Alexander Haig, R.I.P.
I have been remiss in saying something about Alexander Haig who passed away last week.
He held many distinguished positions: White House Chief Of Staff, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and Secretary Of State, to name the three he is most remembered for. But there was more. Debbie Schlussel mentions one thing many people who remember him and lived through his time in the offices listed above do not know:
…And on the battlefield during the Vietnam War, this real-life American hero engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the VietCong to save the troops in his unit, who were outnumbered….
He also ran for President in 1988 in the Republican Primaries. I don’t think he expected that he had much of chance and just wanted to speak up for those of us who were against the nuclear arms agreement being negotiated with the Soviets. All of the other candidates were for it [as was President Reagan]; he was the lone voice against it because he knew, like all of our other arms agreements with the Evil Empire, the treaty was lopsided in favor of the Communists. My best friend and I supported Al Baby, as we called him, and were about to volunteer for his campaign when he dropped out.
Mr. Haig has his faults as a man [his ego could overwhelm him sometimes and he was too soft on the Soviets and Chinese sometimes because of it], but he was a loyal and true American and a great friend of Israel and all of those who sought to free themselves from the enslavement of Totalitarianism across the world.
He was loyal to the people who worked under him and appreciated their contributions. In a posting over at his blog, Michael Ledeen remembers what it was like to work for him when Mr. Haig was Secretary Of State. A highlight:
And then probably the greatest orders anyone ever received: “When I tell you to do something, just go do it. If I don’t like it, you’ll hear from me. And if you don’t hear from me, keep doing it.”
Best boss I ever had. I only heard from him once, when one of our ambassadors called me in to the embassy to say that Haig wanted me to call him on a secure line, and the poor man added that he’d never ever heard language like that, ever.
Al Haig was a man of action who never feared to make a decision, to plunge into the arena. The one for which he is most famous for is the day Ronald Reagan [who my friend and I, by the way, called The Raygun] was shot. I am of course speaking of his decision to go before the press where he said:
Constitutionally, gentlemen, you have the President, the Vice President and the Secretary of State in that order, and should the President decide he wants to transfer the helm to the Vice President, he will do so. He has not done that. As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the Vice President and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.
Over at AmSpecBlog, Kevin Mooney spoke with Paul Kengor about this incident [tip of the fedora to Ran]:
Various obituaries claim that Haig had attempted to gain control of the presidency and disregarded the proper constitutional chain of command. But William Clark, a close Reagan advisor, says that Haig actually acted properly and helped to restore order at a very tense moment.
Clark had served as Haig’s deputy in the U.S. State Department before moving over to the National Security Council (NSC). Unlike many in the White House, Clark had a congenial relationship with Reagan’s first secretary of state.
Kengor, a political science professor with Grove City College, is the author of a recent biographer on Clark entitled: “The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand.” Clark was a close confident to Reagan reaching back to the former president’s time as governor of California. Kengor followed up with him shortly after Haig’s death and discussed the assassination attempt.
“Clark said Haig was exactly right and acted the right way in a moment of confusion,” Kengor said. “The vice-president was in the air at the time and Haig was the ranking cabinet member who indeed was in charge and it was important for him to establish stability at this time. You also have to remember that this was the height of the Cold War and Haig was rightly concerned about how hostile powers might react.”
The press, who had never like the man, relentlessly pounded him for his statement [in fact, until the end of his life]. But, as you can clearly see, Al Haig did the right thing.
That was not the first time Mr. Haig did the right thing. In the Spring and Summer of 1974, as Richard Nixon began to mentally breakdown, Al Haig kept the Executive functioning as White House Chief Of Staff. People forget the threats we faced at the time, what a dangerous world it was. It was critical to the stability of the world that the Commander In Chief of The United States and Leader of the Free World be seen as in charge and in command. Mr. Haig was also very instrumental in convincing President Nixon to resign for the good of the country. For those two feats alone, he deserves our eternal thanks.
Alexander Haig was married for nearly sixty years to Patricia Haig [nee’ Fox]. He had a zest for life that, I am told, infected those in direct contact with him. I certainly experienced that when watching him in more relaxed interviews.
Over at SI VIS PACEM, I think Ran has come up with the most succinct and spot-on description of the man:
Smart, tough as nails. Godspeed, General!
Requiescat in pace.