George P. Shultz, the secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan, said leaders in the United States should rebuild a bipartisan consensus on national security issues, including a strategy for the war on terrorism, that is broader and more sophisticated than the current approach. In an interview with The Washington Diplomat in his office at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, Shultz urged U.S. policymakers to set aside partisanship for the national good.
According to the former secretary of state, the U.S. approach to the Cold War shows that there can be sharp policy differences without the two parties falling into rancorous, and even poisonous, combat. “In the Cold War there were certain topics that were argued about, but in a nonpartisan manner. It wasn’t a partisan struggle. It was a debate about what was best for the country, and the outcomes were broadly accepted,” Shultz said.
He argues that this approach is required as the United States prepares for a long struggle against terrorism, a war that he is not convinced the country is currently prepared to wage. “I hope we are gearing up for the long haul. I think it’s gradually dawning on people, but I don’t think we are there yet. Unfortunately we are so caught up into translating everything into a partisan act,” he said.
Widely viewed as one of the country’s senior statesmen, Shultz has held four Cabinet-level positions, serving as secretary of state for Reagan, as secretary of treasury from 1972 to 1974, secretary of labor from 1969 to 1970, and as director of the White House budget office under President Richard Nixon.
Shultz has a doctorate in industrial economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served on the faculties of MIT and the University of Chicago. He was also dean of the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.
Prior to becoming secretary of state, Shultz was president of Bechtel Group, the international construction firm. Shultz is a long-time champion of U.S. diplomacy, and the State Department’s Foreign Service Training Center was named in his honor in May 2002.
Soft-spoken, calm and clear, Shultz keeps a busy schedule at Hoover, hosting conferences, meeting with international visitors, and writing and speaking about international affairs.
He said the U.S. war against terrorism has unfolded in three phases—and that the third phase will continue for years, if not decades. According to Shultz, the first phase of the war on terrorism extended roughly from the Olympic killings in Munich in 1972 until Sept. 11, 2001, and was largely passive on the part of the United States. During this time, he contends, U.S. leaders responded to terrorist attacks with occasional air strikes or cruise missiles.
“The enemy was not impressed,” Shultz said. “Passivity does not lead to a cessation of attacks.”
Seen clearly now from the perspective of history, he said the terrorist attacks of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s targeted every aspect of the international system: tourism, commerce, air travel, world finance, the United Nations, embassies, commitment to the principle of diplomatic immunity, and the sovereign and territorial integrity of nations.
The second phase of the war, Shultz explained, began on 9/11 and was characterized by a strong U.S. reaction. The nation’s mindset shifted from passive reliance on law enforcement to a war mentality with offensive and defensive elements—and a willingness to use force to prevent attacks on the United States and its allies.
Shultz defines the enemy as “Islamism,” a radical, aberrational deviation from Islam that is prepared to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.
Shultz said the United States is now entering the third and probably most difficult phase in its battle against terrorism: developing and implementing a long-term strategy for victory. He said the passionate and unified American reaction to 9/11 has subsided, and policymakers are now struggling to put U.S. efforts on a sustainable basis, seeking broad support at home and abroad.
Shultz cited several initiatives that he believes are needed to make this effort successful, including a more coordinated, vigilant and tough-minded approach to intelligence collection and analysis. He described the “profound importance of an intense and sustained effort to improve our intelligence capability. And obviously there is a need for better coordination.”
He added: “It’s important to probe intelligence and test it. I’m a big fan of open-source intelligence. I’m convinced that in the information age, you can sit in Washington and find out probably most of what you need to know about Country X without spying. Just because you get something clandestinely that doesn’t make it important. Probably things that just came over the threshold are most important.”
Shultz said he was skeptical about Congress’s haste in enacting intelligence reform several years ago. “I was among the few people who urged the Congress not to act too fast. In government when you see things aren’t working, you add a layer. In business when you see things aren’t working right, you take a layer away—you flatten your organization, which the information age allows you to do.”
Moreover, he criticized the public feuding that’s been taking place among intelligence agencies and with other agencies in government. “We have to get the CIA out of the headlines. It’s got to be looked upon as a professional organization that gives you good intelligence, which we desperately need.”
He recalled that when he worked for Nixon, Richard Helms, then the CIA director, would brief the president at National Security Council meetings, but would always leave the sessions when policy discussions began. “He didn’t want to be present when policy was made because he could see that if he became identified with a policy, people would question his intelligence product.”
Shultz supported Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to set up new consulates in remote locations around the world so that the Untied States could better understand what is happening on the ground in far-flung places.
He pointed out that another aspect of a robust counter-terrorism strategy is a vigilant effort to track down the sources of finance for terrorists and to dry them up. “We must curtail the finances of terrorists,” he said.
Shultz calls for a more imaginative U.S. effort to support economic and political openness in the Middle East, arguing that the larger strategic purpose must be to help the decent elements in the Middle East flourish and transform the entire region.
He is adamant that the United States needs to do a better job of communicating with the Islamic world, and that it is crucial to support mainstream Islam while preventing radicals from dominating the political debate.
“We have to figure out what our mission is in this effort. The main thing seems to be to get people to understand who we are and what we are like. But we also have a different mission, and there should be a well-financed effort to accomplish it: to reach out to the world of Islam, to try to understand Islam, and to try to do what we can to say to mainstream Islam that we want to help them but that this is also their problem.”
The former secretary of state has a number of specific ideas in this regard. He argues that U.S. public diplomacy must target audiences carefully, paying special attention to women and also to unemployed young males. The United States should in particular address audiences in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and West European Muslim communities.
In addition, U.S. news content to the region should be candid, relevant and scrupulously truthful. “Credibility is the name of the game,” he said. “It leads people around the world to take our reports seriously. We need to have a remorseless commitment to accuracy because sooner or later the truth becomes apparent, and it is very important that you are seen as reliable.”
Shultz said the United States should also make a big push to support serious Middle East studies programs in American universities, including strong language programs. Exchange programs in that region and around the world are critical as well.
He believes the United States should also support basic education in the Middle East and encourage the Arab-Islamic world to communicate with the West more effectively, thereby challenging the stereotype of the Middle East as an angry hotbed of violent reaction.
Shultz is convinced that the U.S. battle against terrorism requires both a powerful military and robust diplomacy. “The size and scope and depth of the diplomatic effort needed is formidable,” he conceded. “That’s why we should think more carefully about the way we go about personnel management. We have a gigantic global diplomacy to conduct. The secretary of state needs big people around.”
Shultz has long argued that the U.S. Foreign Service produces superb diplomats, but that some of the best retire when they are in their early 50s because they believe their future opportunities in diplomacy are limited. The government should find ways to keep these people in the Foreign Service and tap their skills as special envoys if they decide to leave, he said.
Shultz has also long been a proponent of what he calls the gardening aspect of diplomacy: developing relationships around the world by working hard during ordinary times. He believes the war against terrorism will be won if the United States and its allies show the world that their systems produce security and prosperity. “At the most fundamental level, we will win the war by actions that help people see improvements in the way they live,” he said.
But this struggle, he cautions, will take time, resolve, strong alliances and a new bipartisan consensus in the United States. “What we face today is akin to the decades-long struggle of the Cold War. We must not let up on the reality that we are at war and will continue to be so for a long time.”
About the Author
John Shaw is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.