George Shultz
George Shultz; drawing by David Levine

George Shultz was something of an anomaly in the Reagan administration, and he liked to play it that way. He was a corporate mogul who had also been a university dean, a political moderate who could work with ideologues, a professional negotiator who believed passionately in the use of force, and an individualist who knew when to be a team player. He enjoyed a reputation for integrity and independence which could hardly be considered a hallmark of the cabinet in which he served. And when he got his hands dirty, he kept them out of sight.

For six-and-a-half years he served as Reagan’s secretary of state. During that time relations between the United States and the Soviet Union went through a virtual about-face: from the bitter enmity of what has been called the “second cold war” to a guarded American endorsement of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. In that period the administration also fought an illegal war against Nicaragua, invaded Grenada, bombed Libya, exchanged arms with Iran for hostages, secretly financed the contras, and conducted a series of proxy wars in the third world. The current fiasco in Somalia, like the massacres in Angola, is rooted in the cynical politics of the Reagan Doctrine, when foreign despots went on our payroll in the name of democracy.

It was Shultz’s job to carry out Reagan’s diplomacy in fetid backwaters as well as at high-level summits. Yet he has been able to avoid responsibility for the seamier side of Reagan’s foreign policy. Indeed, he has walked away from them with his reputation not only intact, but actually enhanced. In his four-pound account of his years as secretary of state, the phlegmatic but cunning Shultz demonstrates an impressive felicity for avoiding blame for policies he claims to have opposed, but nonetheless faithfully executed.

Shultz took over the State Department in July 1982 following Reagan’s sacking of the mercurial Alexander Haig. After the melodramatic former general, with his predilection for conspiracy and intrigue, a solid, predictable man seemed desirable. In contrast to many of Reagan’s cronies, Shultz bore impressive credentials: a dean at the University of Chicago; professor at Stanford; secretary of labor, director of management and budget, and secretary of the treasury under Nixon; and president of the global engineering and construction giant, the Bechtel Corporation. With his reputation for reliability, his service to the party, his academic and business connections, his stolid reasonableness and laconic and softspoken manner, his enthusiasm for free enterprise and market economies and his negotiating skills, he was exactly what Reagan needed to reassure Americans and calm foreigners.

In the Reagan administration, more than in most others, foreign policy seemed to be everyone’s business, and the President, if not always well-informed, had strong opinions and even stronger rationalizations for them. To carry out policies that reflected his views, Reagan had put an old California chum William Clark in the key post of national security adviser. (Eventually, through attrition, six people were to hold this position.) Although inexperienced in diplomacy, indeed an untrained novice, Clark emulated Henry Kissinger in trying to monopolize foreign policy decision-making in the White House.

At the Pentagon the President placed another loyalist from his Sacramento days: Caspar Weinberger. Also a former official at Bechtel, where he had been general counsel, Weinberger had worked under Shultz at the Office of Management and Budget. These two vain and ambitious men were fiercely competitive. Other challengers to Shultz’s authority as foreign policy czar were Jeane Kirk-patrick, the ambassador to the United Nations who had strong influence at the White House, and CIA director William Casey. A wily businessman, fervent anti-Communist, and a veteran of covert operations in the OSS during World War II, Casey was a passionate ideologue who enjoyed privileged access to Reagan.

Confronted with such colleagues, Shultz had first to stake out and protect his own territory. His skills were considerable, but not in foreign policy. His experience was as a businessman, an administrator, and a labor negotiator—making deals, massaging egos, and bringing contending sides to a consensus. Neither an ideological soul mate nor a Sacramento chum, he was simply a middle-of-the-road Republican brought up on the Nixon-Kissinger policies of détente and deal-making with the Soviets. In this vein he had favored Paul Nitze’s ill-fated 1982 “walk in the woods” with a Soviet diplomat to limit medium-range nuclear weapons in Europe—a plan defeated by Weinberger’s deputy, Richard Perle, and Perle’s hard-line allies.

