WARREN CHRISTOPHER's speech at Harvard University last Friday might well have been entitled ``How to Win the Peace After a Cold War.''
The secretary of state drew inspiration from events following World War II, when a bipartisan United States foreign policy took strong action to shape the world's political and economic contours. He rejected the post-World War I model, a withdrawal from the world stage for which America paid a ``terrible price'' - another world war.
``We now have a remarkable opportunity to shape a world conducive to American interests and consistent with American values - a world of open societies and open markets,'' he said. ``It is our responsibility to ensure that the post-cold-war momentum toward greater freedom and prosperity is not reversed by neglect or shortsighted indifference.''
Some in Congress now question US involvements in the world. They ask ``What's in it for us?'' and expect answers showing immediate, tangible benefits. Calls to limit US funding and participation in UN peacekeeping missions are manifestations of this more ``go it alone'' approach.
Mr. Christopher defended multilateralism as ``a means, not an end. Sometimes, by mobilizing the support of other nations, by leveraging our power and leading through alliances and institutions, we will achieve better results at lower cost in human life and national treasure.'' That is ``a sensible bargain,'' he added. His list of US principles and goals was sensible, too: open up trade, keep relations with key allies and the other major powers in tune, ``modernize and revitalize'' crucial cooperative institutions (NATO, the UN, the World Bank, et al.), and fight the spread of nuclear weapons.
He highlighted some US successes, though most seem still ``under construction'' (democracy in Haiti, halting nuclear weapons in North Korea, Middle East peace talks).
A listener could have fussed with the particulars of the Christopher speech: Almost nothing was said of Africa, and human rights got only perfunctory mention, for example. And this administration still ``doesn't get it'' on Bosnia, to borrow a phrase from Newt Gingrich. But it is only fair to say that in articulating a policy in which America continues ``to engage and lead,'' Christopher has set a course all Americans should endorse.