CLINTON’S GLOBE-TROTTER : Secretary of State Warren Christopher Knows the Power of Being an Insider With a Social Conscience. And He’s Carrying it Into the Global Arena
The man is nothing if not nice. He apologizes for not having found time for an interview during those hectic months in Little Rock when he was running the transition team. Nor could he fit one in during the pit stops at his downtown Los Angeles law office, where everybody in the world seemed to be dropping in to offer congratulations and a resume.
Now, with his wife, Marie, waiting down at the beach during a brief Hawaiian vacation before his confirmation as secretary of state, Warren Christopher is reluctantly returning a reporter’s call.
“I don’t know how good I am at being introspective,” he says. He finds it “corny” to talk about the tough times growing up during the Depression in North Dakota, the root source of his consistent liberalism, and “immodest” to trace his rise to the top of corporate law and governmental power. But he would try.
A lifetime of reticence had suddenly failed him as a civic virtue: Critics were equating his reputation for behind-the-scenes efficiency with opportunism, and they attributed his history of sparse and always tempered public remarks to a lack of vision.
What kept coming up was the gray thing--Christopher was too careful, too much the diplomat, ever the corporate lawyer. A New York Times profile defined him as a man of the center bereft of passion. And the New Republic attacked him as a “sphinx,” a man who represented competence without content. The joke in Washington is that he is Cyrus Vance without the charisma.
He does seem painfully shy. Long pauses in the phone conversation hang heavy whenever a personal question is asked, as if the line between Los Angeles and Kona had suddenly gone dead. Why does any of this matter, the silences seem to be asking.
Warren Christopher is not being rude. He never is. Just unfailingly discreet. Despite his frequent spells of high-profile public service during his 67 years, the media clips are surprisingly barren of telling anecdotes or insightful quotes. What you get is a bare-bones resume. Self-revelation is not Warren Christopher’s game. “I’m shy,” he says. “It’s probably somewhat genetic. I’m Norwegian and Norwegians are quite reserved, generally speaking.” His language, like everything else about him, is cautious.
Calm and ever self-effacing, he shunned the spotlight after his negotiations led to the release of American hostages from Iran in 1981, and he gave up writing a book on the hostage affair because “I don’t like using the vertical pronoun.”
Robert Pierpoint, the former CBS correspondent, recalls taking Christopher and his wife out to dinner at the Four Seasons in Washington the night after the hostages were released. As Christopher crossed the restaurant to leave, the normally blase Washingtonians burst into loud, sustained applause. Christopher was genuinely puzzled. Pierpoint, who has known Christopher for more than 30 years, insists that “he didn’t have a clue as to why they were applauding. And I said, ‘The fact is, you’re a national hero for helping get the hostages freed,’ and he was totally startled.”
By contrast, says Pierpoint, who also knew Henry Kissinger quite well, “Kissinger cultivated the press and played games with those of us who covered him, and these are things Christopher would shy away from.” More important, Pierpoint notes that “Henry has this concept of foreign policy in which you play Metternich or Cardinal Richelieu and you play one side off against the other. I think Christopher is much more interested in trying to smooth over differences between nations rather than exploit them.”
One has the sense that for Christopher, an argument in any context would be wasteful. His wife says they have not had a fight in 35 years. Colleagues report that he is possessed of a startling equanimity. Donn Miller, a former law partner at O’Melveny & Myers who has played tennis with him almost every week for 32 years, insists that Christopher has never disputed a call or argued about anything, not even politics. This even though Miller is a Reagan Republican and Christopher a veteran of the Jimmy Carter Administration. “He may not be huggable, but he is always considerate and respectful. He is true to his values and he has a backbone of steel,” says Miller.
Still, some questions persist about just what values drive this perfectly turned-out, poker-faced lawyer, who has been a confidant to liberal politicians and corporate CEOs. Because he has written little outside of legal briefs, his positions are most often imputed. He is, at the same time, the dovish negotiator of Carter’s State Department; the conservative, wealthy managing partner of Los Angeles’ most traditional law firm; an accommodating No. 2 who had reached his zenith as the top deputy in the Justice and State departments; the gutsy leader who guided a major investigation of the Los Angeles Police Department.
This confusion about Christopher’s purposes, his identity, is in large measure his own doing. He has masked them in the language of compromise while preferring to act, unobserved, in the recesses of power. His agenda is liberal and straightforward, but his mode of operation is circumspect.