Shultz, savoring the memoir writer’s revenge, devotes a good deal of space to disparaging his competitors, particularly William Clark. The NSC adviser was, he writes, “deeply uncomfortable and insecure in his role in foreign affairs and national security.” Describing “my fight with Clark and the NSC staff,” he states that Clark often tried to block him from seeing Reagan alone, and that he was forced to appeal to the White House image-maker Michael Deaver for a private audience with the President.


Much of the fight was over bureaucratic turf. But policy differences arose as well, compounded by Clark’s effort, in the Kissinger style, to initiate programs over the secretary of state’s head, Central America was a key area of contention. Clark, along with Casey and Reagan himself, was incensed by the expansion of Soviet and Cuban influence to Nicaragua. They were determined, one way or the other, to get rid of the Sandinistas, and saw the contras as the ideal instrument. While Shultz had little use for the revolutionaries in Managua, he was at least willing to explore a deal with them.

But Reagan loved the contras. This meant that Shultz had to love them too, even though he assures us that his heart was not in it. The incorrigible hard-liners, he tells us, were Casey, Clark, and the NSC staffers, who “wanted no part of a diplomatic effort to accompany the military effort to defeat the Communists in the region.” The problem with the contras, Shultz well understood, was the anathema they provoked in Congress and among US allies. He saw them as an instrument to put pressure on the Sandinistas; the hard-liners saw them as the alternative government.

While Shultz assures us that he expressed his views vigorously to Reagan and the cabinet, it is clear that he had little influence on Central American policy. The show was being run by the NSC and the CIA. One of their schemes, which he learned about somewhere along the way, was to blockade Nicaragua and mine its ports—an act of war that also posed a danger to freighters of friendly nations. Shultz waxes indignant. “The Washington bureaucracy was out of control,” he writes. “Power was simply being usurped by the NSC adviser’s staff.” He complained to Reagan of being kept out of the loop, and threatened to resign, as he was often to do in the future, at this challenge to his authority.

The scheme was put on hold, or so he thought. But a few months later, while Shultz was making the rounds in Europe, Reagan gave the CIA the goahead to mine the harbors. Shultz says he did not learn about it until long after the event. By this time he had presumably cooled off, for he seems to have forgotten about his threat to resign. Rather than make an issue over this lost battle, he draws a moral from it. “In the Reagan administration I could not expect to be given a mandate and expect others to respect it,” he writes. “I would have to struggle incessantly to do my job.”

Anyone else confronted with such a situation might conclude that the President was using him as a front man—or at least testing his mettle to see just how compliant he was. Shultz, understandably, does not see it that way. Instead he tells us that Casey and Clark had deceived or confused Reagan. They were not acting in his best interests. Their “machinations made the president look like a warmonger,” he frets. Having decided that he, rather than they, could carry out the President’s true intentions, he portrays himself as a guerrilla fighter struggling to “save the Reagan presidency.”

Unfortunately, however, he had to save it from Reagan himself. Knocking down the President with the same hand he had just held out to save him, Shultz confesses that Reagan had an unfortunate “tendency to rely on his staff and friends to the point of accepting uncritically—even wishfully—advice that was sometimes amateurish and even irresponsible.” The notion of Shultz single-handedly holding back the enemies of a president whom he has just described as being deficient in judgment, if not actually dim, is a heartening one. But it hardly accords with Reagan’s enthusiasm for such advice, and for the fact that Clark and Casey were far better attuned to that enthusiasm than was Shultz.

It is not Reagan whom Shultz is serving by presenting him as dimwitted; it is Shultz himself. To show Reagan as having enthusiastically backed the contras and the CIA schemes to help them because he deeply believed in their cause would be to undercut Shultz’s explanation that he stayed in office to save Reagan’s presidency. His presidency did not need saving, but Shultz’s reputation as a man of integrity did. If Reagan really knew what he was doing, why did Shultz stay on in office? Better to portray Reagan as a fool who needed to be saved by a man of principle than as a knave who knew how to use underlings to cover for him.


