Monday, February 8, 2021

George Shultz: A Singular Top Government Official Who Did Not Have an Instinctive Hate of Russia

George Schultz

George Schultz died on Saturday at the age of 100.

I managed to catch-up with Schultz when he was 98 years old in 2019 at the "Strategies For Monetary Policy: A Policy Conference" held at the Hoover Institution on the campus of Stanford University.

As evidenced in the clip below of my interview, his mind was still sharp back then  (3 minutes and 20 seconds):

I also asked him what he attributed his long and active life to, he said it was about staying active:


Schultz played major roles in the Reagan White House with stints as secretary of labor and state and budget director. He also was Secretary of the Treasury under President  Nixon.

In most ways, he was a typical conservative wing revolving-door statist (From 1974 to 1982, he was an executive of the Bechtel Group) but he must be credited with a major role in toning down, during the Reagan presidency, hostilities with Russia.

As secretary of state for six and a half years, Mr. Shultz was widely regarded as a voice of reason in the Reagan administration as it tore itself asunder over the conduct of American foreign policy. He described those struggles as “a kind of guerrilla warfare,” a fierce and ceaseless combat among the leaders of national security...relations with the Soviet Union were at rock bottom when Mr. Shultz became the 60th secretary of state.

Moscow and Washington had not spoken for years; nuclear tensions escalated and hit a peak during his first months in office. The hard work of replacing fear and hatred with a measure of trust and confidence took place in more than 30 meetings with Mr. Shultz and the Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, between 1985 and 1988. The Soviets saw Mr. Shultz as their key interlocutor; in private, they called him the prime minister of the United States.

Continuous meetings between Mr. Shultz and Mr. Shevardnadze helped ease the tensions between the superpowers and paved the way for the most sweeping arms control agreement of the Cold War, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Ratified in June 1988, it banned land-based ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and missile launchers with ranges of up to 3,420 miles. Within three years the two nations had eliminated 2,692 missiles and started a decade of verification inspections.

The treaty remained in force until August 2019, when President Donald J. Trump scrapped it, contending that Russia had broken the accord by developing a new cruise missile.

Almost alone among the members of the Reagan team, Mr. Shultz had seen early on that the new Soviet leader, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, and his allies in Moscow were different from their predecessors. The rest of the national security team, and especially Reagan’s defense secretary, Caspar W. Weinberger (known as Cap), had scoffed at the idea that the Kremlin could change its tune.

“Many people in Washington said: ‘There is nothing different, these are just personalities. Nothing can be changed,’” Mr. Shultz recounted in an oral history of the Reagan administration. “That was the C.I.A. view; that was Cap’s view; that was the view of all the hard-liners.”

“They were terribly wrong,” he added.

The world seemed on the verge of a lasting peace when he left office; the Berlin Wall still stood, but not for long. “It is fair to say that the Cold War ended during the Reagan years,” Mr. Shultz wrote in his 1993 memoir, “Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State.” The easing of four decades of grinding tension changed the global landscape. There would be fewer nuclear weapons pointed at great cities, fewer proxy wars in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Bottom line, more than any other individual, he ended the Cold War. For this alone, Schultz ranks far above any other modern-day secretary of state.


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