After the Nixon years, Shultz moved into the corporate world, became an executive at the Bechtel Group and returned to academia at Stanford University. When Reagan was elected, he installed Alexander Haig as Secretary of State, but after a delicate first year, the overarching Haig left office in July 1982 and Reagan immediately elected Shultz to replace him.
According to H.W. “Reagan: The Life” by Brands, the President did not want to announce Haig’s departure until his successor stood in a row. Brands wrote, when Reagan turned to him, Shultz realized he had to respond immediately. “Mr. President, I’m on board,” he said.
“He has the potential to be one of the greatest secretaries of state of all time,” said Illinois Senator Charles Percy when Shultz was confirmed 97-0. From the start, Shultz’s professionalism put the State Department on a different footing, and he gave Reagan loyal support.
“Shultz, unlike Haig, was polite and patient,” wrote Diggins in his 2007 book, “the right qualities for a diplomat who prefers negotiation to escalation.”
Shultz needed those qualities when dealing with a colleague in Reagan’s cabinet, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, a confrontational veteran of the Nixon administration and Bechtel. The Beltway was full of discord. In December 1984 The New York Times reported that the two “disagree on virtually all foreign policy issues, often to the White House’s frustration and concern.” It didn’t help that Shultz was the hawk on some issues and Weinberger on others. Sometimes the problems they fought over seemed trivial, like the question of selling computers to Romania.
Shultz, the Times wrote, “is a professor and mediator by nature and a private individual and trains him. He prefers arbitration to confrontation. Often indifferent – one colleague described him as “sphinx-like” – Shultz is a man of enormous self-confidence. “The same article states,” He seems content to stay out of the news. “
His six and a half years in the State Department allowed him to cope with situations from the Caribbean to China, but two events stood out. The low point was the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal, in which weapons were sold to Iran to fund guerrillas in Nicaragua, none of which were approved by Congress. Reagan’s efforts to deal with the situation only seemed to make matters worse, and Shultz saw himself as one of the few voices in the administration who tried to get the administration back on track. “Reagan thought Shultz was blowing things up disproportionately,” says Reagan: The Life.
There were calls for Shultz to step down, but he later wrote, “I felt that no successor could work in this job unless the dire situation was resolved.” So Shultz stayed and part of the rogue political apparatus would end up in his hands again. The scandal would make Oliver North a household name and topple a number of Washington leaders, including Weinberger.
Ultimately, Shultz’s greatest influence on Reagan would be arms control. In a March 1983 memo, Shultz listed several areas where he believed talks could lead to better relations between the US and the Soviet Union, including arms control. This impulse gained momentum when Gorbachev came to power in what Reagan once called the “evil empire”.
“It always seemed to me that Gorbachev was a real realist,” Shultz wrote in his 2016 book Learning from Experience, noting that Gorbachev had come through the ranks unlike previous Soviet leaders.
When Shultz first met Gorbachev, Reagan gave Shultz the opportunity to give Gorbachev an opportunity to shake up the status quo of the Cold War. According to Brands’ book, Shultz said, “President Reagan told me to look you straight in the eye and tell you, ‘Ronald Reagan believes this is a very special moment in human history.'”
What followed were several summit meetings with Gorbachev, which ultimately led to a sharp reduction in nuclear weapons and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. These occurred at the same time as Gorbachev was pursuing a non-independent course of liberalization within the Soviet Union – and indicating to the Warsaw Pact states that they were on their own. In 1989, less than a year after Reagan left, the Berlin Wall fell. It was an exhilarating time that marked the end of a Cold War that had lasted decades and marked many.
In the final moments of Reagan’s presidency, Shultz received the Presidential Medal of Freedom: “For years of public service and his vital role in ushering in a new era of hope in foreign policy, his compatriots honor him.”
For the next several decades, Shultz spoke behind the scenes on many international topics and served as an informal advisor, particularly to George W. Bush. He would be in demand as a speaker and writer, someone who can be relied on to provide a convincing analysis of the world’s crises. Whenever he stopped speaking for more than a few minutes, it seemed like someone was presenting him with an award or a title of honor.
Shultz, who also returned to Bechtel and Stanford, was open about his fears for the world. “For centuries we’ve somehow managed to separate war from religion, and now it’s back,” he told the Times of Israel in February 2016. “War with a religious basis is much more dangerous because it has the ability to spread what it is. ” to do.”
Shultz also spoke out on domestic issues, including the legalization of recreational drugs and the benefits of driving a Prius. He urged that climate change be addressed.
“I’ve always tried to live in the future,” he told the San Jose Mercury News in 2011, “and think about things and how to do things better.” If you have great-grandchildren around and their pictures are looking at you, that is the future. “
And Shultz, who published an opinion piece in the Washington Post at the time of his 100th birthday, never lost his ability to impress others with his ideas.
“I was in a meeting with him about a week ago,” Perry said on Sunday, “where he was the sharpest, most provocative person in the room.”
Bryan Bender contributed to this report.