Battling from the fringes, unable to get Reagan’s ear or even to persuade him to take seriously his periodic threats to resign, Shultz fought back cunningly. As an experienced bureaucratic player, he worked to discredit his enemies, flatter his boss, and fortify his own credentials. In the fall of 1983 he took advantage of two opportunities. In September he led the administration’s assault on the Soviets for shooting down a Korean airliner over their air space, declaring—long before conflicting explanations were sorted out—that there was “no excuse whatsoever for this appalling act.” With Shultz in the lead the administration pulled off a major public relations victory.1

A few weeks later, in October, he joined Casey in urging Reagan to take advantage of a palace coup in Grenada by invading the Marxist-controlled island and deposing the Soviet-backed regime. Despite objections from Weinberger, Bush, and even Margaret Thatcher, Reagan approved the attack. Shultz’s job was to provide the justification. The ostensible threat to American medical students on the island was too remote, and the issue of democracy irrelevant where one Marxist faction had overthrown another. State Department lawyers found diplomatic cover in an obscure organization known as the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. The prime minister of the tiny island of Dominica, Eugenia Charles, who headed the group, was eager to help. Under instructions from Washington she appealed to the US to “restore order and democracy” in Grenada. Armed with this formal request, Reagan ordered US military forces into action. “If we said no to those people, we wouldn’t be worth a plugged nickel,” Shultz writes in explanation of the orchestrated invasion.2 In his stirring words of self-congratulation, “Grenada, like the Falklands, was a shot heard round the world by usurpers and despots of every ideology.”

It was not the only shot fired with that intent in mind. As US officials argued over a Grenada invasion, a truck loaded with explosives crashed into the Marine barracks, in Beirut, killing 241 people. Shultz had good reason to take this loss personally—and not only because he had been a Marine himself. It was he who had persuaded Reagan to use the Marines to oversee a truce between the feuding political-religious factions in Lebanon, and to fortify the Christian Phalangist-dominated coalition government. This was part of the rickety peace plan he had orchestrated between Israel and the contentious forces fighting for control of Lebanon. Pursuing the grail of an ever-elusive Middle East “settlement,” he naively thought he could freeze out the Syrians. When Lebanese government forces came under attack by the Druzes, Reagan—with Shultz’s prodding—ordered a US air strike against the attackers. This ripped away the protective cover of the Marines in Beirut, who were presumably there to protect civilians and oversee a truce. With the US now involved openly in the civil war, they became an easy target. The CIA later traced the attack to Iran and Syria.

In an effort to salvage a discredited policy, Shultz beseeched Reagan to stay on in Lebanon and reinforce the US garrison. But Reagan, with his sure sense of public sentiment, knew when to cut his losses and ordered a withdrawal. An embarrassed and still bitter Shultz tries to shunt the blame off to his old adversaries, Bush, whom he accuses of having “panicked,” and Weinberger, who never liked the operation in the first place. “The defense department people, who were unhappy about being ordered into Grenada,” he complains, “saw the Beirut barracks bombing as an opportunity to get us out of Lebanon, something they had long wanted.”

The same day as the attack on the Marine barracks—October 23, 1983—Reagan was handed a formal request for intervention in Grenada by Charles’s Eastern Caribbean group and signed the invasion order. Shultz maintains that the two events were not linked, and that Reagan had approved the invasion plan verbally a day earlier. Whatever the exact sequence of events, the Grenada adventure fortuitously distracted the public from the disaster in Beirut—one for which Shultz bore, but still refuses to accept, a heavy responsibility.

