Wednesday, February 24, 2010


"Haig soon became indispensable. He disciplined my anarchic tendencies and established coherence and procedure in an NSC Staff of talented prima donnas. By the end of the year I had made him formally my deputy. Over the course of Nixon's first term he acted as my partner, strong in crises, decisive in judgment, skillful in bureaucratic infighting, indefatigable in his labors. To be sure, nobody survives in the rough-and-tumble of White House politics - especially of the Nixon White House - without a good measure of ruthlessness. I could not help noticing that Haig was implacable in squeezing to the sidelines potential competitors for my attention....Yet this is no more than saying that I recognized Haig as formidable.....

So Haig became White House chief of Staff. It was fortunate for the nation. His strength and discipline preserved cohesion in the executive branch and helped the government to traverse Watergate without totally disintegrating. He furnished psychological ballast to a desperate President. He did so without catering to Nixon's every prejudice; he ensured that Nixon's preferences and orders would be screened by a governmental structure capable of advising the President in a mature way about the national interest....To be sure Watergate imposed some of these measures. The fact remains that Haig gave substance to a vague necessity and a sense of direction to a demoralized Administration. No internal reorganization could ever quite catch up with the rate of disintegration impelled by the seemingly endless revelations, crises, and investigations; still, Haig served his country well and honorably in its extremity."

Henry A. Kissinger, Years of Upheaval. November 1981, pp. 107-110.

I have never been an adherent of the idea of 'never speak ill of the dead'. Hence, this column. General Haig, was perhaps the first American Secretary of State, who I watched closely as a secondary school student. He was by no means my ideal, but was close to it. And, thus I was quite happy at his appointment. He seemed to be the very best man for the position given the fact that he was previously Assistant National Security Advisor, Army Vice-Chief of Staff, White House Chief of Staff, and finally Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. The last two posts in particular seemed to shine a very good glow upon General Haig. In the first position, he appeared to carry the country upon his shoulders as the Nixon Presidency collapsed due to the idiotic Watergate Scandal. In the second position, he very ably represented the USA in European capitals, when perhaps the USA was at the nadir of its global influence and power in the Ford and Carter years. With the Republican victory in the November 1980, General Haig's appointment appeared to be part and parcel of a restoration of American power and influence, as well as a restoration of the State Department as being at the centre of policy making. Well, as it turned out, General Haig's appointment was a mistake from start to finish. The reasons for this were several and I wish to highlight the most important of them: a) due to a heart operation after he retired from NATO, it appears that General Haig's ability to modulate his temper and personality had deteriorated greatly. Hence, the outbursts which the General became famous for during his time as Secretary of State. The fact that his outbursts appeared to be both pointless and petulant, did his reputation no good whatsoever; b) General Haig appears to have misunderstood the terms of his remit as Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration. As far as I can judge, General Haig appears to have thought or would have liked to think that his role in the new administration would be similar to that of his former boss, Dr. Henry Kissinger during the latter's term as Secretary. This of course was quite impossible. Not only during the Reagan Administration, but in any post-Watergate / post-Ford Administration. Due simply to the fact that Kissinger's public profile was so great in the 1973-1975 period, his that his nominal Chief, the President, appeared to be a cipher next to him. No President would ever wish to stage a repeat of that particular historical situation. And, no one has to date. The circumstances of Kissinger's time in office were quite unique. General Haig never quite understood this. The fact that on the surface at any rate, his own President, also appeared to be a cipher, completely ignorant of the basic elements of diplomacy and international politics, with almost no willingness to devote any effort to learning the same, appears to have reinforced General Haig's predisposition towards being what he famously referred to as 'the vicar of foreign policy'.Unfortunately, for General Haig, Mr. Reagan had an usually strong and able White House Chief of Staff, in the shape of Mr. James A. Baker III, who quickly took a measure of the General and saw that if left unchallenged, General Haig would quickly overshadow his own chief. Therefore, Mr. Baker commenced a campaign of leaks and pinpricks attacks on the Secretary of State which had the end result of eventually forcing the less than even tempered Secretary offering his resignation within six months of taking office. When this occurred once again in the Spring of 1982, the President quickly accepted it, and appointed George Schultz as his successor. A much more happy appointment. In retrospect, it appears that the only model of an ultra-successful Secretary of State, is that of the very same James A. Baker III under George Bush the Elder: someone who has the complete confidence of his chief and thus is unchallengeable in official Washington politics. It is not a question of whether or not this pattern is a 'good thing' or not. I myself much prefer the Kissingerian model of an all-powerful Secretary of State. Unfortunately, it is apparently a law of nature in contemporary official Washington that the Baker model be followed, if at all. General Haig, never had the confidence and perhaps never could have it of Mr. Reagan. The General never took in this fact and acted accordingly. He instead chose to ignore it, and, he reaped the consequences. Sic transit gloria mundi.


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