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George Shultz, US Secretary Of State Who Helped Usher Out Chilly Conflict, Dies

George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s genial secretary of state who identified a diplomatic opening that helped end the Cold War but contributed to a new brand of conflict by advocating preemptive strikes, has died. He was 100.

An economics professor who saw himself more as a data-driven expert than an ideologue, Shultz had the rare distinction of serving in four different cabinet positions — including Treasury secretary as Richard Nixon dismantled the post-World War II Bretton Woods monetary system.



Former US secretary of state George Shultz attends the centennial birthday celebration for former US president Ronald Reagan at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on February 6, 2011.


Former US secretary of state George Shultz attends the centennial birthday celebration for former US president Ronald Reagan at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on February 6, 2011.
 AFP / ROBYN BECK

“One of the most consequential policymakers of all time, having served three American presidents, George P. Shultz died Feb. 6 at age 100,” the Hoover Institution think tank said in a statement on its website.

In the Reagan White House, notorious for infighting, Shultz was one of the least controversial figures, cultivating cordial ties with Congress and the press and, most crucially, rock-solid backing from the president himself, who kept Shultz as his top diplomat for six and a half years.



Egypt's then president Hosni Mubarak speaks after meeting US Secretary of State George Shultz in Cairo in April 1988


Egypt’s then president Hosni Mubarak speaks after meeting US Secretary of State George Shultz in Cairo in April 1988
 AFP / MONA SHARAF

In early 1983, half a year into his tenure, Shultz returned from China to a snowed-under Washington and was invited by Nancy Reagan to a casual dinner at the White House where he was intrigued to hear the famously anti-Communist president sound eager to meet the Soviets.

“He had never had a lengthy session with an important leader from a Communist country, and I could sense he would relish such an opportunity,” Shultz wrote in his memoir, “Turmoil and Triumph.”

Days afterward, Shultz brought the Soviet ambassador to the White House in an unmarked car for a secret meeting with Reagan, who pressed for Moscow to allow the emigration of Pentecostal Christians who had sought refuge in the US embassy.



Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (right) and his wife Raisa are greeted by US Secretary of State George Shultz upon their arrival in the United States on December 7, 1987


Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (right) and his wife Raisa are greeted by US Secretary of State George Shultz upon their arrival in the United States on December 7, 1987
 AFP / CHRIS WILKINS

The Soviets quietly followed through. Reagan’s unlikely role as a negotiator with the superpower he termed an “evil empire” had begun.



George Shultz, then the US secretary of state, walks into the White House with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in December 1987


George Shultz, then the US secretary of state, walks into the White House with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in December 1987
 AFP / MIKE SARGENT

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev ascended to the helm of the Communist Party and Shultz, joining then vice president George H.W. Bush, flew to Moscow and met him at the funeral of his predecessor, Konstantin Chernenko.

Shultz immediately detected opportunities with Gorbachev.



People look at the damage caused by US bombs in Tripoli on April 19, 1986 after a US air raid in retaliation for alleged Libyan terrorist attacks on American targets


People look at the damage caused by US bombs in Tripoli on April 19, 1986 after a US air raid in retaliation for alleged Libyan terrorist attacks on American targets
 AFP / JOEL ROBINE

“Gorbachev is totally different from any Soviet leader I’ve met,” Shultz told reporters.

A former Marine who fought the Japanese in World War II, he recalled the trust he built with the Soviets as Treasury secretary when he offered a sincere salute at a memorial to their war dead.



George Shultz, seen here testifying before US lawmakers in 2000, served as Ronald Reagan's secretary of state


George Shultz, seen here testifying before US lawmakers in 2000, served as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state
 AFP / MARIO TAMA

Shultz’s approach with Gorbachev encountered deep skepticism from Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and CIA chief Bill Casey, but Reagan overruled them.

By 1987, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. The Soviet Union soon began disintegrating after Gorbachev initiated liberal reforms and dissent grew.

Shultz later played down the role of Gorbachev, pointing to underlying weaknesses in the Soviet system and crediting the US leader’s massive boost in defense spending.



US Secretary of State George Shultz listens to a question during his first day of testimony before Iran-Contra investigators on July 23, 1987


US Secretary of State George Shultz listens to a question during his first day of testimony before Iran-Contra investigators on July 23, 1987
 AFP / CHRIS WILKINS

He also hailed European allies, especially West Germany, that defied public protests against NATO missile deployments in the 1980s.

“The Soviets had to see that and realize that we were strong and our diplomacy was based on strength,” Shultz said in a 2015 appearance at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, where he spent his post-government career.

Shultz became secretary of state weeks after Israel invaded Lebanon, a nation that would become central to an issue that would define his tenure — terrorism.

In 1983, a suicide bomber suspected to be a Shiite Muslim militant blew up the barracks of US Marines serving as peacekeepers in Lebanon, killing 241, with a second attack targeting French forces, killing 59.

With hijackings and bombings rising around the world, Shultz vowed in a 1984 speech at a New York synagogue that the United States would go “beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, preemption and retaliation.”

“We cannot allow ourselves to become the Hamlet of nations, worrying endlessly over whether and how to respond,” said Shultz, who recommended the US strikes on Libya in 1986 after a US soldier died in an attack on a Berlin nightclub.

Shultz’s doctrine was cited two decades later when George W. Bush invaded Iraq, inaccurately alleging it was pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

Shultz vocally backed the invasion, which along with ensuing wars would claim hundreds of thousands of lives.

Declaring Iraq to be a “rogue state,” Shultz said Saddam Hussein’s overthrow was crucial “for the integrity of the international system and for the effort to deal effectively with terrorism.”

While secretary of state, Shultz’s policies in the Middle East were more moderate. He repeatedly clashed with ally Israel, especially over Lebanon, and opened contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Shultz had served Nixon as labor secretary and also headed his Office of Management and Budget, a cabinet-level post.

In an essay for his 100th birthday in 2020, he bemoaned the style of Donald Trump, saying that the United States, like individuals, could succeed only if others trust it.

“Put simply,” he said, “trust is the coin of the realm.”


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