Shultz’s Revenge

Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State

by George P. Shultz
Scribner's, 1,184 pp., $30.00

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…

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