WASHINGTON — THE nomination of Robert Strauss, a high-profile Democrat, as United States ambassador to the Soviet Union has raised eyebrows here in Washington. Unlike current Ambassador Jack Matlock, Mr. Strauss is not a career diplomat, is not a Sovietologist, and does not speak Russian.
Strauss nevertheless does have a formidable resume: special trade representative under President Carter, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a five-month (though unsuccessful) stint as Carter's special envoy to the Middle East, and a lawyer-lobbyist who brokered Matsushita's $6.6 billion takeover of MCA.
Strauss is a longtime Texas friend of both President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III. His appointment extends Bush's practice of relying on a small circle of trusted advisers for counsel rather than on experts.
"We've got real problems and real opportunities with the Soviet Union," said presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "They're going to happen under the guidance of the next ambassador to the Soviet Union, and the president wants somebody that he knows, that he trusts ... that knows his way around the world."
Why did Bush cross party lines with such a prominent Democrat and such a prominent post?
"This is part of Bush's effort at coalition building," says Charles William Maynes, editor of Foreign Policy magazine. "If Bush tries to do something significant with the Soviets - something that would involve large sums of money ... or major trade concessions - it could be important."
Still, the announcement brings disappointment to diplomatic circles. The new openness in Soviet political life has made it much easier for Russian-speaking diplomats to develop personal contacts at high levels. Lacking the ability to communicate directly, Strauss will be handicapped as an analyst, diplomatic observers say.