George P. Shultz was secretary of state of the United States during the years that the Soviet Union was led, successively, by Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, and Mikhail Gorbachev. During those years (1982–89), the United States was led by Ronald Reagan. At the end of our interview, as he was showing me out of his apartment, Shultz invited me to stop in the dining room. “I want you to see something,” he said. We walked over to a table. “Have a look at that. It arrived in the mail the other day.” It looked like a polished brass cylinder, open at either end. It was the 14th artillery shell from the 21-gun salute at Ronald Reagan's funeral in 2004. “Isn't that something?”
George Shultz is an intellectual, an MIT and University of Chicago economist who in his career held three other cabinet posts—labor, trea-sury, and budget—under Richard Nixon. And clearly he is awed by Ronald Reagan, the “actor” president, and the years he spent serving as Reagan's minister to the world. But I had come to San Francisco because I wanted to talk about the here and now. So did he—above all about the Revolt of the Generals and the leaks out of the CIA. He's upset.
“I always had a good experience dealing with the career people in government,” Shultz said. “But I have to say it's almost as if there is an insurrection taking place. Particularly what is going on in the military is astonishing and fundamentally intolerable. There has to be a sense of discipline. This is something new, and for everybody's good it has to be dealt with.”
I asked about the place of dissent in government. “Look,” the former secretary said, “in our system some people get elected and what you get out of that is the right to call the shots, and the full-time career people are entitled to have their views listened to. But it is very important to see that what is going on now is a problem that goes beyond whether someone likes Don Rumsfeld or not.”
George Shultz has been talking about the here and now for a lifetime. He recently sent me a speech on terrorism that he gave last month at the Woodrow Wilson International Center at Princeton. There is a quote in it from a speech he gave back in 1984, which of course is also the title of George Orwell's predictive novel. What Shultz had on his mind in 1984 was also eerily predictive. It was dealing with terrorism. “We must reach a consensus in this country,” he said 22 years ago, “that our responses [to terrorism] should go beyond passive defense to consider means of active prevention, preemption, and retaliation.”
|Open political and economic systems have been gaining ground, and there's a good reason for it. They work better. I don't know whether that's "neoconservative" or what it is, but I think it's what has been happening. I'm for it.|
Arguably, this makes George Shultz the father of the Bush Doctrine, or at least its most controversial tenet—preemption. I asked how he arrived at the idea. “Being a Marine [1942–45, Pacific theater], probably my worst day in office was when the Marine barracks were bombed in Beirut.” (On the morning of October 23, 1983, a suicide bomber drove an explosives-filled truck into the barracks and killed 220 Marines and 21 other U.S. service personnel.)
Weeding the Garden
That bombing was a long time ago. Shultz is now 85 years old. He is sitting comfortably in a handsome, light-filled apartment
with splendid views of San Francisco's hills and the Golden Gate Bridge. I assume it is a coincidence only a writer would notice that his checked, open-collared shirt is red, white, and blue. Conceivably one definition of a patriot would be someone who never gets over an obsession with protecting the nation.
“I worried a lot about terrorism,” Shultz told me, “and I didn't think we had an adequate strategy.” So in that 1984 speech, the next sentence says this: “The question posed by terrorism involves our intelligence capability, the doctrine under which we would employ force, and most important of all our public's attitude toward this challenge.”
I wonder out loud whether this view made people nervous back then. GS: “President Reagan thought it was OK, but there were a lot of people that didn't.” DH: “Now it's part of the Bush Doctrine.” GS: “I think the idea that you would do everything you can to prevent what is coming at you by way of something very disruptive—a 9/11—it's a no-brainer.” Was a no-brainer. President Bush's approval rating is in the dumpster, and much of the public is discomfited by the violent reports out of Iraq, which ironically are the product of the same mentality that killed the Marines in 1983. The Iraq war may or may not turn out well, but clearly now it is in a dark moment. When I put this to the former secretary of state, his response, characteristically, was optimism: “I think this is the most promising moment, almost, in the history of the world—a time when the information age has made it clear to people what it takes for them to get ahead in their lives and succeed, to have prosperity, to have growth, and it's a critical matter not to have that great opportunity aborted by a wave of radically inspired terrorists. So we have to confront this, and we have to do it on a sustainable basis because it's going to take a long time.”
