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
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
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
"[Christopher] was a brilliant negotiator," says James Steinberg,
Clinton's deputy national security adviser, "he just wasn't always
the best communicator."
Past profiles vary
No single model exists for a successful secretary, experts say,
largely because the president, his policies and style, and other
principal foreign-policy players are such crucial variables. Then
there is the influence of the events of the day.
"What worked for Nixon and Kissinger is not going to work
necessarily for a Clinton or a Bush," says Mr. Steinberg, now
director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in
Washington. "There's no ideal model the president should always
Still, there are certain factors that more than others have
determined a secretary of State's success. Chief among them, say
specialists, is the secretary's relationship with the president.
"The most important factor in assuring a secretary's success is
his or her relationship with the president - and on that score
Condoleezza Rice is way ahead of the game," says Karl Inderfurth, a
former assistant secretary State. "The last secretary of State to
have had such a close relationship to a president was James Baker
with the first President Bush. [It] was so solid and based on such
strong ties that it was unshakable."
Mr. Inderfurth, now teaching a course on secretaries of State at
George Washington University, says such a bond - which Rice has
developed with George W. Bush since serving as his chief foreign
policy adviser in the 2000 campaign, as his national security
adviser, and as a fellow sports fanatic - is an advantage that other
administration foreign-policy heavyweights are unlikely to
"It's something Colin Powell did not have and was unable to
acquire," he says.
At the same time, such closeness carries certain
responsibilities, others note, such as being the one to confront the
president with new ideas and options - even to let him know when
he's going in a wrong direction. …