Today, Somalia ... . . .Tomorrow, why not Bosnia?

The success of Bush's mission could put pressure on Clinton to intervene elsewhere.

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TRUE TO HIS CAMPAIGN PROMise, Bill Clinton resolutely kept his focus on domestic affairs when he announced the first appointments to his Administration; they were all members of his economic team. But much as the President-elect might have wished it otherwise, the world outside was already closing in on him. Like most newcomers to the Oval Office, Clinton is quickly learning the power of international events to set the President's agenda.

Foreign policy has leapfrogged to the top. In Somalia, the Marines are moving more slowly than expected to extend their security zone. Relief workers in the hinterlands are clamoring for rescue from attacks by armed gangs. At the U.N., Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali made new demands on the U.S., insisting that American troops remain in Somalia until they have disarmed the warring clans and restored some central authority. And in Brussels, the NATO allies are looking once again at the possibility of using armed force against Serbian aggressors in the remnants of Yugoslavia.

In just a month, Clinton will be expected to have not only solutions to these specific problems but also a full-blown foreign policy that begins to define the post-cold war role of the U.S. "He knows that he's going to do that, for better or worse, by what he does or doesn't do," says a Clinton adviser. The startlingly new way American forces are being used in Somalia -- for humanitarian purposes, with no national interest at stake -- has instantly opened the debate about where the new President, with his activist conception of government and criticism of Bush for holding back on Bosnia and Somalia, will be inclined to take the country. Rather than inoculating the U.S. against having to do something in Bosnia, the Somalia venture has only intensified the pressure to apply the same moral approach there.

From the beginning of the 1992 campaign, Clinton challenged certain aspects of George Bush's foreign policy but chose to concentrate on the economy. He has followed the same pattern during the transition, publicly approving Bush's decision to send U.S. troops to Somalia. Bush is still in office and Clinton without responsibility, so that seemed the proper path and the safest one politically. Nevertheless, the accretion of decisions in Somalia and the Balkans may already be serious enough to box in the new Administration from the day it takes office.

Clinton's foreign-policy advisers say they know they will inherit unsolved issues and hot spots. But, one says firmly, "we should not and cannot conduct foreign policy between now and Jan. 20. The world needs to have no ambiguity about who's President until then." Clinton and his team are regularly informed, but not consulted, by the White House on major decisions: a secure phone allows National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft to keep in contact with Clinton aides Sandy Berger and Nancy Soderberg. There are no complaints on either side about the one-way dialogue. "There's no reason why he should be in on day-to-day decisions," says another Clinton adviser. "So long as he can understand what the implications are for his own Administration, he has what he needs."

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