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What makes a good secretary of State?

As Condoleezza Rice faces confirmation hearing Tuesday, history offers many models.

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By many accounts, Alexander Haig came off as a secretary of State more interested in his own agenda than in furthering the priorities of the president he served, Ronald Reagan.

"General Haig was enormously talented, but he was not a team player," says Lee Edwards, a Reagan scholar at the Heritage Foundation. "He would come into a cabinet meeting saying, 'We have to do this or that,' and you could tell Reagan didn't like it."

It may also be why Haig didn't last long and is not generally cited as a particularly successful occupant of America's top diplomatic post. By contrast, his successor, George Shultz, often is. For starters, Mr. Shultz took what President Reagan liked to call his "simple ideas" and got down to the business of implementing them.

With Condoleezza Rice facing Senate hearings Tuesday on her nomination as secretary of State, the question of what makes a successful captain at the helm of diplomacy is again on the Washington agenda - amplified by challenges from the Middle East to East Asia.

Different secretaries are known for different approaches, and for different strengths and weaknesses. The Shultz tenure is considered by many experts as the "golden years" of the American diplomatic corps, for the respect and closeness the secretary developed with department professionals. James Baker, secretary of State to the first President Bush, preferred on the other hand to work with a coterie of close advisers and largely disregarded the rest.

And Warren Christopher, President Clinton's first secretary of State, was considered more successful in small-group settings than when articulating policy to the public - even though one "model" of a secretary of State is to give a face and voice to US foreign policy.


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