Valuable player

Not much time for sleep appears in US Secretary of State George Shultz's recent schedule. But is it too much to repeat the cliche that the rest of us can sleep a little easier because a man like him is on the job?

As Mr. Shultz begins his second year in office, plenty of stress is being placed on the challenges to him, both in the world's trouble spots and in an administration that seems to be taking some diplomatic matters out of his hands.

But Mr. Shultz has displayed strengths that can stand him - and the nation - in good stead when challenge comes. They are of a quiet sort that doesn't tend to feed the media mills. They would never cause a president to say what President Eisenhower allegedly said to activist John Foster Dulles:

''Don't just do something, Foster, stand there!''

Yes, Mr. Shultz has gone through an almost Dulles-like bout of globe-girdling lately. But, with no less total anticommunist commitment, his style is the opposite of saber-rattling or brinksmanship. Call it saber-sheathing or possibly linksmanship.

This is not the mere old ''linkage'' of one policy objective with another. It is the search for links of civility and common interest between adversaries as well as between friends. Mr. Shultz has displayed it in relation to the Soviet Union - and the Democrats in Congress. In relation to disaffected European and Japanese allies - and to orderly protesting students at his Stanford University commencement speech.

The latter unsung episode is worth a note. The students' form of protest was simply to add to their caps and gowns a sash saying ''Respect Human Rights.'' The secretary worked a reference to the phrase into his remarks, gracefully acknowledging the validity of their concern even while arguing that US policy was already addressing it.

It is a sense of substance and awareness in Mr. Shultz that helps him make links whether or not all his views are accepted. Members of Congress, for example, are able to retain confidence in him even if not in a given policy he is defending before them.

Those who disagree with certain policies have been disappointed that Mr. Shultz has not brought more change with him. He has made much of being a team player, with President Reagan calling the shots. But secretaries of state who were not team players have been the exception. History now suggests that even the publicized Dulles was under tight White House control.

The point is that a team as a whole depends on the individual contribution of each player. What will Secretary Shultz bring to his team during the coming year? On past performance, it includes a combination of stability, scope, and conciliatoriness that make him a most valuable player.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.