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TIME FOR NEW SECRETARY OF STATE

Warren Christopher is a man whose time has come - and gone. The secretary of state is a millstone around the neck of the Clinton administration as it tries to set straight a vacillating foreign policy.

The most telling anecdote about Christopher is that he went to a movie, then sat at home two weekends ago while crucial decisions were being made about whether to invade Haiti. Out of the loop and tucked safely beddy-bye.Christopher shouldn't take the entire rap for Clinton's clumsy handling of foreign affairs. But as secretary of state he has never projected the needed image of strength and consistency. The Chinese browbeat him when he attempted to lecture them on human rights last spring. He bewildered European leaders by reversing himself on Bosnia. He looks tired and drawn and actually fell asleep during an important international meeting.

He's built a record of solid accomplishment in his life, but he has not inspired confidence as a leader or global theorist. Perhaps the problem is that Christopher is "more of a mechanic than a philosopher," as former Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal, D-N.Y., said of him more than a decade ago.

By the end of the year, Christopher will almost certainly return to his Los Angeles law practice. There he can reflect on his role in advancing Mideast peace, one of the few clear successes of his tenure at State.

Many are proposed to replace Christopher, but only one can serve. We believe the best candidate is a former high government official who has recently traveled to Haiti and whose name begins with "C." We're talking, of course, about Colin Powell. Not only would President Clinton be enlisting one of the ablest and most admired people in the country, he'd be eliminating a strong potential contender for his own job in 1996.

For Powell, being vice president is a step down. A run for president has its own problems: He might lose. Or he might win - who needs four or eight years of abuse? At State, Powell could cap his brilliant military career in the tradition of George Marshall, the general who became Harry S. Truman's secretary of state. He would also become the highest-ranking black in the history of the U.S. government. Powell is the statesman Clinton badly needs at the helm of the State Department during the next two years.