George Shultz, who served as secretary of state for 6 years in the Reagan administration, died at his home on the campus of Stanford University. He was 100.
A Marine veteran of World War II, Shultz excelled in the worlds of academia, public service, and corporate America, and was widely respected by his peers from both political parties. After serving as treasury and labor secretary under Richard Nixon, he became CEO of the construction giant Bechtel in 1975. He joined the Reagan administration as secretary of state in 1982 and served until Reagan left office. He was the longest-serving secretary of state since Cordell Hull in 1925.
Condoleezza Rice, also a former secretary of state and current director of the Hoover Institution, praised Shultz as a “great American statesman” and a “true patriot.”
“He will be remembered in history as a man who made the world a better place,” she said in statement.
Shultz had largely stayed out of politics since his retirement, but had been an advocate for an increased focus on climate change. He marked his 100th birthday in December by extolling the virtues of trust and bipartisanship in politics and other endeavors in a piece he wrote for The Washington Post.
Shultz came of age in an era where “politics stopped at the water’s edge” and bi-partisanship was the fashion. But he could be brutal on the left who questioned Reagan’s approach to the Soviet Union. In the end, Shultz was able to fashion an arms deal with the Soviets that eliminated an entire class of nuclear weapons. He spoke out against the Soviet persecution of Jews and political dissidents and was a strong voice in defense of Israel.
But his efforts at fashioning a Middle East peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians failed despite bouts of “shuttle diplomacy” as he jetted between Arab capitals trying to broker a deal.
After the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 soldiers, Shultz worked tirelessly to end Lebanon’s brutal civil war in the 1980s. He spent countless hours of shuttle diplomacy between Mideast capitals trying to secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces there.
The experience led him to believe that stability in the region could only be assured with a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he set about on an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful mission to bring the parties to the negotiating table.
Otherwise, what many remember about him were his courtly manners and easy-going personality.
A more serious disagreement was over the secret arms sales to Iran in 1985 in hopes of securing the release of American hostages held in Lebanon by Hezbollah militants. Although Shultz objected, Reagan went ahead with the deal and millions of dollars from Iran went to right-wing Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua. The ensuing Iran-Contra scandal swamped the administration, to Shultz’s dismay.
In 1986 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he lamented that “nothing ever gets settled in this town. It’s not like running a company or even a university. It’s a seething debating society in which the debate never stops, in which people never give up, including me, and that’s the atmosphere in which you administer.?
George Shultz was one of the most consequential leaders of the 20th century. He leaves behind a legacy of success that few have ever matched.
He is survived by his wife, who he married in 1995 following the death of his first wife, 5 children, 11 grandchildren, and 9 great-grandchildren.