Instead of admitting that the truck bombing in Beirut was part of an ongoing civil war in Lebanon in which the US had intervened on one side, he puts it in the category of “terrorism,” lumping it together with such disparate events as the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, the shooting of an Israeli ambassador in London, the placing of bombs on two Pan Am flights, the IRA’s attack at Harrod’s, and even the abduction of the 1CIA station chief in Beirut. In 1984, after failing to induce Reagan to bomb Libya in retaliation for Qadhafi’s suspected support for Palestinians who had attacked civilians in Rome and Vienna airports, Shultz spoke out publicly on the issue. Urging a more aggressive anti-terrorist policy, he called for “active prevention, preemption and retaliation…before each and every fact is known.” “We cannot allow ourselves to become the Hamlet of nations, worrying endlessly over whether and how to respond,” he declared.

Reagan and Bush backed away from this declaration of war against the world’s troublemakers, and the everannoying Weinberger responded a few weeks later with a counter-doctrine of his own. His six-point guideline, designed to avoid debacles like Vietnam, as well as disasters like Lebanon, limited the commitment of US combat forces to situations deemed vital to the national interest, with clearly defined political and military objectives, and with the support of the American people and Congress. Most pointedly, Weinberger’s doctrine declared that “the commitment of US forces to combat should be a last resort.”

Shultz, with some reason, took this personally as a criticism of his own predilection to send in the Marines. He describes Weinberger’s caveat as “a counsel of inaction bordering on paralysis,” and scornfully dismisses what he describes as his rival’s belief that “our forces were to be constantly built up but not used.” But this was more than simply a squabble between two longtime competitors with assertive egos. In part the dispute was over the Pentagon’s aversion to using the military for counter-terrorist operations, particularly those defined as broadly as Shultz had done. In part it involved the larger constitutional question, to which Shultz seemed insensitive, of how freely the President could use the armed forces at his discretion. Berating Weinberger for displaying “the Vietnam syndrome in spades” this diplomat reflected his enthusiasm for quick military solutions.

Grenada was just one example. Because it was easy and quick, it helped Shultz bolster his position at the White House. He also argued forcefully for all-out support for the Muslim-dominated resistance movement in Afghanistan. Over objections from both the Pentagon and specialists in the State Department, he persuaded Reagan to provide the deadly antiaircraft Stinger missiles to what he here calls the “freedom fighters.” The Stingers did help to turn the tide against the Soviets. But as Shultz’s critics warned him at the time, they ultimately ended up being used against American targets by third world terrorists.

Afghanistan was largely a CIA operation, as was the war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Shultz tried fitfully but ineffectually to follow a double-track policy of negotiating with Managua while the contra war weakened the government. While Shultz was willing to deal with the Sandinistas to get the Russians out of Nicaragua, Casey and the NSC staff would settle for nothing less than getting the Sandinistas out as well. Here he criticizes those he describes as “right-wing ideologues” who had a “fixation on the Contras” and “did not want a negotiated settlement that would end Contra aid.” But chief among the ideologues was Reagan, a contra enthusiast. Rather than lose his credibility in a doomed fight over the contra issue, Shultz for all practical purposes dealt himself out of Central America policy. He even allowed those he disparages as “ideologues” to get rid of four of his deputies for the region: Thomas Enders, Langhorne Motley, Richard Stone, and Philip Habib. Their sin was a willingness to deal with the Sandinistas.

Shultz here complains that Elliott Abrams, whom he brought in as assistant secretary to appease the ideologues, shared the “obsessive preoccupation with the Contras” of the NSC staff and kept “putting roadblocks in the path” of the parallel negotiations he wanted to follow. But nonetheless they seemed to work together as an effective team. In 1986 on a trip to Asia, Shultz spent three hours with the Sultan of oil-rich Brunei, after which his deputy Abrams tapped the monarch for a $10 million contribution for the contras. Shultz neglects to mention the episode, except to state in a footnote that he himself “did not raise the question of support by Brunei for the Contras.” In a comic turn of events, the money ended up in the wrong secret Swiss bank account and presumably never did make it to the contras.