The mistake in judging Christopher lies in the assumption that a gray-flannel, button-down, million-dollar-a-year lawyer who made a reputation saving IBM’s bacon cannot be a passionate liberal. He has worked at that conservative exterior, always wearing just the right understated tie and a muted facial expression, never evidencing the slightest scent of controversial commitment.
But in a rare moment of reflection, he makes it quite clear that his impeccable appearance and manner are a means rather than an end: “I try to get the most out of the horsepower that I have. Dressing neatly and so forth is part of that--not trying to carry any added handicaps from personal aspects if you don’t have to.”
Dressing for success is not to be confused with the purpose of his ambition: “I always saw it as a means to be able to accomplish more. I always thought that I would do things in a conservative way to maximize the progressiveness of my policy positions.”
As a liberal mole in establishment institutions he has been masterly. He was director of the respected McCone Commission’s investigation of the 1965 Watts riots; protected civil rights under Lyndon Johnson; was human-rights point man in the Carter State Department and an advocate for women and minorities in one of the most cloistered of the white Establishment law firms.
He demurs slightly when confronted with this interpretation of his actions during a follow-up interview several weeks into his new job--but he doesn’t dismiss the idea entirely. “I’m just passionate about those things that I’m concerned about. . . . You could say passionate about liberal causes.”
Always proper, never raising the sweat of controversy if he can avoid it, Christopher does seem to have been acting on a seriously held political agenda.
Underlying that vision is a deeply felt encounter with six turbulent decades of this country’s history, beginning with a boyhood in the Great Depression and extending to his efforts to make some sense of the recent riots in L.A.
In tapping Warren Christopher to assemble his Cabinet and spearhead his foreign policy, the baby boom President has turned to a man whose values, world view and habits were tempered by an earlier generation’s experiences. But there are important parallels in their lives: Both knew economic deprivation, both succeeded by assiduously putting their best foot forward, both claim to bring the insights and compassion of personal struggle to their political outlook.
And both are now facing sore tests in a post-Cold War world in which alliances are disintegrating, adversaries changing and authority difficult to determine. Like Clinton, Christopher insists that he has values that will not be sacrificed by his strong instinct for political survival. “Either instinctively or consciously,” he explains, “it always seems to me that if you are courteous and prudent,you can advance causes and advance ideas that would be unacceptable for others. Everybody talks about me being the patrician lawyer, and I’m not.”
CLUES TO THE FORCES THAT SHAPED WARREN CHRISTOPHER ARE not easy to come by. No dark family secrets, just that privacy thing. These are not people who blurt out memories--Christopher’s older sister, Jean Iverson, checks first with her brother before offering her recollection that he had, indeed, gone swimming in a pond left over from strip mining. But rest assured that this family comes from a real place. A harsh place.
The tiny farming hamlet of Scranton, N.D. was already struggling through the Great Depression in 1937, when its crops were laid low by drought and dust storms. Wheat prices plummeted and good men were broken, not the least among them Warren Christopher’s father.
Until the Depression hit hard, life had been quite charming for the close-knit Christopher family. His parents, Ernest and Catherine, had moved to North Dakota from Iowa in 1914 and for more than two decades they lived the good small-town life in Scranton, which then as now had a population of 300. His father, who had studied law in Iowa, headed the school board and the Lutheran Church Sunday school, and every Sunday afternoon he got out his violin and, along with various of his children and neighbors, performed for hours.
Attendance was expected, and what was expected was done. Jean recalls being charged on those occasions with cleaning the play-yard dirt off young Warren, known to this day in his family as “Bob” after a maternal grandfather. A clean child was also expected each night for the family dinner along with linen napkins and napkin holders. There were rules, they were observed, but the parents are not remembered as particularly strict. “We respected and loved our father and wanted his approval,” Iverson recalls.
This was also a home of some intellectual nourishment. The family had purchased a set of the Harvard Classics from a traveling salesman, and Warren worked his way through the volumes. Each week, the family eagerly awaited the arrival of Time magazine, which generated considerable discussion concerning events of the larger world. The country’s economy was in shambles, war was on the horizon, and the family, following the lead of Ernest Christopher, came down solidly on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt side of things.
Iverson reports that Warren Christopher is the spitting image of their father in appearance as well as in his scholarly bent, work ethic and loyalty to the Democratic Party. This last was no small commitment in Bowman County, where Democrats were few and far between.
