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Exhuming Warren Christopher

When Al Gore announced in November 2000 that he had designated Warren Christopher to lead his legal effort in Florida I was--how do I say this?--flabbergasted. You see, I thought that Christopher was actually dead. But the truth is that even when I knew he was alive, let's say when serving as secretary of state in the early years of the Clinton administration, I had a suspicion that he was dead, that he was kept in formaldehyde and brought out to put the people to sleep.

This is the reality that emerges from the portrayal of Christopher by John Hurt in the HBO special "Recount." Imagine putting a perfect gentleman, even if he were alive, up against James Baker, a vicious and sneaky man who felt no discomfort in making deadly deals with Saddam Hussein. Let alone calculating how to take down the constitution of the United States in behalf of a nitwit like George W. Bush.

I don't remember when it was (during Jimmy Carter's time or the Clinton era) that TNR ran a front-page overline to an article on him, thus, "Warren Christopher, Empty Suit." Caution seemed to be his only command to himself which is why--it is true, always with a frown--he never seemed particularly perturbed by the more than year-long kidnapping of American diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

Why do I obsess so about Warren Christopher? One reason is that he represents the foreign policy that opened the U.S. to its opposite: a reckless foreign policy.  A second reason is he gave the public the creeps in that, with his ghostly face and polite circumlocutions, he told us nothing. And the truth is that he had nothing to tell...or, at least, nothing that he could defend in a public debate in a democratic society.

Oh, yes, and the third reason is that Barack Obama has drawn him into his foreign affairs circle. Now, I support Barack Obama, confidently and enthusiastically.  He  
does not have what is called "foreign policy experience." But neither did Harry Truman or John F. Kennedy. The thought that Christopher is once again in the loop does not reassure. It spooks.

Ditto for Madelaine Albright who, I should concede from the outset, did have a feel for the Balkans, although this seems to have been because she had the experience of being a Czech and knew a European dictator when she saw one. Otherwise, she lacked even Christopher's secretarial dignity, as when she literally ran down the hall after Yassir Arafat, who had left the negotiations in a fit, to implore him to return.

And who can ever forget the very flappable madame secretary's appearance (telecast on CNN), with the toy soldier defense secretary Bill Cohen and shifty national security adviser Sandy Berger, at Ohio State on 1998? She was rattled and incoherent, no model of competence and surely no asset now to Mr. Obama. It is acutely important to recall what subject embroiled her and her comrades with the university crowd: she was threatening war against Saddam Hussein.

One last thought: the Republicans have made a mess of the conduct of foreign affairs. The Democrats did no better. Christopher and Albright offer Obama not model of a fresh start.