George Shultz, Who Led U.S. Cold-War Diplomacy, Dies
(Bloomberg) -- George Shultz, who oversaw the decoupling of the U.S. dollar from the gold standard in the early 1970s and kept the gears of diplomacy running under the din of Cold War rhetoric as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state a decade later, has died at 100.
Shultz died Feb. 6 at his home on the Stanford University campus, Stanford’s Hoover Institution announced. Shultz was the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at Hoover after leaving office.
An Ivy League-educated economist, Shultz moved seamlessly from academia to government to business. He served as labor secretary, director of the Office of Management and Budget and Treasury secretary under President Richard Nixon. In the Reagan administration, he clashed with more ideological members of the president’s team in his efforts to craft a gradualist, consensus-based foreign policy.
He became Reagan’s second secretary of state, and the nation’s 60th, in July 1982, following the resignation of Alexander Haig, and served through the end of Reagan’s second term in January 1989.
“Our colleague was a great American statesman and a true patriot in every sense of the word. He will be remembered in history as a man who made the world a better place,” said Condoleezza Rice, secretary of State for President George W. Bush and current director of the Hoover Institution.
Hillary Clinton, America’s top diplomat during the Obama administration, tweeted that “we have lost a giant,” while the latest U.S. Secretary of State called Shultz a legend.
“He negotiated landmark arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and, after leaving office, continued to fight for a world free of nuclear weapon,” Antony Blinken said in a statement. “He also urged serious action on the climate crisis at a time when too few leaders took that position. He was a visionary.”
The low-key Shultz battled with the Pentagon, particularly Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, over arms control, the appropriate use of military power, how to deal with the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and U.S. policy in the Middle East. Shultz led a pragmatic faction that promoted “realism” in foreign policy, including direct bargaining with the Soviet Union, according to Reagan biographer Lou Cannon.
In “President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime,” Cannon wrote of Shultz: “His bland and Buddha-like demeanor and somewhat professorial manner concealed a smoldering temperament that occasionally erupted in volcanic outbursts and a probing intellect that he devoted to understanding Ronald Reagan.”
In 1986, over Shultz’s vehement objections, Reagan said the U.S. would no longer pledge to comply with the unratified 1979 nuclear arms limitation treaty known as SALT II. The prospects for further arms-control efforts under Reagan appeared dim, as did Shultz’s influence.
Shultz recovered, pressing successfully for a summit later that year between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland. At that historic meeting, Gorbachev offered drastic cuts in nuclear weapons in exchange for limits in Reagan’s proposed strategic defense initiative, sometimes referred to as “Star Wars.”
Though Reagan declined, a year later the two nations signed a treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles. Shultz maintained that Reykjavik, though seen at the time as a failure, was an historic achievement, a view that has gained currency among historians studying the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union.
“I knew that the genie was out of the bottle: the concessions Gorbachev made at Reykjavik could never in reality, be taken back,” Shultz wrote in “Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State,” his 1993 memoir. “We had seen the Soviets’ bottom line. The concessions could, I felt confident, be brought back to the negotiating table.”
Like many on the Reagan team, Shultz’s image was dented by fallout from the Iran-Contra affair, the secret effort to aid guerrillas fighting Nicaragua’s left-wing government, in defiance of U.S. law, using money raised by selling arms to Iran.
Shultz insisted he had dissented during secret discussions over the arms-for-hostages deal with Iran. In his memoir, Shultz said he personally warned Vice President George H.W. Bush that such an exchange “would never stand up in public,” and that Bush then “admonished me.”
His account -- quoted in the final report of Iran-contra independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh -- caused a headache for Bush when it was published in 1993. Bush always maintained that he knew about arms sales to Iran but didn’t realize they were intended to win the freedom of American hostages.
Shultz didn’t escape the affair without criticism. The Tower Commission, appointed by Reagan to review the Iran-Contra scandal, said in its final report that Shultz and Weinberger had “simply distanced themselves” from the secret arrangement and “were not energetic in attempting to protect the president from the consequences.”
In response, Shultz said he kept an arm’s length from the National Security Council program to respect its secrecy.
George Pratt Shultz was born in New York on Dec. 13, 1920, grew up in Englewood, New Jersey, and attended the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut.
An only child of parents he described as highly attentive, he excelled in school and loved playing football. His father, Birl, was dean of the New York Stock Exchange’s investor-education program.
After graduating from Princeton University in 1942 with a degree in economics, Shultz served in the U.S. Marine Corps until 1945. A captain, he was stationed in Hawaii during World War II. There he met his first wife, Helena O’Brien, known as O’Bie, who was a first lieutenant in the Army Nurses Corps. They were married in 1946 and had three daughters and two sons. Helena died of pancreatic cancer in 1995.
Shultz’s second marriage, in 1997, was to Charlotte Mailliard Swig, then the chief of protocol and director of special events for the city of San Francisco.
Following his military service, Shultz earned a Ph.D. in industrial economics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked on MIT’s faculty from 1946 to 1957, spending 1955 in Washington as senior staff economist on President Dwight Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisers. He then became a professor of industrial relations and dean of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago.
In 1969, Nixon named Shultz to lead the Labor Department. He became OMB director in 1970.
As Treasury secretary beginning in 1972, Shultz played a role in untying the U.S. dollar from the price of gold, a response to a growing U.S. balance-of-payments deficit. Ending the gold standard meant the demise of fixed-currency exchange rates and the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system that had governed post-World War II economic relations among the big industrial nations.
Shultz also helped steer government policy as Nixon was engulfed by the Watergate scandal leading to his resignation.
Shultz left government in 1974 for Stanford University, where he became professor of management and public policy. He joined U.S. engineering company Bechtel Corp. later that year and served as its president from 1975 to 1979. Bechtel grew to international prominence with the help of former top government officials serving in executive positions, including both Shultz and Weinberger.
After serving in the Reagan administration, Shultz kept a hand in national affairs. He was an adviser to George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign and was co-chairman of the Committee on the Present Danger, a pro-military group revived by conservatives in 2004 to support the U.S. war against terrorism.
He backed the U.S. war in Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, writing six months before the March 2003 invasion: “Self-defense is a valid basis for pre-emptive action.”
Shultz was the chairman of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s international council, which advises senior management on global business issues.
In December 2020, shortly before his centennial birthday, Shultz wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post, entitled, “The 10 Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Trust Over My 100 Years.”
“There is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was -- the family room, the school room, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room -- good things happened,” he wrote. “When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.”
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