October 19, 2021

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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken Remarks at a Service of Remembrance for George Pratt Shultz

19 min read

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Stanford, California

Stanford Memorial Church

(As Prepared)

Charlotte and members of the Shultz family: thank you for the honor of joining this celebration of the life of George Shultz.

To all our hosts: Stanford University, the Hoover Institute, the Stanford Memorial Church, and Bishop Swing, thank you for letting us hail the Secretary in a place that meant so much to him.

Secretary Rice, Senator Nunn, Secretary Baker, General Mattis, Secretary Kissinger: I am confident that I’ll never again have to endure the dread of speaking last in such a remarkable – and remarkably eloquent – group of public servants.

I’m humbled to be the current occupant of the office – or, better said, one of the offices – that George Shultz held.

Unlike others here today, I never had the privilege of working with Secretary Shultz. But I live in a world – and work at a State Department – that he shaped.

Whether it’s taking part in a meeting of the G7, which he helped create; swearing in new diplomats at the Shultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center, which he did more than anyone to build; or simply living in a post-Cold War world, which he helped bring about – the legacy of George Shultz is all around, every day that I serve as Secretary of State.

I’d like to focus on one powerful part of his legacy: what Secretary Shultz meant to our nation’s career diplomats.

Because as I see it, I’m here today as their representative.

As many of you know, every Secretary is assigned a few junior career officers as Special Assistants, or “Specials.” They do a lot of scutwork – printing out briefing papers, assembling the Secretary’s daily book, and feeding his or her responses back out to bureaus.

Secretary Shultz saw his Specials, and all junior career officers, as people he could mentor and mold – America’s future Assistant Secretaries and Ambassadors. And indeed, many of them went onto hold those posts.

One former Special, Ambassador Maura Harty, remembered being invited into the Secretary’s office during her first week on the job to listen in on a meeting with a member of Congress. As they discussed a contentious point, Secretary Shultz said, “Congressman, I know this is right, because a foreign service officer wrote it.”

After the meeting, he asked Maura what she thought. She said she’d never forget what he said. The Secretary took a beat, smiled, and asked, “Why do you think I brought you in here?”

If he was going to discuss a memo, he always wanted the staffer who had written it to be in the room – no matter his or her rank. He thought they’d know things that their higher-ups did not.

He went out of his way to show the building he recognized their hard work, all the way down to the thank you notes to local staff that he insisted on signing before he left a foreign country, so they could be handed over the moment he was wheels up. A Special would run down the steps of his plane, thank-you notes in hand, just before departure.

He dropped in on teams to thank them after demanding stretches and hosted farewell lunches for retiring diplomats. It wasn’t uncommon for Specials who accompanied him to Palo Alto for the holidays to find themselves at the Shultz’s table for dinner.

Even for people who had spent years in the Department, these were firsts.

Tom Simons was a senior career official in SOV, the now obsolete Soviet Desk, when Shultz came on as Secretary. A few months later, the Soviet desk threw a big holiday party, which Tom spruced up with some caviar he’d brought back from Moscow after attending the Brezhnev funeral. They had plenty of vodka too.

Well, Secretary Shultz decided to swing by. He praised the team’s work, shook everyone’s hand, and then just… hung out, chatting with people. Tom had been a foreign service officer for nine years before he’d even met a Secretary – and then it had happened only in a staffing capacity, not at a party.

“The difference,” Tom said, “was that George Shultz came to us.”

And because he believed in our diplomats, he also made endless trips to the Hill to lobby Congress for the resources he felt the Department deserved. Ever the economist, he always toted along posterboards packed with charts and graphs demonstrating how much we were getting in return for our modest investment in diplomacy. When statistics proved unpersuasive, he once pulled a baby’s onesie from his briefcase that read, “Someone in the State Department loves me.” He held it up to his broad chest and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, what you’ve given me is too small.”

When he engaged with the women and men of the State Department, he listened to them and trusted them. And trust, as many have noted, was the coin of the realm for him.

He once brought James Goodby, a career diplomat and then-arms control expert, to brief President Reagan in the Oval Office, and made a point of putting Jim – and not himself – in the chair next to the President. Jim never forgot the gesture, he later told a historian.

In 1986, Secretary Shultz led a delegation of U.S. diplomats – including the great Paul Nitze – to Reykjavik for a two-day summit with the Soviets on nuclear disarmament.

The working-level negotiations went late into the first night. Around two in the morning, Paul met the Secretary to walk through the sticking points. After they had talked them through, Shultz said to Paul: “It’s your meeting and you’re the boss. You are in control.”

Paul had surely heard that many times before – but I’m not sure how often he heard it from a sitting Secretary of State. Even at this, arguably the most important discussion yet with the Soviets on nuclear disarmament, Secretary Shultz knew that the best move was to trust his team.

Of course, he understood that the Department was not always the sum of its parts – that his job was to see the full field and make State function as a team. And he understood that there were key decisions that only he could make, and a vision that only the President and he could provide.

In foreign policy, people’s strength often lies either in defining the strategy or executing it. Thinkers or doers. Secretary Shultz was gifted at both. He had a vision for the world he wanted to see…and he knew how to turn it into reality.

And he knew how to get the most out of the foreign service. He saw the career diplomats as they saw themselves: dedicated, nonpartisan experts who could be marshaled to advance America’s interests and values in the world – and ultimately make the world a better place.

As much as anything else he brought to the role – and he brought a great deal – this is what made him a great Secretary of State.

Many of you know the story of Secretary Shultz and the giant globe in his office. Every time a new ambassador was named, before he or she flew off to their new post, the Secretary would invite them into his office and ask them to pass one final test: to find their country on a giant globe. They’d spin it around looking for Ethiopia or Chile or Thailand. Then the Secretary would gently move their finger and point it to the United States. “This is your country.”

What strikes me about this story is not only the deep and abiding love that George Shultz felt for the United States, which he never, ever forgot was his country – but also how his model of leadership kindly but firmly made the people around him better.

He was a teacher. And many of us here today, in one way or another, were his students. Still are.

There are a number of Secretaries of State here today. We few are lucky to occupy that extraordinary role. We do our best to do the most good we can in the short time we have – in the face of huge challenges and an ever-complex world – before passing the baton onto the next person.

Every one of us who followed George Shultz – Democrat and Republican; those who are here today, and those who are not – had an advantage that he did not have: We got to learn from him – from the example he provided, the bar he set. He made the State Department better – and he has made us better, too.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

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