February 8, 2021

Farewell, Professor Shultz

“If I could choose one American to whom I would entrust the nation’s fate in a crisis, it would be George Shultz.”

George P. Shultz retired, permanently, on February 6 — the day we celebrate the birth of his former boss and friend, Ronald Reagan. In no way do I mean any disrespect by referring to his death as “retirement.” It’s just that over the course of his 100 years, he was unstoppable.

While proper protocol would be to refer to George Shultz as “Secretary” given his remarkable service as President Reagan’s secretary of state, on the few occasions I crossed paths with Secretary Shultz in the Reagan years (the last being in 1987 after our Moscow embassy was compromised), I found myself more like a student in awe of his quiet and unassuming yet extraordinarily powerful intellect. I always thought of him as “Professor.”

Shultz was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey, and he was all American. He was a graduate of Princeton and earned a PhD from MIT. His education was interrupted by his service as a Marine in World War II as an artillery officer in the Pacific theater. He taught economics at MIT, served in Dwight Eisenhower’s administration, and was the dean of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, where he sharpened his free market economy views as shaped by Milton Friedman. He went on to serve as Richard Nixon’s secretary of labor, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and then as treasury secretary in 1972.

In the wake of disastrous foreign policy decisions by Jimmy Carter’s administration, Shultz accepted President Reagan’s call as secretary of state, serving from 1982 to the end of Reagan’s second term in 1989. He masterfully crafted Reagan’s relationship with Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev and our overall policy with the USSR — leading to the implosion of the Soviet Union in George H.W. Bush’s first year in office.

In an interview 20 years later, Shultz noted: “Détente said, ‘We’re here, you’re here, that’s life, the name of the game is peaceful coexistence.’ Reagan said, ‘No, they have a very unstable system, and it’s not going to last. It’s going to change.’” Indeed it did for the better of all mankind. Shultz memoir, Turmoil and Triumph, is a primary resource on the end of the old Cold War and how Reagan won the Cold War.

Shultz went on to serve as an adviser to George W. Bush, crafting his doctrine of using preemptive and overwhelming force after the 9/11 Islamist attack on our nation, the result of Bill Clinton having largely ignored the emerging Jihadistan threat over the previous eight years.

Shultz mentored Bush’s second-term secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, but the only secretary of state who has approached his impressive foreign policy record was our most recent, Mike Pompeo, who also relied on his wisdom.

Shultz was one of only two men to have held four presidential cabinet positions. He spent his last years as an active intellectual force with several think tanks — primarily as a distinguished fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution — but he was also an influencer with the Institute for International Economics and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He will be missed, especially by those who knew him more casually at Bohemian Grove’s Mandalay Camp.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote of Shultz in his own memoirs, noting: “I met no one in public life for whom I developed greater respect and affection. Highly analytical, calm, and unselfish, Shultz made up in integrity and judgment for his lack of the flamboyance by which some of his more insecure colleagues attempted to make their mark.” Kissinger concluded, “If I could choose one American to whom I would entrust the nation’s fate in a crisis, it would be George Shultz.”

Farewell, Professor.

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