Shultz’s account of the Iran-contra affair forms a centerpiece of this book, and has been extensively analyzed in these pages by Theodore Draper.3 Vigorously repeating his opposition to the scheme, Shultz describes a January 1986 meeting in which Bush “made no objection to the proposal for arms sales to Iran, with the clear objective of getting hostages released in the process.” (However, during last fall’s election campaign, when Bush’s denial of knowledge was an important issue, Shultz maintained a prudent silence.) Here Shultz contends that Casey, along with the NSC staff, deceived him about the extent of the scheme, but that once he learned how the CIA director had “grossly distorted the proper conduct of government,” he made it “my crusade to stop him from continuing these renegade operations.” Shultz’s complaints alienated Casey, who urged Reagan to replace him at State with Jeane Kirkpatrick or Reagan’s friend, Senator Paul Laxalt.

Reagan, despite the objections of Shultz and Weinberger, had persuaded himself that selling arms to Iran (while demanding a worldwide boycott of such sales) and getting hostages in return was somehow not really a trade. Shultz cites his “intense argument” with Reagan over the deal. The President, he writes, “didn’t like what I said or agree with my assessment of what had been proposed.” Insisting that the President’s staff deceived him, Shultz nonetheless charges that Reagan “was allowing himself to be deceived. He eagerly bought the sophistry of [NSC adviser] Poindexter and improved it in the telling. He felt sure that if he explained it all to the American people, they would agree that everything had been done the right way.”

In his November 1986 speech to the nation Reagan stated: “We did not—repeat—did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.” This declaration, Shultz writes,

convinced me that Ronald Reagan still truly did not believe that what had happened had, in fact, happened…I had seen him like this before on other issues. He would go over the ‘script’ of an event, past or present, in his mind, and once that script was mastered, that was the truth—no fact, no argument, no plea for reconsideration, could change his mind.

Weaving between the NSC-CIA schemes and Reagan’s own private version of reality, Shultz wandered like Peer Gynt in the formless Boyg. “My success in this fight,” he writes of his battles with Casey and the NSC staff, “was essential to save the Reagan presidency.” In other words, he sought to save Reagan from himself. But neither argument nor Shultz’s periodic, but unconsummated, threats to resign interfered with the hostage-arms deal. What saved the Reagan presidency, as far as the Iran-contra affair was concerned, was that once the full extent of the scheme became known, the American people preferred to believe that their President had been asleep on the job than that he had knowingly deceived them.

One might ask why Shultz, who publicly threatened to resign if anyone asked him to take a lie-detector test (which no one ever had), stayed on once it became apparent that he could not block the arms-hostage trade he found so offensive. Other men, though admittedly not many, have resigned for less. Cyrus Vance, his predecessor, was one of them, and the issue then was also Iran. Shultz’s defense, that he was trying to “save the Reagan presidency,” is a feeble one if related to the Iran-contra deal, for he was as powerless to redeem it as he had been to defuse it. The statement makes sense only if it means that he wanted to stay on in office—even at the cost of swallowing this camel—in order to pursue other goals he considered worthy.

On Iran-contra, as on the secret war against Nicaragua, the embrace of dictators, the proxy wars against Marxists in the third world, and Star Wars, Shultz expressed his opposition and then went along with the policies. His was not a heroic position. But it could be argued, as he does by implication, that it was a practical and ultimately worthwhile one. By demonstrating his loyalty to Reagan and turning his back on the battles he lost, he won the larger fight to negotiate the armscontrol accords with Moscow which were the greatest achievement of his career and the salvation of the Reagan administration. Although as much a bystander as anyone else to the change of policies in the Kremlin and the collapse of the Soviet system, he responded to these historic events with skill.

