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For Secretary Shultz -- a rugged first-year odyssey

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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.

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''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