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Interviewer: What were some of the bright spots for you as secretary of state?
Shultz: When you’re in office you’re working hard and obviously you want to leave the situation better than you found it. It was a privilege for me to be in office when the tectonic plates of the world changed. Basically, the Cold War came to and end and the beginning of the blossoming a world economy took place. And all these things are very satisfying to be a part of them. You point to them as achievements.
But for me it comes down to an individual human being. If you can say some person is better off—that’s the real measure. And I worked hard on the problem of the dissidents in the Soviet Union, particularly the, the situation of Soviet Refuseniks and there were individual cases that I worked on.
There was a case of a woman named Ida Nudel, whose case I worked on hard. You feel very powerless. You go and you meet with them but there’s not a lot you can do except to keep after it—it’s a problem you work at, and work at, and work at. And all of sudden, one day I’m told there’s going to be phone call this afternoon. I get the call. I pick up the phone in my office at the State Department. This voice comes through, “This is Ida Nudel. I’m in Jerusalem. I’m home.” And you say: well somebody is better off. And that’s very satisfying.
Interviewer: Was there a particular disappointment as you left office instead?
Shultz: The thing I look back on and agonize about the most was the Beirut situation and the loss of all of our Marines—when the Marine barracks were blown up. That was the worst day in office for me and probably for President Reagan. I’m sure for President Reagan. And I’ve often thought back on that and said: could we have handled that differently? And I don’t know.