His father was solidly behind Roosevelt’s New Deal, and Christopher is quite clear in tracing his own liberalism back to long political conversations with his dad. “He just talked to me about the needs of the people and concern for the people. He talked about the substance of issues connected with Roosevelt rather than trying to intellectualize.”
His father, manager of one of two small local banks, was very popular and active in civic activities. In what must have represented a spirit of avant-garde abandon, Ernest Christopher teamed up with the manager of the rival bank and built a municipal tennis court. When the harsh weather of the Dakotas permitted, the two men took out on the tennis court whatever aggressions they felt each afternoon. Then, the weather turned harsher, and drought and Depression hit simultaneously. The agricultural economy crumbled and with it, the honor of a decent small-town banker.
The description of the winter of 1937 is succinct, but the whisper of Warren Christopher’s voice leaves no doubt that this was the formative season of his life. “It was the Depression, my father was a small-town banker,” he says. “I went with him when he clerked at the foreclosure of his friends’ houses. He collapsed under the weight of it.” At 49, the elder Christopher had a massive stroke, and there was little doubt among the family that the Depression had caused it.
For Warren Christopher, the two events will always be entwined. “My father was in charge of running the bank. And the failure of the bank very much reflected, he felt, on him. My father’s massive stroke was almost certainly occasioned by overwork from trying to keep his bank solvent.”
Months after the stroke, which left his right side paralyzed, his father moved to Los Angeles in the hopes of recuperating, and his wife and children followed as soon as the family home was sold. Times suddenly got very hard. The older children--Warren had two brothers, both now deceased--had to forgo college and get jobs. Iverson went to work in Bismarck, earning $80 a month, and sent what she could back to the family.
But even as Christopher describes this period he feels the need to add: “I don’t want to overdo talk about the hard times because, you know, that gets a little corny. But we lived very modestly.”
Christopher’s mother, Catherine, who died 14 years ago, struggled to provide for her family in a rented apartment in a bungalow complex in Hollywood, caring for the invalid father (who would suffer several more strokes before dying at age 53), rearing Warren and youngest child, Lois, and working full time as a salesperson at Buffums and Sears.
Pierpoint, whose wife, Pat, was a classmate of Christopher at the University of Redlands, attributes Christopher’s “liberalism” in part to that background. He shared “a story about Chris which he would probably be embarrassed if I tell, but it’s useful.
“He told me that when he was at Hollywood High he had to deliver newspapers for six hours in the afternoon. And he didn’t have the money that a lot of the kids who went to Hollywood High School had. He felt that he was a victim of a class society, that most of the kids came from privileged families and that he did not and had to work hard for everything that he got. And I think that background was a major part of the reason that he is today a strong Democrat.
“He felt discriminated against because he was poor, and to this day remembers those who discriminated against him. He wasn’t a member of the Establishment in the high school. And to this day he feels a certain kinship to people who are treated as second-class citizens because of their poverty or their race.”
As Pierpoint predicted, Christopher is embarrassed when asked about that story. Its emphasis on hard times, he says, “makes me cringe.” He points out that he also headed the debate club at his high school and was quite popular.
THE ODD TWIN TRAITS OF SHYNESS AND charm that would mark him for life were evident in Christopher’s years as a college student and Navy officer in World War II. He entered college at 16 and, despite his shyness, was a leading member of the debate team at the University of Redlands, which he attended on scholarship, and was elected editor of the school paper as well as president of the sophomore class.
“He had a quiet magnetism,” recalls Pat Pierpoint, who was also on the Redlands debating squad. “He didn’t have to go out looking for it; it just came looking for him.”
Christopher spent only 18 months at Redlands before the war intruded. Bright students like Christopher were being recruited as officer material, and he was transferred to the Naval Officer Program at USC for intense, accelerated courses that combined naval science with a general academic curriculum. Eighteen months after what he recalls as a “grueling ordeal,” he emerged with a BA and the rank of ensign. Soon, he was aboard an oil tanker in the Pacific.
The war was winding down and he did not see battle, although he recalls being close enough to the combat zone to welcome Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop the bomb: “I was in the Japanese theater, and I understand fully Truman’s decision. And I do think there is an important place for force not only in wars but in diplomacy.” Then, characteristically, he adds the caution that “I will always wonder if all the alternatives to dropping the bomb were fully explored.”
Christopher has always been an eager and apt student who has no trouble deferring to those who might teach him something, and the appeal of such a pupil has drawn a string of mentors over the years. Back in North Dakota, one of his teachers saw his promise, encouraged him to aim high and actually took him with her on a trip to her hometown because, as his sister recalls, she was hesitant to drive across the state alone and “Warren was such good company.”
