Friday, 22 Sep 2023

Excessive loyalty: how Republican giant George Shultz fell for Nixon, Reagan and Elizabeth Holmes

Excessive loyalty: how Republican giant George Shultz fell for Nixon, Reagan and Elizabeth Holmes


Excessive loyalty: how Republican giant George Shultz fell for Nixon, Reagan  and Elizabeth Holmes

"Without Reagan the cold war would not have ended, but without Shultz, Reagan would not have ended the cold war." This quotation of Mikhail Gorbachev - from the preface of In the Nation's Service, a biography of George Shultz - now has a bittersweet taste. Reagan died in 2004, Shultz in 2021 (at 100) and Gorbachev in 2022. The cold war is having a renaissance that threatens the legacies of all three.

Vladimir Putin has returned Russia to authoritarianism, suspended its participation in the last US-Russia arms control pact and, with the invasion of Ukraine, put the risk of catastrophic confrontation between major powers back on the table.

This would have been heartbreaking for Shultz, a second world war veteran who as secretary of state was at Reagan's side during the summits that ended the cold war. He was a statesman and Republican of the old school who endorsed the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. He was also complicated.

In the Nation's Service, which Shultz authorised but did not control, portrays a man who loved not wisely. He was loyal to Richard Nixon during Watergate, loyal to Reagan during Iran-Contra, loyal to his party when it was cannibalised by Donald Trump and loyal to Elizabeth Holmes when Theranos, her blood-testing company, was exposed as a fraud.

"It's a thread through his life, excessive loyalty, and it grew out of his service in the marines in world war two, where obviously if you're in combat your life depends on the loyalty and support of your comrades in the Marine Corps," says the book's author, Philip Taubman, a New York Times reporter and bureau chief in Moscow from 1985 to the end of 1988.

"But as he carried that on through his life, it was a very strong impulse and so he stuck with Nixon too long."

Shultz, who studied at Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and became dean of the University of Chicago, was Nixon's labour secretary and led an effort to desegregate southern schools systems. He was the first director of the Office of Management and Budget before becoming treasury secretary.

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