While stubborn and proud, Shultz knew how to compromise when it served his objectives. He survived by accommodating himself to the realities of power. He spoke often of principle, but the one to which he seemed most committed was survival. In politics he was a traditionalist and a moderate, willing to work out deals with adversaries—as befits a man who made his career as a labor negotiator. He ably defused Reagan’s absurd squabble with the Europeans over their purchase of natural gas from Moscow. Not sharing Reagan’s fondness for reliable dictators, he persuaded a reluctant President to dump Ferdinand Marcos and allow a democratic transfer of power in the Philippines. On Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet he was less successful. For Reagan, he writes, “Pinochet was a friend of the United States and a bulwark against communism.”

Shultz relates how he argued with Reagan against the ill-fated trip to the German military cemetery at Bitburg, and uses the occasion to make strong jibes at Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his entourage. Describing the pressures put on Reagan not to cancel the visit or change the site, even after it was revealed that members of the notorious Waffen SS were buried there, Shultz states that Kohl, in an emotional phone call to the White House, warned that his government would fall if the visit were changed. Adding a trip to the death camp at Bergen-Belsen did not resolve the controversy surrounding the trip, which Shultz labels a “political disaster” for Reagan and a result of Kohl’s “massive insensitivity.”4

In reading this immensely long and excessively detailed account of Shultz’s tribulations with Weinberger, Casey, Clark, and his various successors at the NSC, one keeps waiting for the central character to come on stage. But Reagan remains an ephemeral presence, someone more sinned against than sinning, we are told, but also curiously on the fringes of the action. In this cast of supporting actors, everyone claims to be carrying out Reagan’s real intentions, and each of them, one suspects, could write a book explaining how Shultz and the others got in the way. Part of Reagan’s political skill may be that he let others interpret what he really meant.

What Shultz tries to do is to create a setting in which he can let Reagan be Shultz. This requires the President to be hamstrung by fanatical, pusillanimous, and demented aides who somehow prevent him from doing what he would if only he could: that is, follow the advice of George Shultz. This requires that Reagan be accorded a certain respect and not held sternly to task for his mistakes. While excessive praise for the President’s idées fixes would raise questions about either Shultz’s judgment or his candor, real criticism would make one wonder about the reasons for such staunch loyalty.

Shultz reveals his exasperation with Reagan in citing his “wishful approach to an issue or program” and his willingness to “allow himself at times to be deceived.” But these criticisms are rare, and he winds up his book with encomiums that read more like an obituary than an assessment. Reagan, he assures us, was a president of “fundamental decency” with a firm “vision of what he stood for”; a man of “visionary ideas” who left the nation “far better off than he found it,” brought democracy to Latin America, tempered the arms race, and hastened the collapse of communism.

Shultz also, in an interesting aside, credits Reagan for his emphasis on “economic systems based on markets, incentives, and private property.” Indeed, the apparent worldwide triumph of those principles, however durable they may be, and with whatever results they ultimately bring, may well be the most important legacy of the Reagan administration. One might have thought that Shultz, as a trained economist, a businessman, a former secretary of the treasury as well as director of the OMB, and an official responsible for foreign economic policy, would have strong feelings about Reagan’s economic program—particularly about the huge accumulation of debt that sapped investment funds, lowered American competitiveness, and made it more difficult for the nation to finance its military and foreign policy goals.

Yet in 1,138 pages of text, Shultz makes only one significant reference to the deficit. He relates that in 1986, concerned about the “devastating impact” of the huge budget imbalance on savings available for investment, he urged Reagan to control the deficit by cutting back middle-class entitlements and raising gasoline taxes substantially. The President, he relates, thanked him for his observations but made no comment on his proposal. Nor, more significantly, does Shultz himself comment on what he saw as Reagan’s fiscal irresponsibility. Here was an issue worth resigning over. But apparently the thought did not cross Shultz’s mind.

The Reagan years are both too near and not yet far enough away for a measured assessment. Reagan’s first term, when the cold war was waged with an intensity not seen since the days of Kennedy and Truman, was motivated by an ideological jihad against communism that had little relation to any geopolitical gains the Soviets were making. The second term, particularly after the Reykjavik summit of October 1986, where Reagan offered to scrap all nuclear weapons if the Soviets would agree to allow US weapons testing for the Star Wars program, marked the beginning of the end of the cold war.