|Being a Marine, probably my worst day in office was when the Marine barracks were bombed in Beirut.|
So what, then, would he say to the people who've come to feel that because of the constant bombings and the struggles of the new Iraqi government that we're not going to make it? “We don't want to give up. The more you talk about not making it, the more you encourage the people who are trying to be sure the Iraqis don't make it. You encourage them to keep doing what they're doing.”
Shultz associated himself with the Bush presidency early on, introducing the Texas governor to Condoleezza Rice at the Hoover Institution in 1998. In light of that, I asked what Shultz made of the idea that the Bush foreign policy and Iraq war were sprung from a coven of neoconservatives.
“I don't know how you define ‘neoconservatism,'” he replied, “but I think it's associated with trying to spread open political systems and democracy. I recall President Reagan's Westminster speech in 1982—that communism would be consigned to ‘the ash heap of history' and that freedom was the path ahead. And what happened? Between 1980 and 1990, the number of countries that were classified as ‘free' or ‘mostly free' increased by about 50 percent. Open political and economic systems have been gaining ground, and there's a good reason for it. They work better. I don't know whether that's neoconservative or what it is, but I think it's what has been happening. I'm for it.”
|This may be the most promising moment in the history of the world, and it's a critical matter not to have that great opportunity aborted by a wave of radically inspired terrorists.|
Still, the neocons have become joined, fairly or not, to the idea that the United States is determined to accomplish goals such as this through force. In his 1993 autobiography, Turmoil and Triumph, Shultz developed the idea of politics in the Cold War years as gardening, rather than an exercise in grand visions.
“I'm in favor of vision,” he replies. “Ronald Reagan had vision. But gardening is something you have to do if you're going to be effective in foreign affairs . . . come around reasonably frequently and get rid of the weeds before they get too big.” In any event, Shultz reminds me, the most useful lessons for dealing with a hostile world didn't emerge from his long years in diplomacy, but in labor, in the experience of collective bargaining: “You show me a union that will never strike, and I'll show you a union that isn't going to get anywhere. You show me a management that will never take a strike, and I'll show you a management that's going to get pushed around.” Or nations: “Our basic problem is that the Iranians are convinced that they can do anything and there are no consequences.”
Shultz returns to his core preoccupation, the reality of global terror: “The law-enforcement mentality is not going to do the job for us. You have to have a war mentality. You have to have an offense and defense; you have to be active about it.” This diplomatic gardener is no shrinking violet.
Teaching and Learning
George Shultz is a busy man. The presiding sage at the Hoover Institution, he's also part of former CIA director Jim Woolsey's current effort to wean the nation off oil, for security reasons. So he visits a U.S. Energy Department research lab in Walnut Creek to see their work on genomics to produce ethanol. He has also organized the Stanford University Group on Preventive Force, which he'd like to take to Europe and Asia. It sounds to me a lot like the U.S.-Atlantic meetings Albert Wohlstetter used to orga-nize to force coherent and intelligent thinking about Cold War policy.
Shultz summarizes “most of my life” as being a teacher-manager. “People love to learn. I always thought I should create an atmosphere where everybody felt they were learning—we argue, we discuss, we learn. It's a good habit to get into. It's fun. Learning is fun.”
This is not to say Shultz himself wasn't a good student: “One of the things I enjoyed with President Reagan was that he had been involved in union management and negotiations, as I had, and we used to talk over negotiation stories. It's right there. You learn those lessons.”
Ten months after Shultz left the State Department, the Berlin Wall fell. It's not hard to understand why Ronald Reagan's secretary of state would show a departing journalist the spent shell from the 40th president's final 21-gun salute and say, “Isn't that something?” It was.