GEORGE SHULTZ'S memoirs, "Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State," are an essential read to those who study United States foreign policy and to anyone wanting to understand Ronald Reagan and his administration. Shultz gives a clear picture of the inner workings of Reagan's White House and a portrait of the president himself.
Few in the news media or the Washington elite really understood Reagan. Because he called into question some of the dearest tenets of arms control, especially that of mutually assured destruction (MAD), arms-controllers and liberals alike decided he favored an arms race. Conservatives who wanted to build more missiles came to the same conclusion.
Both sides were wrong, Shultz says. Like many in the nuclear-freeze movement, Reagan believed that MAD was an immoral basis for peace. His approach was to build up America's strength in order to deal with the Soviets on the basis of equality and then try to reduce the number of nuclear weapons to zero. In the meantime, he envisioned a space shield - the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) - that would hasten the obsolescence of nuclear arms.
Few took Reagan seriously, Shultz recounts. When Reagan announced a proposal to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe, many to the right and left saw it as a ploy that the Soviets would never accept. But Shultz and Reagan hung tough and "zero-zero" became the basis of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force treaty.
Shultz advanced a new approach to dealing with the Soviets: a four-part agenda - strategic issues, human rights, regional issues, and bilateral issues - in which progress or setbacks in one area would not be allowed to affect the others. Under Shultz's agenda, the response to the shoot-down of Korean Air Lines flight 007 in 1983 was for the most part limited to the area of civil aviation, despite public demands that bilateral talks or arms-control negotiations be broken off. That US-Soviet relations stay ed on course and soon improved refutes those who have claimed that Shultz and Reagan brought relations to the brink of disaster after the shoot-down.
Shultz relates in detail his discussions with Reagan and debates with Cabinet colleagues. He also reveals the substance of his many discussions with Soviet Foreign Ministers Andrei Gromyko and Eduard Shevardnadze, and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
Also discussed in depth: How Reagan conceived and perceived of SDI; bitter debates over Soviet policy; the toing and froing over Central American policy that eventually ended in Iran-contra; how German Chancellor Helmut Kohl pressured Reagan into the Bitburg cemetery visit; how the administration got the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israelis out of Beirut; and the administration's losses and wins in the fight against terrorism worldwide. Shultz is quite critical of the Central Intelligence A gency and director William Casey, whose intelligence he found time and again to be inaccurate.
On Iran-contra, Shultz says that on several occasions he resolutely opposed any arms-for-hostage proposals and was stunned to learn that national security adviser John Poindexter, Casey, and Lt. Col. Oliver North had gone ahead with the scheme. Shultz says that as much as he tried to persuade Reagan that an arms-for-hostage swap had occurred, the president couldn't bring himself to accept that. Shultz had to put his job on the line to convince the president that Reagan was getting bad advice from Casey a nd the others.
Shultz gives a very mixed picture of then-Vice President George Bush. He paints Bush as more aware of what was going on in Iran-contra than Bush has admitted. The former secretary also pictures Bush and James Baker III as more dubious than Reagan and Shultz that real change was taking place in the Soviet Union, and that they could trust Gorbachev and Shevardnadze. More important, he reveals Bush as an adamant opponent of the deal Reagan and Shultz tried to work to ease Gen. Manuel Noriega out of power in
Panama. Had that succeeded, in spite of the opposition in Congress and within the administration, many US and Panamanian lives would later have been spared, Shultz points out.
As literature, the book has its flaws. It often reintroduces people who have already been introduced, while at other times it mentions people with no explanation of who they are or how they arrived on the scene. Some phrases and expressions ("the snake would not die") get repeated to the point of tedium. Still, the prose is readable and the story told here is gripping.
Shultz has put important information on the record in this volume. To read it is to realize just how much the world has changed since, as secretary of state, he had to defuse the spat with US allies over sanctions on companies supplying equipment for a Soviet natural-gas pipeline to Western Europe. And it is a reminder of just how much Reagan and Shultz accomplished on their watch.