Did the Soviets collapse because the effort to keep up with the US military buildup bankrupted them, as Shultz tentatively suggests and Reagan stalwarts affirm? Or was the change in Soviet policy a result of the recognition of deep internal problems on the part of Gorbachev and the younger reformers of the nomenklatura, who turned away from the kind of ideological warfare that the Reaganites were so keen on waging? Or was it a combination of both? The verdict is not in, and probably never will be.

Yet even from Shultz’s own account, it seems clear that the first six years of the Reagan administration were dominated by an ideological obsession with communism and third world radicalism. The trillion-dollar military buildup that contributed so heavily to our own financial crisis, the sponsorship of proxy wars in the third world, and the coziness toward right-wing dictatorships were all dictated by a concern over ideology far more than one over security. Reagan differed from his predecessors not in his conservatism, but in the degree of his preoccupation with communism as a threat (at least equal to Soviet military power). Shultz, being a moderate, did not share this obsession, and that is what made it so difficult for him to work with the true believers of the Reagan administration. In a monastery of friars, he was the lawyer brought in to negotiate with the heathens.

The change in US-Soviet relations did not come from an American initiative but as a result of Gorbachev’s increasingly bold efforts to transform Soviet society and the USSR’s relations with the outside world. Shultz, to, his credit, responded to these changes. His skill was as a negotiator, not as a man of ideas. He was, as he says of himself, a gardener, not an architect. Much of his time in office he was occupied fending off attacks from his bureaucratic rivals, trying to prove his loyalty and toughness, and getting Reagan to move beyond slogans and wishful thinking. Only after the Irancontra scandal discredited his chief opponents, his formidable rival Casey died, Gorbachev launched his “new thinking,” and Reagan, with a push from both his wife and Shultz, decided to go into history as a peacemaker, did Shultz the negotiator and conciliator come into his own.

It is not certain that Reagan would have so readily embraced this new role, or that the US response to Gorbachev’s initiatives would have been so positive with someone very different from Shultz as secretary of state during the last critical years of the Reagan administration. The transformation from bitter enmity to guarded cooperation, and now to concerned tutelage, has been so rapid that we take it as inevitable. But it was not. The summit talks between 1985 and 1988 took place against a background of hard-line skepticism and opposition in the US. Shultz, together with his Soviet counterpart Eduard Schevardnadze, played an important part in preparing the ground for the end of the cold war.

Ultimately Shultz, as his title means to suggest, did triumph: over his opponents in the bureaucracy, over Reagan’s original obduracy, and even over his own compromises. He did this by sheer tenacity, by a flair for bureaucratic warfare, by periodic threats to resign over issues large and small, by a skillful manipulation of Congress and the press, and by an ability to make himself politically indispensable to Reagan. Although as secretary of state he was responsible for carrying out policies that were often shabby, self-defeating, and even illegal, he managed largely to dissociate himself from them. Not only did he avoid blame for policies of which he disapproved, he was redeemed by their failure. Even more so than Reagan, he was the ultimate Teflon executive. It is a mark of the cleverness of this deceptively bland man that he was able to set new standards for selective responsibility by a secretary of state.

Shultz outlasted his rivals and distanced himself from their failures. When it was all over he managed to retain, despite the many times he turned a blind eye, his cherished reputation for integrity. What matters in the end is not that Shultz, like everyone else in the bureaucracy, got his hands dirty, but that for all his vanity and compromises he redeemed himself on the big issue of US-Soviet relations. Although neither the Mr. Clean nor Captain Courageous he would have us believe he was, Shultz was a shrewd survivor who played skillfully the game of reculer pour mieux sauter. This bloated but often fascinating book shows how it was done.

This Issue

September 23, 1993