A story that George P. Shultz’s admirers love to tell is that, as Secretary of State, he summoned newly appointed US ambassadors to his office, where he had a vast globe of the earth. Shultz would ask the ambassadors to point out the country they represented, and when they did, Shultz would turn the globe back to the United States. “No,” Shultz would say, “This is the country you represent, ”said several reports from former Foreign Ministry officials.
“It’s because he really understood the importance of a domestic constituency,” former US Secretary of State James Steinberg said of Shultz, who died Saturday at the age of 100. “It’s very similar to what we are.” faced today. “
Shultz, an economist who also served as President Richard Nixon’s Treasury Secretary, was revered on both sides of the political aisle for his integrity and broad, non-ideological approach to issues that enabled him to negotiate gun reduction and an end the Cold War of the late 1980s to the dismay of the Reagan hardliners.
Shultz, one of the longest-serving state secretaries, also worked hard to forge peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, paving the way for later efforts like the Oslo Process by recognizing Palestinian rights. He emerged unscathed from the Iran-Contra scandal after speaking out against the delivery of secret funds to anti-Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua for the illegal sale of weapons to Iran.
During a 1986 Congressional inquiry into the Reagan administration’s deceit, Shultz set forth the creed for which he became most famous. As he called back in the Washington Post after 100th birthday last December:
“I am impressed that there is a lesson that I learned early on and then learned over and over again: Trust is the coin of the empire. When trust in the room was whatever the room was – the family room, the classroom, the locker room, the office space, the government room, or the military room – good things happened. If there was no confidence in the room, no good things would happen. Everything else is details. “
“He will surely be remembered as a key figure in American diplomacy,” said Princeton University scholar G. John Ikenberry, the author of the new book A world safe for democracy. “His greatest contribution was probably ending the Cold War. As Secretary of State, Shultz took on Reagan’s deep dislike of nuclear weapons and worked to protect the emerging convergence of thought between Reagan and Reagan [then-Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev. “
Charles Kupchan, a former US diplomat and political scientist at Georgetown University, said Shultz will be remembered as “a pragmatic realist who subscribes to a centrist and reasoned brand of internationalism that has since been practically abandoned by his Republicans”.
Shultz negotiated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew – and in later life Shultz joined high-ranking Democratic colleagues like former US Secretary of Defense William Perry to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons to warn.
In fact, Shultz never gave up on these efforts. “Within months of his 100th birthday, he was still taking part in Zoom calls on subjects as serious as the dangers of nuclear proliferation and as hopeful as developments in energy innovations,” said Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of another renowned Republican Pragmatist, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the author of the recently published book How Ike Led. Shultz began his career as an economist in Eisenhower’s administration.
“We will always remember him with admiration and deep gratitude for his extraordinary life,” said Susan Eisenhower, who served with Shultz on the MIT Energy Initiative Board of Directors. In a statement, former Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, who had also worked with Shultz on nuclear non-proliferation, said, “George has done more in 100 years than most of us could in 400 years.”
Shultz, a bear of a man who fought as a Marine in World War II and thereby gained the respect of the Soviets, was also admired for his “studied, sometimes Buddhist calm,” as L. Paul Bremer III, another prominent Republican diplomat, in one Email called back. “Asked difficult questions, considered options carefully, and rarely set foot wrong.”
Shultz was famous for being part of a fierce rivalry with then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during the Reagan years. Later in life, one of the few times in his career he was publicly tarnished for supporting Elizabeth Holmes’ fraudulent blood testing company Theranos. Ironically, his grandson Tyler Shultz was one of the whistleblowers.
But what made Shultz stand out most, Steinberg said, was his deep understanding of the links between America’s economic success and its strength in foreign policy. After attending Princeton University, Shultz received his PhD. He taught economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949 and later taught economics. His first major appointment was Nixon’s Secretary of Labor, then Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“He wasn’t a great strategist, but he was actually one of the first secretaries of state to really understand that foreign policy was more than a gamble because he was an economist. He had an integrated vision of the full range of power a nation wields, ”Steinberg said. That lesson was driven home by the internal collapse of the Soviet Union shortly after Shultz left in 1989, largely due to economic failure.
Notably, the new Biden administration sounds similar today, saying that the United States must restore its economic and social standing at home before it can fully regain the respect of the rest of the world.
Despite being a lifelong Republican, Shultz declined to endorse Trump as president in 2016, reportedly noting, “God help us.”