Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Search for a Foreign-Policy Fall Guy Secretary of State Christopher Faces Criticism for US Lapses Abroad, but Is Secure for Now

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Search for a Foreign-Policy Fall Guy Secretary of State Christopher Faces Criticism for US Lapses Abroad, but Is Secure for Now

Article excerpt

AS the Clinton administration nears the two-year point, Secretary of State Warren Christopher has become one of the most widely criticized chiefs of Foggy Bottom in decades. It is an ironic twist for a famously modest, reticent man. The very qualities that have helped him in the past in a long legal and diplomatic career are now said by his critics to be contributing to Mr. Clinton's foreign-policy problems.

Sniping at the leadership of the Department of State is a long-established Washington practice. James Baker III, President Bush's chief diplomat, was said to rely too much on an insular inner circle for support. During the Reagan era, Alexander Haig was held by many to be mercurial; George Schultz was often faulted for a dull style.

Mr. Christopher may have been on the edge of losing his job several times, according to many observers in Washington, but now he is thought secure, at least through the midterm elections in November. But he is still widely perceived to be a liability, at least in terms of US domestic politics.

The White House has sent presidential counselor and communications expert David Gergen to State to help Christopher put a better face on the administration's foreign policy.

"It never helps any administration to have a cabinet official become a lightening rod," says Charles William Maynes, editor of Foreign Policy magazine.

Whether Christopher is the real cause of Clinton's foreign policy problems is an open question. Even the secretary of state's detractors acknowledge that managing US foreign policy has never been more difficult.

"The administration is grappling with foreign problems that are unprecedented in complexity - problems for which there are no simple answers," a former US diplomat notes.

During the cold war, policy makers had the easier task of dealing mostly with conflicts between states. They could wield the traditional tools of diplomacy and negotiate with strong national leaders who could make rational calculations of national interest.

Virtually all the conflicts that have raged since the end of the cold war, however, have been internal conflicts - Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti - that have weakened national leaders and left the US with cruel policy choices.

"All over the world we're dealing with the equivalent of the Los Angeles riots," Mr. Maynes says. "Is anyone in charge of the riots that you can reason with, threaten, or bribe? Even if there is, would he have the power to stop the riots? …

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