Turmoil and Triumph

The Book of the Week is “Turmoil and Triumph, My Years as Secretary of State” by George P. Shultz, published in 1993. This tome described the author’s every conversation, meeting and diplomatic action, complete with historical backdrop– the behind-the scenes issue-wrangling that occurred among top U.S. officials and world leaders during the author’s tenure as secretary of state under president Ronald Reagan.

Shultz came to office in the summer of 1982, after Alexander Haig’s resignation. Shultz was very careful to minimize conflicts of interest– resigning as president of Bechtel and from teaching at Stanford University. He put his assets in a truly blind trust– not managed by family members.

The policy of the administration with regard to most matters of international diplomacy seemed to be “Might makes right.” Cold War hysteria was still in full force, and the United States continually stockpiled weaponry and sent its troops to foreign shores on various continents to deter the Soviets from taking over more territory. Starting at the tail end of the 1970’s through the 1980’s, hostage-taking was all the rage. Terrorist groups sponsored by evil regimes were using people as bargaining chips to achieve their political goals at every turn. The U.S. therefore used the threat of its weaponry and armed forces at every turn.

When Shultz took office, controversy was raging over the Israelis’ attack on the PLO in Lebanon. Various countries– Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iran, NATO countries, and the United States were jockeying for position in the complicated situation. Shultz, of course, tried to represent the interests of the United States– oil accessibility and continued goodwill with Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel had been and continued to be unnecessarily militarily hostile in various ways. Reagan simply decided to have the United States troops leave Lebanon altogether rather than risk additional deaths of Americans– which wasn’t necessarily a cowardly act. That would avoid a quagmire like Vietnam. But a year later, in the autumn of 1983, the American military was back in Lebanon. And in Grenada.

According to Shultz, “The report was sharp and clear:  some Western democracies were again ready to use the military strength they had harbored and built up over the years in defense of their principles and interest.”

Eighteen American troops died in Grenada during the “rescue” operation of one thousand American medical students (who weren’t in immediate danger, according to some people who were physically present, contrary to Shultz’s account) at the school there. The CIA had convinced Shultz that Grenada was a weapons-transporting-Cuban-aircraft refueling stop between Cuba and Angola or Ethiopia.

In summer 1983, there was a power struggle between the National Security Council and Shultz over America’s policy in Central America, when he learned that both he and Congress weren’t informed of the agency’s activities. In summer 1984, the Council authorized U.S. peace-keeping forces to engage in a secret mission in Honduras.

This was ostensibly to protect the Contras, a Nicaraguan fighting force (generously rewarded by the United States because they were anti-Communist) that had infiltrated Honduras. According to what Shultz was told at the time, Saudi Arabia was sending financial aid of one million dollars a month to the Contras. Shultz wrote that he wanted that allowance to end by the end of 1984.

The CIA told Shultz that the Soviets were sending the Sandinistas (the Contras’ enemy) Czech-made weaponry. In addition, the spy agency ordered the American military to line Nicaragua’s harbors with land mines. An international court said that was a crime.

In 1985, Shultz agreed with the policy conveyed by America to foreign officials– that it was against sending arms to Iraq and Iran, in order to discourage them from continuing their war.

At that time, Shultz said he himself, at least one member of the State Department, and a counter-terrorist official weren’t informed that National Security Council adviser Bud McFarlane and non-government individuals were arranging arms sales from Israel to Iran. This, in order for strings to be pulled to release American hostages held by terrorist groups in Lebanon. Others in on the deal included John Kelly, Middle East ambassador from the United States– located in Beirut, the CIA, and some people in the White House.

By November 1986, it was revealed that McFarlane and four others flew to Tehran using phony Irish passports to make the secret deal. Shultz did admit to encouraging talks for the release of hostages, but absent arms sales. He felt that selling arms to a rogue state would be an invitation for them to keep taking hostages one by one to acquire more arms.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes claimed that Shultz knew about the deal during its execution. Treasury Secretary and later Chief of Staff Don Regan claimed the same– at least since a November 1985 meeting. Shultz said no, he didn’t know. Incidentally, Congress didn’t know. Reagan claimed he didn’t. Then he did. Then he didn’t. No one will ever know. Admiral John Poindexter contended that he just found out in November 1986.

[Insert scandal here.]

Poindexter changed his story after it was revealed that some Iranian-weapons-sales-proceeds had been sent to the Contras in Nicaragua. It was just by chance that the CIA head William Casey was debilitated by a brain tumor when he was. Otherwise, the scheming co-conspirators would have continued their clandestine activities.

Shultz egotistically wrote, “… we have lied to the American people and misused our friends abroad. We are revealed to have been dealing with some of the sleaziest international characters around… There is a Watergate-like atmosphere around here as the White House staff has become secretive, self-deluding, and vindictive… But almost every aspect of our foreign policy agenda will suffer unless the  president makes the decision now to halt this operation and let me clean up the mess.”

Shultz was aggrieved that in the Reagan Era, foreign policy and intelligence analysis were commingled at the CIA. Shultz– at the State Department, was left out of the loop. Separating those functions previously minimized possible abuses because the State Department used to handle policy; the CIA, analysis.

Further, having people who weren’t currently U.S. government employees, represent the United States abroad in diplomacy was risky. Shultz pointed out that people such as Jimmy Carter and Jesse Jackson weren’t accountable to the American government. A secretary of state, prior to taking office– like Shultz– was subjected to a rigorous vetting process. Shultz was outraged that during Iran-Contra, clowns off the street who had friends in high places were allowed to be hostage negotiators, unbeknownst to him.

Anyhow, most of the book described the arms-reduction talks between Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. There was a tug-of-war over the interpretation of the ABM Treaty. Reagan had agreed to allow the military to begin a research project into the “Strategic Defense Initiative” — a weapons system that was decades away from actual implementation and broke the bank, but was intended to scare the Soviets into agreeing to do away with more of its offensive weapons than otherwise.

There were indications that Reagan was going senile, but Shultz tried to gloze over them and cover for him when he became loopy in public. “Once a certain arrangement of facts was in his head, I could hardly ever get them out.”

Read the book to learn of the untold taxpayer dollars that were wasted making dictatorial shenanigans go away (amid a flurry of propaganda) in Haiti, Panama, the Philippines, Libya, Chile, Angola, Namibia and South Africa; the three skills a secretary of state should have; of every last interaction between the Reagan administration and the Soviets; and how Shultz (according to Shultz) saved Reagan’s presidency.