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WELD TAKES ON A BATTLE TO WIN A WAR

I can't believe that William F. Weld would give up the governorship of Massachusetts in order to free himself for a fight to force Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., to allow him to be confirmed as ambassador to Mexico.

First, the life of an envoy to Mexico City is anything but an orgy of tequila toasts at sunrise. It is a dangerous post that requires deft dealings with drug merchants and political crooks -- not to ignore a U.S. Congress that plays brutal politics over U.S. relations with Mexico.

Second, Helms has shown that he is a relentless enemy of anyone he sees as a "leftist" threat to his troglodyte views about the role of the U.S. in the world. Helms has assailed Gov. Weld for his support of the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, and Weld has accused Helms of practicing "ideological extortion" on President Clinton in trying to block Weld's nomination.

President Clinton chose to join in the battle against Helms, knowing that on many fronts the North Carolina curmudgeon has held U.S. foreign policy hostage to his sometimes-weird views. The U.S. has been without an ambassador in 18 embassies in some of the most delicate countries of the world -- Russia, Japan, South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada and France, for example -- because Helms is a blustering roadblock in the way of those Clinton wishes to appoint.

Weld may have walked into a deadly fight because he believes he is the white-hatted cowboy who is facing an old Western theme of liberating a community of timid farmers from the ruthless grip of an old tyrant. Weld may believe that if he brings down Helms, the U.S. role in the entire world will be applauded again.

But Weld may be counting on forces that do not really exist in the Senate to the extent that he imagines. He seems to think that there are many Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- and in the Senate as a whole -- who detest Helms as much as he does and will join him in wresting dictatorial control of confirmation hearings away from Helms.

But Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican majority leader, is saying openly that Weld doesn't have much of a chance of defeating Helms, and has accused Weld of making "uncalled for" personal attacks on Helms.

Some Democrats say that time has shown that a bit of "brown-nosing" of Helms goes a lot further than eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in getting him to allow an appointment to go forward. We'll get our first clues as to how much bloodletting there will be when Weld meets face-to-face with Helms and tries to talk him into allowing hearings to go forward.

Some Republicans are saying that Weld's goal is not a noble sacrifice to liberate U.S. foreign policy from Helms. They think Weld wants to ride a highly-publicized confrontation with the senator to the Republican convention and the Republican nomination. Weld's GOP critics say that what he really is doing is helping the Democrats to gloss over the mess in Mexico, which represents some of their worst blunders.

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