The pattern continued through high school and undergraduate days, and he still clearly recalls the individual professors who singled him out for special encouragement. At Stanford, where he pursued a law degree after leaving the military, he had the support of Carl Spaeth, dean of the law school, who had been in the State Department during the war and had remained an avid FDR New Dealer. Spaeth and Christopher, who put in what he recalls as long days as the first editor of the Law Review, were enamored of Dean Acheson, Truman’s secretary of state, and his aggressive internationalism. Acheson and his predecessor as secretary of state, George C. Marshall, would remain Christopher’s role models even as he followed them to the office of secretary of state.
Because his undergraduate years had been truncated, the academic education of Warren Christopher really only began at Stanford Law School. He still expresses what might be an exaggerated regard for law school education. Says Pierpoint: “His major flaw is his undue respect for legal education, which may explain why something like 13 of the 17 top Clinton appointees were lawyers.” He suggested that Christopher had blundered in championing Zoe Baird, whose hiring of two illegal immigrants derailed her nomination for attorney general, in part because of her impressive law school record.
At Stanford, Christopher began to weave the dual threads that would mark his career: a pursuit of the power and social position that would move him far from his family’s Depression-era struggles, and a strong sense of liberal social values. The Law Review brought him into contact with lifelong--and influential--friends. Fred Dutton, who would become an aide to Robert F. Kennedy and who is currently a Washington lobbyist, was the most liberal member of the Law Review. It was Dutton who, as chief of staff for California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, brought Christopher into the inner loop of that Administration. Seth Hufstedler, who now heads his own prestigious law firm in Los Angeles, remains a close friend, as does his well-known wife, attorney Shirley Hufstedler.
The Law Review circle, Seth Hufstedler says, “had a strong commitment to minority rights; that was the time that they were just beginning to stir. The Navy was still segregated until 1947. The blacks primarily did the duty in the kitchen, steward’s duty and such. Chris always had a high interest in what was going on.”
Christopher clerked with the legendary civil libertarian on the Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, helping him with his work on a book called “The Almanac of Liberty.” Christopher remembers that “I would do drafts of the chapter and send them out to him. And he would send them back just mercilessly edited and cut up.” Though their relationship seemed distant, Douglas surprised Christopher years later by writing to Brown to recommend him for a seat on the California Supreme Court--an offer Christopher rejected, feeling, at age 39, unprepared.
The Hufstedlers remember Christopher was then dating the woman who would become his first wife, Joan Southgate Workman, but recall little about a six-year marriage that represents a rare failure in Christopher’s otherwise perfectly ordered life. The couple had a daughter, Lynn Collins, who is now 40 and lives in the Bay Area.
After his clerkship, Christopher returned to Los Angeles to become an associate with the city’s most prestigious law firm, O’Melveny & Myers. As Hufstedler views it, the decision had to do with positioning Christopher for a run to the top of his profession. The firm would provide him the power base for forays into political life--and an extremely lucrative career.
He made partner at O’Melveny at the early age of 33 and had been at the primarily Republican law firm only a year when he became acting executive secretary to Pat Brown, advising the new Democratic governor on judicial appointments as well as on overall strategy. Christopher wrote speeches for Brown and is credited with the slogan “responsible liberalism.” He still mentions Brown in identifying his own brand of liberalism.
His liberalism only extended to the practice of law in the most peripheral of ways. His career was made by victories scored on behalf of such corporate multinationals as IBM and Lockheed. Christopher acknowledges that there was never a moment when he contemplated putting the bulk of his legal talents at the service of the disenfranchised. The law, for Christopher, has meant serving corporate masters, and he is credited with success in wooing such clients. Chiefly a litigator, he earned high marks at the firm for defending IBM against competitors.
Christopher concedes that his primary legal work has been aimed at advancing the interests of corporations that could foot the firm’s very high bills, but he insists that he pioneered a serious commitment on the part of the firm to do pro bono work. He served for a number of years on a panel of lawyers in federal cases for clients who could not afford representation.
He also worked to move the firm away from anti-Semitic, racist and sexist hiring guidelines. John Phillips, one of a group who made the trek from Boalt Hall at Berkeley to the stuffy chambers of O’Melveny in the ‘60s, recalls Christopher as an early champion of diversity. In his first months on the job, Phillips complained to Christopher about the firm’s time-honored practice of holding lunch meetings at the California Club, which excluded blacks, Jews and women. Within days, the decision was made to stop meetings at the club, even though a number of the partners, including Christopher, were officers of the exclusive watering hole.
