Washington — When he stepped off his blue and white Air Force jet at 2:10 a.m. last Friday , a weary George Shultz did not have much time to reflect on the morning's headlines: Shultz Leaves Midwest Without Progress on Pullout Shultz Ends Trip to Mideast With No Pullout Accord
The secretary of state had just completed a 15-day, 25,000-mile trip through 10 countries. He had spent a total of 52 hours in the air.
Before arriving at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, Mr. Shultz had in one day alone met in Jerusalem with Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in Amman with Jordan's King Hussein, and in Cairo with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.
Shultz reached his brick home in suburban Maryland at about 2:45 a.m. (customs officials had delayed all the passengers, including the secretary of state), got to bed at 3:30, rose at 6, and was back at the State Department at exactly 7:50 a.m. for a day which included:
Briefings for Shultz on developments around the world, a progress report to the secretary on the East-West conference in Madrid, decisions on personnel matters and appointments, staff meetings on Central America and the Middle East, a National Security Council meeting on Central America, lunch with CIA director William J. Casey, and a Shultz briefing on the Middle East for President Reagan.
Unlike his predecessor, Alexander M. Haig Jr., Shultz doesn't worry too much about the daily headlines. If he did, he might not enjoy the few hours of sleep he has been getting these days.
Unfortunately for Secretary Shultz, what he has achieved after one year in office cannot be easily summed up in headlines. If one tried to describe his accomplishments so succinctly, it would make dull reading indeed: Shultz Defuses Pipeline Crisis Shultz Helps to Restore NATO Alliance Unity Shultz Brings Balance to East Asia Policy Shultz Returns Mideast Policy to Traditional Mainstream
''He's not a specialist in the spectacular,'' says Shultz's executive assistant, Raymond G.H. Seitz. ''But the Asia part of his last trip was a very good example of solid, traditional diplomacy. . . . What Shultz has brought to the scene - this almost stolid person - is a sense of weight and stability.''
When Shultz took office a year ago, in July of 1982, Reagan administration foreign policy looked anything but stable. The United States was fighting with its NATO allies over their assistance to the Soviet Union for the building of a gas pipeline to Western Europe. General Haig's battles with the White House staff over this and other issues had received wide publicity. Middle East policy was adrift.
In his first months as secretary of state, Shultz played a key role in shaping a new Middle East policy, which restored negotiating momentum and gathered wide support both here and abroad. While not alienating the Israelis - some feared that he would prove to be anti-Israel - Shultz showed sensitivity toward the plight of the Palestinians. The policy which he and his advisers devised brought the Reagan administration back into line with basic principles embraced by previous administrations, both Democratic and Republican.
By gaining agreement from the West European allies to study restrictions on subsidized credits and technology transfers to the East-bloc countries, Shultz got President Reagan to drop his sanctions against European companies. He thus defused a crisis which was threatening the unity of the Western alliance. Shultz next managed to prevent what could have turned into a trade war with the Europeans.
The secretary played a lead role in preparing for the Williamsburg summit meeting of the industrialized democracies at the end of May. The summit was widely regarded as successful, partly because of Shultz's efforts to lower expectations and make the meeting informal.
Following in the footsteps of predecessor Haig, Shultz has helped to edge President Reagan away from his initial hostility toward international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. By the time the problem of third-world debt became apparent in all its magnitude, the Reagan administration had been sensitized to the need to prevent panic among the banks, to work with the IMF, and to react, when it was needed, both swiftly and surely. It did just that when it put together major bailout loans for Mexico last year.
Shultz has given persistent and effective attention to the many economic problems which the US has with its neighbor to the north, Canada.
As an economist, Shultz has recognized the great potential for further economic growth in East Asia, already the world's fastest-growing region. While working to maintain a constructive relationship with Peking, he has eschewed the romanticism which has so often befogged American views of China. It has made no headlines, but Shultz has done a great deal to help correct what many regard as an imbalance in US policy. There has been a tendency in recent years to overemphasize China to the neglect of Japan, the world's second-largest industrial power. Through his old business firm, Bechtel, Shultz already knew a great deal about Japan. While encouraging the Japanese to do more to build the world economy and their own defenses, he has strengthened US ties with Japan.
