Gergen move to State leaves officials spinning


WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said in a statement last night that he "enthusiastically" welcomed it. National Security Adviser Anthony Lake insisted in an interview yesterday that he supported it from the moment the president told him about it.

But in the corridors of the State Department, and even parts of the White House, there is anxiety about the appointment of David R. Gergen as a "special adviser" to both Mr. Christopher and President Clinton.

The new role for Mr. Gergen, who has been White House counselor, was alternately described yesterday as a move to package the performance of Mr. Christopher and his team better; a face-saving way to get Mr. Gergen a new job; and a cynical effort to salvage the Clinton administration's troubled foreign policy with more spin than substance.

The White House version of what happened is that Mr. Clinton needed a place to put Mr. Gergen when he decided to move his friend Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III from the White House chief of staff job into Mr. Gergen's position. Mr. Gergen, who has long wanted to play a larger role in foreign policy, knew that his relationship with Mr. Lake -- which administration officials acknowledge is strained -- meant that he could not stay at the White House as a floating second counselor with responsibility for foreign affairs.

The State Department was a convenient place to put the former aide to three Republican presidents before he leaves the administration, as he said he would, at the end of the year.

According to this version of events, Mr. Clinton is said to havetold aides in recent days that Mr. Gergen could help Mr. Christopher in the articulation of foreign policy, an area where even Mr. Christopher acknowledges that he has weaknesses.

Mr. Christopher and Mr. Gergen are said to genuinely like each other. And in a statement issued late Monday, Mr. Christopher, who learned only on Saturday from Vice President Al Gore of the changes, said that Mr. Gergen would contribute to policy formulation and also would "bring to our discussions at the White House a well-honed sense of how this administration can better communicate its foreign policy goals to the American people."

But others at the State Department see it differently -- as the naming of still another political appointee to the circle around Mr. Christopher on the seventh floor. That circle includes, among others, a former journalist and author as deputy secretary (Strobe Talbott), a former congressman as special Haiti envoy (William H. Gray III) and a former senator with responsibility for global affairs (Tim Wirth).

Still others see it as the emergence of a powerful new troika at the State Department. The announcement of Mr. Gergen's arrival follows by only a few days the announcement that Richard C. Holbrooke, the ambassador to Germany and an experienced bureaucratic infighter, will return to Washington as assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, replacing Stephen A. Oxman, who was dismissed by Mr. Christopher.

Mr. Gergen, Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Talbott are all friends who have forged links outside of government, and their alliance could strengthen, or weaken, Mr. Christopher.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad