Human Rights, Superpower Ties Among His Accomplishments : Shultz a Winner Abroad but Not on Capitol Hill

Times Staff Writer

It was a fitting finale for America’s most traveled secretary of state--a 32-hour excursion to this East-West crossroads that combined the high life of a ball at the neo-Gothic city hall with a crucial conference on global human rights.

George Pratt Shultz, who visited 74 countries during 84 trips in just over six years, wrapped up his travel schedule two days short of the end of his term by addressing an international conference that established new rules intended to curb political repression.

It was, Shultz said, a satisfactory conclusion to an off-and-on government career that spanned more than three decades and placed him in four Cabinet-level jobs in two administrations.

“I think the things I feel the best about . . . had to do with the area of human rights,” Shultz told reporters aboard his Air Force jetliner in the last of the airborne press conferences that became something of a trademark.


“The one incident that always sticks with me,” Shultz recalled, “is the day I had a phone call from Ida Nudel saying, ‘I’m home.’ I still tingle a little as I think of it.” Nudel, a Soviet Jewish refusenik, had finally gained permission to live in Israel.

So it was with considerable personal pride that Shultz declared that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, held in Vienna, represented a high-water mark for global “respect for human rights.”

To be sure, many of the most dramatic improvements in this area in recent years were recorded in the Soviet Union, driven far more by the reform policies of President Mikhail S. Gorbachev than by American pressure. But there can be no denying that the changes happened on Shultz’s watch.

Successor to Haig

Shultz, 68, was named secretary of state in 1982, following Alexander M. Haig’s short and uneven tenure as “vicar of American foreign policy.”

Some career diplomats say privately that Shultz got off to a hesitant start and did not really take charge of foreign policy until the Iran-Contra affair almost shattered the Reagan Administration in 1987. The scandal dramatically increased Shultz’s influence because it discredited his rivals for power. And, as the scandal unfolded, it became ever more clear that Shultz had taken a firm stand against arms sales to Iran and other controversial aspects of the affair.

The period of Shultz’s growing influence coincided with Gorbachev’s rise to power in Moscow. Working almost in harness with Gorbachev’s foreign minister, Eduard A. Shevardnadze, Shultz helped set the superpower agenda, moving it toward arms control and reduced friction.

“He rode the crest and to a considerable extent shaped relations with the Soviets,” said Helmut Sonnenfeldt, a former State Department and National Security Council expert on Soviet affairs. “One can fairly say that during the Reagan Administration, the momentum of Soviet expansion was slowed. I think Shultz had something to do with that as well as with opening up negotiations and dialogue.”

Praise From Pravda

Moscow seems to agree. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, praised Shultz in words that are rarely bestowed on an American official.

“Foreign policy is made by real people,” Pravda said. “And it’s fair to say that one of the architects of the turn in Soviet-American relations was Shultz.”

The newspaper praised his “constructive relationship” with Shevardnadze.

Shultz met 31 times with Shevardnadze as the two men carefully prepared the agenda for President Reagan’s summit meetings with Gorbachev. The secretary of state says he genuinely likes Shevardnadze despite their ideological differences. From all appearances, Shevardnadze feels the same way about Shultz.

Shultz likes to compare diplomacy to gardening or pick-and-shovel construction work. The way he sees it, the successful diplomat must be prepared to plow ahead tenaciously, making slow but steady progress by confronting problems and consolidating even the smallest gains.

There can be no question that the image fits Shultz’s relationships with Shevardnadze, North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers and other world diplomats. Curiously, however, he did not apply the same techniques to his relationship with Congress. The result was often defeat and frustration.

In public, Shultz often drew lavish praise from lawmakers, who were probably mindful of the support he enjoyed. But in private, Congress members often complained that Shultz was distant and aloof in his dealings on Capitol Hill.

During his tenure, many appointments of ambassadors or senior State Department officials were held up for months in the Senate. Most of the delay resulted from maneuvering by conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an outspoken critic of Shultz’s brand of diplomacy.

However, an aide to a senior Democratic senator said Shultz himself was largely responsible for the situation because he would not make the sort of private and personal appeals on behalf of nominees that senators have come to expect.

Contempt for Congress

In a speech earlier this month that served as his valedictory, Shultz let his contempt for Congress shine through.

“Some have argued that the problem is in the steady encroachment by Congress of the rightful prerogatives of the executive,” he said. “That is a problem, but not the real problem. . . . What we have to fear today is not the imperial Congress but the chaotic Congress.

“Dialogue between the branches cannot yield productive results when, no matter what the apparent agreement, any faction, any staffer, any subcommittee, any member of Congress can delay and impede even the will of the majority,” he said. “What we have is not so much a crisis of confidence but a crisis of competence.”

He told reporters that his greatest frustrations in office centered on the Administration’s inability to achieve its objectives in Nicaragua and Panama, two countries that often sparked sharp differences between the Administration and Congress. He complained that there was no “bipartisan consensus” covering policy toward Nicaragua.

Shultz’s congressional adversaries over Nicaragua policy were mostly liberal Democrats. But conservative Republicans were often even more critical on other issues, often complaining that he was too ready to make a deal with the Soviet Union.

He was anathema to right-wing political organizations, and he was often criticized by conservatives in Congress such as Helms and former Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), Bush’s choice for secretary of housing and urban development. Kemp frequently demanded Shultz’s ouster, and when Kemp lost in the presidential primaries last year, Shultz remarked waspishly that defeat was the fate of people “who call for my resignation.”

Known as the Sphinx

Nevertheless, Shultz reached the end of his tenure with his reputation not only intact but seemingly on the rise.

Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, Reagan’s national security adviser, said Shultz “will rank in the first order of those distinguished men who have been secretaries of state.

“We sometimes call him the Sphinx, the Buddha and Pokerface and the Enigma, (but) he never gives up as he goes after the task before him.”

Sonnenfeldt said Shultz’s successes have been the result of “his tenacity and his ability to delegate authority and back up those who he gives authority.”

Career Foreign Service officers generally applaud Shultz’s straightforward style.

“There were no games that you had to play,” one senior official said. “Everything was open and aboveboard.”

When he leaves office Friday, Shultz says he will observe a self-imposed moratorium on second-guessing his successor-designate, James A. Baker III. Although he plans to eventually write his memoirs, he said he would be very sparing in providing unsolicited advice. And he said he plans to refuse all requests for interviews, at least for a while.

“I’m going to go out to Stanford,” he said on the flight to Vienna. “I’ll be about a quarter-time faculty member. . . . And I’ll be trying to figure out what I’ve learned from all this and then write it down.”