WARREN Christopher's selection as the next secretary o...

Salmagundi

January 06, 1993

WARREN Christopher's selection as the next secretary o State sent us scurrying to our Carter administration bookshelf to see what his colleagues of the 1977-81 period had to say about him. He served throughout as deputy secretary, first under Cyrus Vance, then under Edmund Muskie.

President Carter, in his memoirs, made the tantalizing comment that Mr. Christopher was "the best public servant I ever knew." Unfortunately, he did not elaborate.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who as national security adviser was constantly at war with Foggy Bottom, recalled that President Carter felt Mr. Vance was useful in reining in the "activists" in the White House.

"I was struck by that observation, and it made me reflect on why Cy and also his deputy, Warren Christopher, were so much better when playing supporting roles than when given predominant responsibility for coping with the ugly realities of the contemporary world," Mr. Brzezinski wrote condescendingly. ". . .Christopher was at his best when supporting Vance, or when negotiating on the president's behalf on the hostage issue. But when diplomacy yielded to power politics, Vance -- and later Christopher when he became in effect Muskie's alter ego, given Muskie's relative unfamiliarity with key problems -- preferred to litigate issues endlessly, to shy away from the unavoidable ingredient of force in dealing with contemporary international realities, and to have an excessive faith that all issues can be resolved by compromise."

Naturally, a kinder assessment came from Mr. Vance. Explaining why he chose Mr. Christopher as his deputy, he wrote: "I knew Warren from our years together in the Johnson administration, and particularly from our work during the Detroit riots in 1967 and the Washington riots in 1968. I had also known him as a trial lawyer. He was strong and imperturbable under pressure, with a keen analytic mind and a selflessness all too rare in government."

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