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Excerpt Via FSJ/by Steven Alan Honley:
In December 1985, news broke that the Reagan administration was planning to require State Department employees to take lie detector tests to keep their security clearances. Expressing “grave reservations” about the validity of polygraphs, Secretary of State George P. Shultz threatened to resign if the policy change went forward, calling it a sign that “I am not trusted.” President Ronald Reagan took that threat so seriously that, after meeting with Secretary Shultz, he declared that he would leave it up to State Department officials to decide whether to administer polygraphs.
Although that incident did not change the status quo, and was soon forgotten by most people, it reveals much about George Shultz’s character. First, while he was a fully committed Cold Warrior, he instinctively understood that not every trade-off of liberty for security is warranted. Second, his background as an economist led him to value data over theory, so he saw no reason to trust polygraphs.
Third, he was intensely loyal to his employees, and they trusted him to have their backs. Although he couched his protest in personal terms (“I am not trusted”), everyone knew there was no chance he would ever be asked to take a lie detector test—let alone forced to do so to keep his job. But George Shultz understood full well that his subordinates at State did not enjoy that luxury, so he spoke out on their behalf—first through internal channels, then publicly.
For those reasons, and more, many Foreign Service members who served during Secretary Shultz’s tenure in Foggy Bottom (1982-1989) remember him fondly. (As far as I know, AFSA has never surveyed its members as to the Secretary of State they believe was the best leader of the department, but I’m willing to bet Shultz would come in at or very near the top of such a list.) A thoughtful institutionalist, he not only understood and valued the work of State and other foreign affairs agencies, but advocated for the resources and respect diplomats need and deserve.
The Foreign Service Journal has an online memorial. To contribute to this living memorial, please send your brief essay (up to 500 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few contributions below from the online memorial:
A Gentleman, Even at 3:00 a.m.
Shultz was SecState when I worked in the 24 x 7 Operations Center; he would often call in to see what was going on in the world. Occasionally, I would have to call him in the middle of the night to report on one crisis or another. Even when being awakened at three in the morning, he was a perfect gentleman, often repeating back a summary of what I had briefed him about, and then asking how everyone on the team was doing that night. It is no wonder that State employees thought Shultz was terrific.
A Beacon of Integrity and Truth (Excerpt)
On July 23, 1987, Secretary Shultz testified for six hours before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages affair. I left the office that day around lunch time and listened to Shultz’s testimony on the car radio as I drove. I stopped at the supermarket on the way home, but stayed in my car, riveted, as I listened. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) had just asked Shultz about reports that he had tendered his resignation on several occasions during his service as Secretary of State, including at one point during the Iran-Contra fiasco.
As the Secretary recounted his reasons for offering to resign at different times, he said something that has stayed with me ever since: “In jobs like the job I have, where it is a real privilege to serve … you can’t do the job well if you want it too much. You have to be willing to say, ‘goodbye’—and I am.” (See comments at approximately the 4:05 hour mark of testimony, found here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?9641-1/iran-contra-investigation-day-34.)
I only recently looked up his exact words, but I have never forgotten what those words meant. They stayed with me and guided me throughout my Foreign Service career. And I have thought of them over the years as we have seen political leaders fail to make, or not make, politically difficult choices, and then as they have contorted themselves into logical absurdities to justify what is, at heart, simply an unwillingness to say “goodbye” to a position of privilege and power. George Shultz was a beacon of integrity and truth because he didn’t want his position “too much.”
The Only Secretary Who Understood What We Do
I spent most of my career as a Labor Officer. We had a conference in Washington while George Schultz was the Secretary of State. He came and spent an hour with us. He was the only Secretary of State who understood what we did and why it was important. The fact that he understood and cared made a real impact on us.
Dan E. Turnquist
FE MC, retired