Christopher is known for his efficient work style. He puts in long days but easily delegates assignments. He is always properly briefed on issues and pays attention to the personal needs of associates. There are frequent stories of Christopher’s counseling associates to take time off to be with their families when needed and sending gifts to colleagues’ children. He has kept a close connection with his own children from two marriages: Collins, the daughter from his first marriage; Scott, 34, an investment banker in San Francisco; Thomas, 33, an attorney with an American firm in Stockholm; Kristen, 29, who works at a public relations firm in Westwood.
His work habits reflect his larger sense of purpose. He rises early, jogs, breakfasts on juice and a muffin, and begins his day in the office following a tightly organized schedule. He prefers a light lunch and does not have his martini until returning home, where he might also indulge in a glass of white wine to accompany his staple diet of healthy but bland food. He wakes up throughout the night to jot down ideas on pieces of cardboard retained from his shirt laundry and kept near his bed.
CHRISTOPHER WAS pulled into the public eye in 1965, when Pat Brown asked him to act as director of the McCone Commission, which assessed the causes of the Watts rioting. The report, while not as extensive as the more recent Christopher Commission report, nonetheless remains a credible and bold work with its strong call for economic justice for the ghetto. The problem, Christopher says, is that public officials largely ignored the commission’s recommendations.
His work on the McCone Commission brought Christopher to the attention of Ramsey Clark, Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general. With roughly 18 months to go in Johnson’s tenure and the country torn apart by civil rights protests and anti-Vietnam War sentiment, Christopher was asked to help hold it all together as deputy attorney general, and it was he who acted as the Administration’s point man, shepherding the historic 1968 Civil Rights Act through a resistant Congress.
“He was a major force in securing the ’68 civil rights bill, which,” says Clark, “was by far the most difficult and potentially far-reaching of all civil rights legislation.
“It was a time when fear of urban riots and the fear of crime was very high. It was an easy time not to stand up for civil rights because you know there were controversies about whether busing and things like that were causing riots. Warren always stood up for civil rights,” says Clark, “and made a tremendous difference during a very difficult time.
Clark’s liberal Justice Department caught a good deal of flak for opposing the death penalty, even in one celebrated incident when two Border Patrol agents had been killed. Clark insists that Christopher was solidly with him and boldly represented the department in the most controversial matters. “Christopher did not go out of his way to make enemies, but he was never afraid of controversy,” Clark recalls.
After his tenure in the Justice Department, Clark became a maverick proponent of human rights; Christopher went back to O’Melveny. How to explain such commitment while in public office with his return to conservative law practice? Clark, as seems inevitable in the appraisals of those who have worked with Christopher, puts a pro-Christopher spin on his account, suggesting that Christopher is the rare corporate attorney who somehow manages to put the public before the private interest. “I have never seen Warren very far away from public service and public interest,” he says. “I have never seen him use it as a means to promote his law firm or his law practice.”
Last year, Christopher brought a measure of unity to the divided city of Los Angeles, patiently presiding over lengthy and fractious community hearings to produce a consensus for reforming the Police Department. Armed with the Christopher Commission report, Police Commission President Stanley K. Sheinbaum engineered the departure of Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
Sheinbaum came to know Christopher well during that period, meeting him for breakfast at 7:30 at the Beverly Hills Hotel every week or two for a year. “I found a man who had a grasp of the sociological context, who was able to understand all of the forces at work,” Sheinbaum says. “I don’t know how you would define vision, but he sure got an understanding of the context of the problem that was better than anyone’s.”
CHRISTOPHER’S RETURN to Washington puts him at the center of the country’s struggle to formulate a foreign policy in a world no longer dominated by adversary super-powers. His first days on the job found him facing an ever-lengthening list of crises: the Balkans, Haiti, Iraq, Israel, Russia, Somalia. And the Mideast, where, in his first official overseas trip, he has been charged with restarting stalled peace talks. In his first weeks in office, he brought his considerable negotiating skills to bear on trying to break the logjam over Palestinian deportees.
Supporters cite his experience as a negotiator in trying to predict how he will cope. Christopher had been an effective No. 2 at Carter’s State Department, steering the Panama Canal treaties through the Senate, presiding over the end of formal relationships with Taiwan and negotiating the end of F-16 fighter jet sales to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And after Vance resigned in 1980, Christopher carried the hostage negotiations to a successful resolution on Carter’s last day in office.
