After serving longer than only two other secretaries of state since World War II, George P. Shultz remains a mystery.
Like his long-lived predecessors John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk, Shultz is known as a man of integrity. But, unlike them, he has been unable to put his stamp on America's foreign policy. It is as though he has been saving himself for a crucial moment, and just as it seems about to arrive he is under pressure to be removed from office for the very integrity that has made him unique in the Reagan Administration.
When Shultz failed to receive a post in the original Reagan Cabinet, many people in Washington were surprised. They did not realize that Shultz was cut from a different bolt of Republican cloth than were Edwin Meese III and William P. Clark and the members of Reagan's Kitchen Cabinet like Holmes Tuttle. After the fall of Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., Shultz's appointment met with bipartisan praise. He was the white hope, a man of experience who would temper the ideological fervor of the Reaganauts with prudence and judgment.
But it did not work out that way. His first major initiative, the Reagan plan for peace in the Middle East, failed completely in less than 48 hours when both Israel and the Arabs refused to participate. It left a residue of suspicion in the White House about Shultz's skills. On Capitol Hill he was seen as having been victimized both by the Arabists in the State Department and by his long-term business associates, the Saudis.
After that, Shultz seemed to lose his way. He spent a great deal of time and energy debating with Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger concerning when America should be prepared to use military force. Weinberger had a list of "don'ts" that made him sound like Gary Hart on a bad day, while Shultz argued that it would be a mistake to describe for our adversaries how to attack our interests with impunity. Eventually Shultz won, but in the light of the invasion of Grenada it was an academic victory.
Far more important, Shultz continually found himself outmaneuvered by Weinberger on arms control. While Shultz had difficulty getting Defense Department officials to come to meetings, Weinberger was sending his recommendations directly to the President. Shultz had no influence over Gen. Edward L. Rowney, a Carter Administration turncoat who was the head of the strategic arms reduction talks. He watched helplessly as Paul Nitze, his ally and chief Euromissile negotiator, was reprimanded by the White House for coming too close to an agreement. Year after year the arms talks went nowhere.
The secretary of state's presence was strangely absent elsewhere in the world. Central American policy was handed over to the Kissinger Commission, and then to the Central Intelligence Agency. Vice President George Bush carved out China as a special preserve. On South Africa, Shultz's contribution seemed to be silence. In Lebanon he took a back seat to national-security adviser Robert C. McFarlane, who got so involved that he personally directed the 16-inch guns of the battleship Missouri against the Druze villages overlooking Beirut. During all this time Shultz was a "team player," reserving his views for the President and keeping his reservations to himself.
The debacle of Lebanon and the consequent retreat of the Marines from Beirut seemed to mark the turning point in Shultz's comeback. He had to share the stage at the Geneva summit meeting with McFarlane and White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, but he was there, and he was prominent. He had to share the credit with Sens. Paul Laxalt and Richard Lugar for the peaceful transition in the Philippines of Ferdinand E. Marcos to Corazon Aquino, but it would not have happened without him. And as U.S.-Soviet relations assumed priority on Ronald Reagan's agenda for ensuring his place in history, Shultz emerged as his principal adviser.
This was the issue for which the secretary seemed to have been saving himself. But when Reykjavik went off the rails, Shultz, ever a man of integrity, had the ill grace to be honest about it. It took a week for Donald Regan's "spin doctors" to correct the truth.
Even worse, it turned out that over the secretary's objections the President got onto the slippery slope of bargaining arms for hostages with Iran. Not content with the enormous damage that this has done to Shultz's credibility, the architects of this folly are now charging that he knew about it all along--trying to obscure the main point that he was right and they were wrong. And these self-proclaimed Reagan insiders now want Shultz fired for lack of loyalty.