The United States has been blessed with truly great statesmen, patriots, and thoughtful leaders. George Shultz was one of those Americans. In a press release from the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, the news came out that Secretary Shultz had died at age 100. Fox News correspondent Talia Kaplan tells us that Shultz was the “oldest surviving former Cabinet member of any administration at the time of his passing.”
Secretary Shultz was a graduate of Princeton University in 1942 when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving until 1945 when he left in the rank of captain. He entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned a Ph.D. in Industrial Economics in 1949. His federal government career began as a senior staff economist on President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors. He later became a teacher at MIT before being appointed dean of the Chicago Graduate School of Business.
Shultz joined President Nixon’s administration as the Secretary of Labor in 1969, where he faced the immediate prospect of a Longshoremen’s Union strike. His approach was successful and simple. He got the management and the rank and file together and let them work it out without government meddling. They did. Perhaps one of the least known accomplishments that can be credited to Secretary Shultz is what was known as the “Philadelphia Plan” that opened the door to black Americans becoming members of Pennsylvania construction unions.
While in the Nixon administration, Shultz also served as director of the Office of Management and Budget and secretary of the Treasury. On leaving the Treasury Department in 1974, he joined the private sector as the executive vice president of the Bechtel Group and, later, the Group’s president and a member of the board of directors.
When Ronald Reagan became president, he selected Shultz to be his secretary of state. In that office, Shultz negotiated the first treaty reducing the size of the ground-based nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union. No easy task, as Liberty Nation has reported frequently. He was also instrumental in establishing a way forward for a more peaceful Middle East.
During his term as the secretary of state, the infamous “Iran-Contra” affair unfolded. Members of the U.S. National Security Council led by National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane set about selling arms to Iran for Iran’s assistance in getting U.S. hostages released from Lebanon.
The plan involved illegal activities. As Caspar Weinberger, who was Secretary of Defense at the time, explained the issues in a Ronald Reagan Oral History Project interview, included in a 2017 University of Virginia article “The Iran-Contra Affair,” by Bryan Craig:
“We [Shultz and Weinberger] didn’t have any disagreement at all on the Iran hostages. We both regarded the [Robert] McFarlane proposal as perfectly absurd and dangerous, and said so many times. I believed we’d convinced the president in two meetings, but in the third meeting on it, it became quite apparent that we had not.”
In his later years, Secretary Shultz was appropriately reflective about the challenges the U.S. faces. His decades of being in the diplomatic and international policy arena gave him a unique perch from which to view current events. When asked about the recent “rise of extremism and the seeming embrace of socialism and Communism by younger people” in an Octavian Report, “Wise Man: An Interview with George Shultz,” he replied:
“People have forgotten. We tried these things. They didn’t work. I think the bigger issues have to do with war and peace and the devastating consequences of war. At the end of World War II, some gifted people with names like Acheson and Marshall and Truman looked back — and what did they see? They saw two World Wars … They said to themselves: ‘What a crummy world — and we’re part of it, whether we like it or not.’ So, they set out to create something better with leadership. It wasn’t the U.S. telling people what to do. It was the U.S. giving leadership and being willing to go and have a constructive conversation.”
Secretary George Shultz received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989, the United States’ highest civilian award. Looking back over Shultz’s career, he richly deserved the recognition.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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