mind," notes Casimir Yost, head of Georgetown's Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. Still, most observers would concede that American foreign policy today suffers far less from the vicious ideological struggles and political turf battles that plagued it during much of the cold war. In the late 1960s and early '70s, for example, a bitter rivalry existed in the Nixon administration when National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger took charge of foreign policy at the expense of Secretary of State William Rogers. Tensions were also legendary during the Carter presidency between Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who was more accommodating toward the Soviet Union, and the hawkish security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. In contrast, the post-cold war era has defused stark ideological conflicts and related power struggles, while paving the way for a greater consensus of world views. Yet it has also made the job of plotting out America's diplomatic course far more complex, experts say. Unlike in past decades, responsibility for foreign policymaking is now widely dispersed throughout the government rather than concentrated in a few departments, Prof. …

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