Shultz once showed Raymond Seitz, his executive assistant, how American mapmakers almost invariably make the Atlantic Ocean, with the US and Europe on each side, the center of things. Shultz was born and raised on the East Coast and educated at Princeton. But he has also for many years been a Californian, with his view turned toward the Pacific ocean. If Shultz were a mapmaker, he would place that ocean in the middle of his map.
''He's very much a believer that the future is in Asia,'' says Mr. Seitz. ''As an economist, he can't help but admire what the Asians have done.''
But it's not enough these days for a secretary of state to deal with the entire world. He also has to deal with the US Congress. In the midst of what often is the chaos of Congress, Shultz has been, for the most part, an effective spokesman. An experienced labor-management mediator from his days as professor and business-school dean at the University of Chicago, Shultz knows how to listen to both sides of an argument and then begin to build a consensus.
But once again, that doesn't win Shultz any favorable headlines. Who would read a story under this headline? Shultz is Good Listener, Wins Friends On Capitol Hill
''Shultz is more effective with Congress than Henry Kissinger was, because he doesn't engage in the kind of hyperbole which gets members' backs up,'' said an aide to a Democratic senator. ''People criticize Shultz for not being more colorful. But in a closed-door session, he's able to get an effective exchange of views going.''
The fact that he gets along with the Democrats is precisely what drives some conservative critics of Shultz to despair. In their view, the secretary of state is just another middle-of-the-road, Gerald Ford-type Republican who will not let Reagan be Reagan.
Liberal critics, on the other hand, fault Shultz for not exercising more of a moderating influence on Reagan, for not doing more to curb the President's ideological tendencies when it comes to two hot issues: Central America and US-Soviet relations. And critics on all sides have begun to blame Shultz for not moving earlier and more forcefully to clear Syrian roadblocks to a Lebanon withdrawal.
Finally, in the most sweeping condemnation of all, some critics accuse Shultz of having no grand design, or overarching strategy. One White House official contends, for example, that Shultz has advocated intensified negotiations with the Soviets without knowing clearly where he wants such negotiations to lead.
Defenders of Shultz argue, however, that no all-embracing strategy is possible in a complex world of highly diversified interests.
What is certain is that Shultz is not totally comfortable with Central America or arms control questions. He is a slow mover who protects his bureaucratic flanks before he moves, thus sometimes letting bureaucratic rivals grasp the initiative. He does not like to get ahead of the President.
A top State Department official said that Shultz and some of his aides acknowledge that at the beginning of this year, it might have been wiser for Shultz to plunge directly into Middle East diplomacy instead of leaving the work mostly to the Israelis, to friendly Arab nations, and to American diplomats in the field.
But Middle East problems have never been subject to easy solutions, and no one has ever come up with sure-fire answers.
When it comes to Central America, this top official said, ''It's a messy policy, because it's a messy situation. . . . The constraints on one's choices are pretty narrow. One has to deal with a lot of unattractive characters.''
In the arms control arena, nearly everyone acknowledges that Shultz has been slow to move. Lacking expertise, he has left it mostly to his aides to fight the bureaucratic battles for greater flexibility in US proposals being made to the Soviets. This has, until recently, left the Pentagon with considerable veto power.
With a presidential election coming, however, the White House and a strengthened National Security Council staff are getting more and more into the arms control act.
White House officials see obvious political benefits in an improvement in US-Soviet relations, possibly including a summit meeting. But while the State Department tends to favor a well-prepared summit, the White House can clearly see the political dangers which could be created by raising expectations.
Secretary of State Shultz says a gradual improvement is possible in US-Soviet relations. Strategic points as Shultz sees them WESTERN EUROPE Alliance united NAMIBIA Possible agreement POLAND Tension could ease MIDDLE EAST No easy solution USSR Possible thaw in relations CHINA Relations back on track JAPAN Closer ties to US CANADA Close but difficult ties MEXICO Coping better CENTRAL AMERICA More trouble ahead