Saturday, February 20, 2010
Alexander Haig, RIP
Alexander Haig, the former Nixon chief of staff, Reagan secretary of state, 1988 presidential candidate, and dapper dresser, died yesterday. He was a four star general who never won a battle outside the corridors of Washington politics. He was to the English language what Phyllis Diller was to women's hairstyles. I remember him well. Right now, assuming his scorecard has more pluses than minuses, God is re-arranging the furniture in heaven to make room for Haig's oversized ego. Haig always fascinated me as an example that someone with average intelligence and judgment could claw his to the highest levels of power for such a long period of time. For conspiracy buffs, Haig offers a gold mine of possibilities. About 20 years ago, Len Colodny authored a book about Watergate, The Silent Coup: The Removal of Richard Nixon, that was bizarre: that Haig, acting on behalf of the Washington/New York political establishment, orchestrated a coup against Nixon so that Nixon could not usher in a new era of Southern and Western dominance of American politics that might last for a generation. In other words, the powers that be wanted to prevent in 1972 what Reagan accomplished in 1980. It is as nutty as it is interesting. The best part of the book was the claim that John Dean organized the break in of the Democratic headquarters not to spy on political opponents but to retrieve incriminating evidence there that his wife, Maureen, was high a priced call girl servicing the Capitol's power brokers. Dean sued Colodny over this claim and the matter was settled out of court. I could not bring myself to believe the main thesis of the book but I could not put it down. Sort of like reading books about the Kennedy assassination: I don't believe there was a conspiracy but it sure is fun reading about the zany characters that littered the political landscape. Haig's second re-incarnation was as Reagan's secretary of state. Here, unfortunately for him and unlike his stint with Nixon, he was always in the public eye. I never understood why Reagan, a modest man who surrounded himself with competent people, would hire an egomaniac like Haig. My first impression of him was that he had a speech problem. He was incapable of uttering a declarative sentence. I thought that his inability to speak coherently disguised an astute mind that comprehended the complexities of international politics and diplomacy. Otherwise, how could he have been Nixon's chief of staff and Reagan's head honcho at State? But I was completely wrong. His speech was a perfect reflection of his mind: cluttered, confused, and banal. He got by the way all underlings in Washington get by: kissing the right asses. Starting with Kissinger on up, he perfected the art. For some strange reason, Nixon was fascinated with Haig. Thought he was tough and Haig did exude the persona of the take no prisoners military personality that played well with a public that was growing sick and tired of watching the US get its ass kicked around the world. Nixon was always impressed with men who appeared strong willed and flamboyant on the surface. Witness his admiration of John Connally and plan to run him for president in 1976 had Watergate not intervened. Rumor has it that it was Nixon's strong recommendation to the Reagan team that got Haig the state job ("the toughest son of a bitch I ever met" was the quote from Nixon which I now take to mean that Nixon only met one son of a bitch in his life). Haig was a disaster at state. The only good thing that can be said of him there is that he dressed well. He took Reagan for a laid back fool who would allow him to single handedly run US foreign policy. That was a huge mistake. His biggest gaffe came the day Reagan was shot and he appeared in public to assure the world: "I am in control here." Caspar Weinberger, the then defense secretary wanted to strangle Haig. Haig was soon fired and replaced by George Schultz who was everything Haig was not. Haig ended his public career by running for president in 1988 or 1996. I cannot remember and it really doesn't matter. All that he did in that campaign is remind the ten people in the country who paid attention to him that Haig had a lot in common with many of the foreign types with whom he interacted: he could never learn to speak proper English.