Playing a Good Hand: The Secret of Shultz's Success

Courtesy Reuters

George Shultz was the nation's last Cold War secretary of state. When he came to office in the summer of 1982, the conflict with the Soviet Union appeared to have entered a phase more intense and threatening than it had been in a generation. Fears of a nuclear war were widespread. When he left office six and a half years later, Soviet-American relations were better than they had been since the years immediately following World War II. By the close of 1988 the stage was set for the end of the great rivalry that had dominated world politics and American foreign policy for more than four decades.

It is only reasonable to assume that the official who presided over so vast a change in American foreign policy would have a compelling story to relate. The history Shultz has written of his years in office is indeed almost consistently interesting and instructive. Turmoil and Triumph tells more about the foreign policy of the Reagan administration than any other published memoir of the period has done or, for that matter, is likely to do. Until historians have had the opportunity to examine the documentary record of those years, his book may be expected to remain the most informative source available for the diplomacy that marked the last years of the Cold War.

The memoirs, nevertheless, do not appear to have evoked the interest that might have been expected. His book is very long, but so were the more successful memoirs of some of Shultz's predecessors. Shultz, however, has neither the literary gifts of a Dean Acheson nor the power to delineate character of a Henry Kissinger. Both Acheson and Kissinger are masters of the ironic; Mr. Shultz clearly is not. His writing is always direct and one-dimensional; it is intended neither to amuse nor to outrage the reader. Although he pulls few punches in relating the behavior of leading figures in the Reagan administration (he seems less than candid only in discussing his superior in

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