Gary Sick, a professor of Middle East politics at Columbia University, then a young Navy officer on the National Security Council staff, served as White House liaison with Christopher during the last months of the hostage negotiations. “The agreement he was the architect of was a remarkable achievement,” says Sick, “since it took what was by almost any standard a policy disaster for the United States and turned it into a triumph of U. S. interests.”
Carter honored Christopher with the Medal of Freedom and in his memoir wrote: “All of us depended on Christopher, whom I have described openly (without any dissenting comments) as the best public servant I ever knew.”
Patt Derian, whose insistence on human rights standards came to be the source of much angst for the Carter Administration, remembers how Christopher supported her in her post as assistant secretary for human rights and humanitarian affairs. “That is not to say that I was always pleased with the decisions he made, because I wasn’t,” says Derian, now a human-rights activist on the board of Mideast Watch and several other organizations. “But I did feel, and know, that we got a good, open, adequate hearing. And everybody who felt that they had an ax to grind in the matter got to grind it. He’s probably the most able person we’ve had (in the State Department) in modern times.”
Bill Odem, a retired general who served on Carter’s National Security Council, is more critical. He cautions that there is little evidence on which to base predictions about what Christopher will do:
“Look,” he says, “Warren Christopher is not a bad man. He is a very cautious and careful man. So, he is the kind of person who doesn’t leave a trail of great policy debates and great hostilities. When you are dealing with the man, you are dealing with a very nice man. You are dealing with a guy who is very careful, and he prepares. He is the ultimate lawyer in preparing his brief. But, I don’t know anything else.”
Clearly Clinton came to rely on Christopher in part because of his ever-discreet display of competency. He and Vernon Jordan conducted the search for a vice president with an absolute minimum of confusion and controversy. But insiders insist that Clinton also relies on the older man because of his insights and experience.
Those who have worked closely with Christopher insist that he is far from the retiring bureaucrat he may appear to be. He may be, as is often said, a perfect No. 2, but he is anything but a yes-man. That was certainly Clark’s impression: “He is misunderstood in part because he is a quiet man,” says Clark. “He does not engage in a lot of hollow rhetoric but he means what he says and he does what he says. He was a force and not a mere technician. He didn’t try to compromise things away or wear them down. He didn’t pick fights or antagonize people unnecessarily, but he certainly stood up for all the principles that we were espousing. He is a master at avoiding antagonism. He keeps dialogue and negotiation on a rational plane. I have never known him to threaten, but I have never known him to cave in either.”
Christopher acknowledges that his pace is deliberate, his aims sometimes modest. “If you look back through the things that I’ve tried to do over the years, whether it was drafting the principle statements for Gov. Pat Brown in 1959, or the things that I did in founding the Law Review,” he says, “I’ve always tried to steer things a little bit beyond where they were before.”
But does he have a vision for the State Department?
Just a few weeks into his new job, Christopher bristles at the question. “I think--maybe this is a little grandiose--but I think probably a better indication as to what I might be able to do could be gleaned from the years of leadership at O’Melveny & Myers or the leadership of the (Christopher) commission,” he said. “People who say that I’m sort of a permanent No. 2 may not have observed me in those roles.”
That the world, and perhaps the man, has changed since Christopher last worked in Washington becomes clear as the new secretary stresses the economic component of national security along with military and diplomatic reserves. “I still think that diplomacy is a badly neglected imperative and ought to be pursued very vigorously,” he says, “but also in the context of needing to be backed up and supported by economic and military power.”
As liberals struggle to position themselves in the post-Cold War period, Christopher offers this preliminary distillation of his own Carter-era idealism: “There are some enduring truths, such as support for democracy and human rights, which I think become considerably more important in the post-Cold War period and with more opportunities,” he says.
The odds are that he will be one of the more successful peacetime secretaries of state, although he is characteristically cautious about making any such claim: “This is a period of testing as to whether I will be able to show that kind of leadership.”
The good news about Warren Christopher is that he is modest and logical. Like James Baker, he has his ego in check and concentrates effectively on the tasks at hand. He is not likely to exhibit the reckless and contradictory flamboyance of a Henry Kissinger or the instability of an Alexander Haig.
His personal and professional conduct reflects an ethos of peace, a preference of logic to force and compromise to war. Perhaps what marks him most is his deeply felt belief, dating from Depression-era North Dakota, that ordinary people pay mightily for the mistakes of men in power.