Why not leave now and save Clinton the trouble?


HERE'S A SCENE not seen in the movie "Quiz Show":

The show's host asks the players, "Who was the secretary of state who went to the movies on the day the United States was preparing to invade Haiti? You have five seconds in this final round."

A stiff, beady-eyed gentleman slowly moves to press the buzzer. "Why, that would be me, I think."

The host grins. "Wow! You've just won our grand prize! A #F vacation around the world! Make that a permanent vacation."

That's right. While former President Jimmy Carter was on his way to Haiti, along with Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn and retired Gen. Colin Powell, Warren Christopher was heading to the movies to watch "Quiz Show."

Apparently, Mr. Christopher was queasy about having the United States lead an invasion of Haiti. Once President Clinton decided to have the Carter-Nunn-Powell group attempt negotiations with Haiti's generals, Mr. Christopher disconnected from the issue altogether.

Bill Clinton appointed the low-key Mr. Christopher to secretary of state, believing perhaps that he was the perfect man to handle an area of government that the president decidedly wanted to keep low-key. Foreign policy, after all, was not a big issue during the campaign. If anything, it became a liability for President Bush; Many voters said he concentrated too much on foreign policy.

Still, Mr. Christopher has to be the least energetic and most uninspiring member of the Clinton Cabinet. One political sage I know, asked to come up with a compliment about Mr. Christopher, could muster only "quietly competent."


From the beginning, Mr. Christopher has been a delegator. On several diplomatic fronts, for instance, he has set about parceling out the high-profile work to his deputies or even to Mr. Carter.

To ambassador-at-large Robert Gallucci, an arms-control expert who was involved in the United Nations' program of disarming Iraq, has gone the job of resolving the nuclear weapons issue involving North Korea.

To Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has gone the former Soviet Union because Mr. Talbott, a former journalist, is considered a Russia expert. The issue of Bosnia, too, is being handled more and more by Mr. Talbott because of the Serbians' ethnic connection to the Russians.

To Mr. Carter, of course, went the work of negotiating with dictators in North Korea and Haiti.

Mr. Christopher, meanwhile, seems to be concentrating on the Middle East. He has taken more than a half-dozen trips to the region in an effort to help Israel and its Arab neighbors reach peace.

China, too, has been on the Christopher itinerary, but the news reports about his attempts to talk tough with the Chinese weren't exactly positive.

No doubt that Mr. Christopher's spotty work thus far may be as much a reflection on Mr. Clinton's lack of expertise in foreign policy as it is on Mr. Christopher's seeming inability to lead the president in the right direction.

Mr. Christopher is, by any account, no Jim Baker, former President Bush's secretary of state. You had a sense when you heard Jim Baker speak that he was in control, that he knew when to bluff and when to lay all the cards on the table.

With Warren Christopher one gets the sense that he's playing solitaire with a deck that includes the jokers. Take the issue of human rights, which Christopher spearheaded during the Carter administration as deputy secretary of state. More than a decade later, it still remains a mushy notion yet to be developed into a sound standard that's applied fairly to all countries.

Mr. Christopher may not leave his Cabinet post for a grand-prize vacation, but the writing has to be on a White House wall. Christopher has to go.

Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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