Washington.--When Earl Weaver was manager of Baltimore's Orioles and bane of American League umpires, he would charge out of the dugout bellowing, "Are you gonna get any better or is this it?" Today that question is being asked about the Clinton administration. The answer is: This is it.

This is what liberal government looks like -- Lyndon Johnson redux. Consider two examples, the administration's plan for fine-tuning the Balkan civil war, and the administration's plan for fine-tuning the fairness of American society.

Sunday's Washington Post read like a bulletin from a time warp. Under a headline "Trying to Level the Battlefield," the Post reported that Mr. Clinton plans to "equalize the combatants" by arming Bosnia's Muslims. "The theory," the Post reported, "is that the warring Bosnian Serbs and Muslims eventually will make peace, once they are more equally armed." But the Bosnian Muslim militias must get just the precisely right amounts of weapons -- enough to prevent the Muslims' defeat but not enough to embolden the Muslims to try to reconquer lost territory.

And George Stephanopoulos, speaking of tightening economic sanctions against Serbia, says: "We certainly would like to make that tightening of the screw work." So, another . . . what? . . . one-and-a-third turns? Three-and-two-thirds? So far the arms embargo has had the opposite of the intended effect: It has encouraged aggression by the better-armed Serbs.

But this time the government will get it precisely right -- just the right mix of arms and sanctions to produce a decision matrix (let's hope the warring parties know they are supposed to start behaving like rational students of game theory) that brings everyone to fruitful negotiations.

This is the real "Vietnam syndrome," the belief of civilians that they can cleverly administer violence and other coercion in precise and manipulative doses. Vietnam, remember, was a professors' war, long on theories and nuances. Force was dispensed in carefully calibrated increments to "signal" this or that, and to modify enemy behavior by rewarding and punishing the enemy's actions while the United States went about "nation-building" in South Vietnam.

Quick, someone send to the White House Deborah Shapley's book "Promise and Power: The Life and Times of Robert McNamara." And mark pages 321-323 where McGeorge Bundy, Johnson's national-security adviser, outlines a plan for bombing North Vietnam in careful proportion to North Vietnam's violence in South Vietnam.

Operation "Rolling Thunder" derived, Ms. Shapley writes, "from the intellectual theories of signaling and bargaining among adversaries in nuclear war and of ladders of escalation and de-escalation. . . . McNamara may have imagined the bombing campaign as a balance sheet, with the number of enemy targets hit in one column and measures of enemy activity in the South in the other. Bundy's report even proposed a yardstick: They would publish 'weekly lists of outrages' in the South corresponding to the level of 'pain' inflicted in the North."

Bundy's report was written in 1965, three years after McNamara was presented with "Operation Explosion," a plan to arm the South Vietnamese in order to level the battlefield and bring about negotiations with the Communists. In 1962 McNamara said of "Operation Explosion": "We must take a conservative view and assume it will take three years instead of one year."

The Clinton administration's confidence in its capacity to fine-tune the fairness of American society also resembles the Johnson administration's confidence. The resemblance is particularly striking concerning the racial policies that for 30 years have been disuniting America, producing a proliferation of grievance groups, each claiming victim status and demanding entitlement to special rights.

The Johnson administration fostered the now-rampant ideology of victimism: The evils of American society cripple certain groups; they must be treated as wards of the state and given preferential treatment. Victimism has given rise to forced busing, affirmative action, racial set-asides, and even the "race-norming" of test scores.

Under race-norming, scores achieved by job applicants on certain tests are segmented by racial groups. Individual scores are reported not in relation to all those taking the test, but only in relation to others in the individual's racial group. Blacks are only compared with blacks, Hispanics only with Hispanics.

The 1991 Civil Rights Act supposedly outlawed race-norming. But Section 403 of President Clinton's education bill calls for a system of assessment and certification of skill standards that utilizes "certification techniques that are designed to avoid disparate impacts (which, for the purposes of this subparagraph, means substantially different rates of certification) against individuals based on race, gender, age, ethnicity, disability or national origin."

This is race-norming (and gender-norming, etc.). It is just another facet of the Clinton administration's Johnsonian confidence in its ability to fine-tune the world, bringing reality into conformity with ideology. An interesting word describes the effect that policies like race-norming have on American society: Balkanization.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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