Global Leader Feature: George P. Shultz

Adm. Robert F. Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, speaks with former Secretary of State George Shultz at the World Affairs Council Sept. 14, 2011 (Photo by Michael Mustacchi).


“Terrorism is a contagious disease that will, inevitably spread if it goes untreated.” – George P. Shultz

Last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Former Secretary of State George Shultz joined other former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright in outlining the challenges facing U.S. national security policy. His testimony highlights the kind of strategic thinking and cogent argumentation that make Secretary Shultz such an effective leader.

George Pratt Shultz
George Pratt Shultz

A former marine, who also served as U.S. Secretary of Labor, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shultz has a keen strategic mind and a great understanding of history. Fifteen years ago, I had the honor of spending a week with Shultz while acting as his staff coordinator during the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. First, I must say it was rare for me to be around a political figure who said so little, and meant so much. At that time, I distinctly remember Shultz being the only foreign policy heavyweight to name terrorism as the number one strategic threat to the United States. At the time, it was fashionable to point to China’s rise or the Balkans as the major tests for our country; however, Shultz was prescient then and no less so today when he stated: “The magnitude of a threat posed by terrorism is so great that we cannot afford to confront it with halfhearted and poorly organized measures,” he said. “Terrorism is a contagious disease that will, inevitably spread if it goes untreated. We cannot allow ourselves to become the Hamlet of nations, worrying endlessly over whether and how to respond. But we have to be ready to respond.” Decisive action rooted in the contextual understanding of cultures and histories – that is what Shultz is demanding from America’s leaders.

Like Winston Churchill, Shultz life is marked by symbolism. In Churchill’s case, he witnessed the last cavalry charge at the battle of Omdurman and later commanded Britain’s nuclear deterrent. With George Shultz, we have a man who served as a young Marine captain in the tough island fighting in the Pacific, who anticipated the horrors of 9/11, and sounded the alarm. These men – both inspirational global leaders – understand it takes courage, focus, and a strategy to prevail against a determined foe. Let us all take note.

President Reagan and Secretary Shultz
President Reagan walking with Secretary of State Shultz outside the Oval Office on December 4, 1986.