For many years, I have had a strong bias in favor of supporting a president on momentous foreign policy issues. Like most Americans, I simply don't know enough about the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to have an opinion. It is certainly an issue on which reasonable, well-intentioned people can differ.

I had looked forward to a first-rate Senate debate on it. Like other Americans, I needed to hear a great many voices of intelligence and reason on both sides of the issue.

Now, don't get me wrong; I understand partisanship. As a matter of fact, over the years I have had considerable experience as a partisan in many public debates--but never on issues as important to the nation as the test ban treaty.

The administration did a poor job of informing the American public on this matter, which makes the debate, or lack thereof in the Senate, even more shameful. Between the administration's ineptitude and Congress's partisanship and game-playing, Americans, and indeed the world, have been treated to a potent and poisonous brew--a brew that could erode the credibility of the United States in the capitals of the world and certainly here at home.

As the Cold War recedes into distant memory, we still live in a world filled with too many nuclear weapons. Partisan politics is to be expected and, as a matter of fact, at times is healthy in a marvelous democracy such as ours. But dealing with foreign policy issues as serious as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in a cavalier and irresponsible manner, as has been the case here, is a luxury this nation can no longer afford. I think it's time Americans say so.

The writer, a former Democratic national chairman, served as a special trade representative and Mideast envoy in the Carter administration. He was ambassador to the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation in 1991-92.