Alexander M. Haig Jr

views updated

Alexander M. Haig Jr.

Alexander M. Haig, Jr. (born 1924), American military leader and diplomat, served as secretary of state and as adviser to two Republican presidents.

According to a TIME special story on Alexander Haig in 1984, "Few American public figures have had such tempestuous careers. Alexander M. Haig, Jr. has spent much of his life in war zones—bureaucratic and geopolitical, as well as the kind for which he prepared in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point:Viet Nam, where he served as a battalion and brigade commander; as the indispensable aide-de-camp to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger; as White House Chief of Staff during the climax of Watergate; and, after Richard Nixon's presidency fell, as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. … But it was during his tenure as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State that Haig found himself most embattled."

Haig was born in Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, a comfortable suburb of Philadelphia, on December 2, 1924, the elder of two sons of Alexander Meigs and Regina Anne Haig. He attended St. Matthias parochial school in Bala-Cynwyd and St. Joseph's preparatory school in Philadelphia, graduating from Lower Merion High School in 1942. Haig's father, an assistant city solicitor of Philadelphia, died when Haig was ten. Using savings from various afterschool jobs, Haig was able to enroll in Notre Dame in 1942.

After two years of reasonably serious study at Notre Dame, Haig obtained an appointment to West Point in 1944, thus realizing his childhood ambition of a military career. That career was to be far more spectacular than Haig's academic performance would suggest:he graduated in 1947 as the 217th ranked cadet in a class of 310. The 22-year old second lieutenant went first to the general combined arms course at Fort Riley, Kansas, and then to the Armored School at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Thereafter, he was assigned to the First Cavalry Division, then performed occupation duty and lackadaisical training in Japan. He married Patricia Antoinette Fox, the daughter of General Alonzo Fox, once his commanding officer, in May 1950. They had three children.

Haig early attracted the attention of highranking superiors, serving as administrative assistant to the chief of staff of the Far East Command and, during the early months of the Korean War, as aide to the X Corps commander. Promoted to captain in late 1950, he saw combat on several occasions and took part in the Inchon landings.

A bout with hepatitis resulted in Haig's reassignment to an armored unit at Fort Knox. After completing the advanced course there he served on the faculty of West Point and pursued graduate work in business administration at Columbia University. Thereafter, his career gained momentum. He served as S-3 (operations) of an armored battalion in West Germany, earned promotion to major in 1957, and spent 1958-1959 as a staff officer at USAEUR (United States Army in Europe). Haig then spent a year (1959-1960) at the Naval War College, took an M.A. in international relations from Georgetown University in 1961, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1962.

Haig's staff service from 1962 to 1964 in the office of "DCSOPS, " the deputy chief of staff for military operations, was a pivotal point in his career. When Cyrus R. Vance was named deputy secretary of defense in 1964, he took along this polished Pennsylvanian as his deputy special assistant. While dealing with a wide range of policy issues relating to such diverse areas as Berlin, the intervention in the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, Haig handled interagency politics and diplomatic crises with tact and impressive efficiency. This performance led to, first, a year at the Army War College, time as a battalion commander in Vietnam (and the Distinguished Service Cross during an engagement near An Loc), and brigade command.

Following promotion to colonel and another stint at West Point, Haig returned to Washington in 1969 as chief military assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. His fortunes rose with the aggressive Kissinger, who swiftly became President Nixon's principal adviser on international security issues. Haig proved an invaluable "chief of staff" to Kissinger and soon began to deal directly with the White House. Preferring to work in anonymity, he served, as one journalist noted, "as gatekeeper to the summit." Promoted to brigadier general and then rapidly to major general, Haig was centrally involved with arrangements for Nixon's visit to China and the Vietnam peace initiative.

Haig moved into the spotlight and controversy when President Nixon promoted him over some 240 more senior officers to be a four-star general and the Army's vice-chief of staff. Nixon's action to push Haig into the military's front rank was consonant with the effort to get the "President's men" into positions of authority in various federal agencies. However, he was soon to return to the White House, serving as special assistant to the president in 1973-1974. In the months after the Watergate break-in, Haig, once termed "the ultimate professional, " played a vital role for a beleaguered President Nixon. It is not coincidental that Haig was instrumental in the negotiations leading to Nixon's resignation in August 1974 and to Gerald Ford's accession to the presidency. Soon afterwards, Haig was named commander-in-chief, United States European Command, and supreme allied commander. He spent the next five years at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), retiring in 1979 to become head of United Technologies Corporation. It appeared that a remarkable career in military administration had closed.

Alexander Haig's industrial sojourn ended with the election of his admirer Ronald Reagan as president in 1980. Against the advice of some intimates, Reagan chose Haig— whose impeccable military record, staunch anti-Communism, and links to the Republican establishment were great assets—to be his secretary of state. A sequence of stormy confirmation hearings occurred in January 1981, setting the tone for Haig's 18-month tenure as secretary of state. Critics charged that he was unqualified intellectually and emotionally for the position of chief proponent of United States foreign policy interests.

During his brief time at the helm, Haig battled with impressive vigor, if little apparent success, with his colleagues in the Reagan administration and for a tough stance toward the Soviet Union and its Third World clients. Obsessed with "turf" issues, Haig will be remembered for his controversial raising of the issue of executive authority in the aftermath of the attempted assassination of President Reagan. He devoted so much time to defending the prerogatives of the secretary of state against all comers (though, principally, the national security adviser) that the agenda of unfinished business at State began to alarm even the president. Haig's pugnacity and dogmatic views on policy toward the Soviet Union and public stumbles on such matters as Afghanistan, Poland, Lebanon, the Falklands crisis, and Nicaragua eventually eroded Reagan's confidence in him.

On his side, Haig described Reagan's close advisers as "foreign policy amateurs" who cared only about the domestic political effects of global issues. His resignation as secretary of state, which finally came on June 25, 1982, ended what had become an impossible situation. Alexander Haig returned to private office bloodied but (as his memoirs, Caveat:Realism, Reagan, and Foreign Policy, published in 1984, make clear) unbowed by the experience. He returned to politics long enough to try to secure the Republican nomination for president in 1988 but dropped out early when it became apparent he did not have the support to win the nomination. He remained active as a speaker on foreign policy issues, but his focus shifted from politics to private business. He was hired by the international consulting firm of Worldwide Associates, Inc. and became chairman and president of that organization.

Haig is a key player in plans to build a controversial, multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline from Central Asia across Iran into Turkey. He is co-chairman of US-CIS Ventures Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based company that is overseeing the pipeline project. Haig believes the area of Turkmenistan has tremendous, untapped oil reserves, and that by enabling the people of Turkmenistan to utilize them, he is helping them become more independent of Russia.

Haig is also a member of the Board of Directors of America Online, Inc., Interneuron Pharmaceuticals Inc., and MGM Grand Inc., and is on the American Board of Trustees of the A.F. Burns Fellowship. Haig's most current endeavor involves Sky Station International, a start-up company based in Chantilly, Virginia, that plans to offer inexpensive phone service and high-speed Internet access to consumers worldwide. Haig's son Alex acts as president of the company, which plans to float 250 inexpensive platforms suspended by Hindenburg-like airships, rather than launch satellites as its competitors have planned. This would result in a project costing only $800 millon dollars, compared to the billions of dollars a satellite project would require. Haig and his son hope to have the system deployed within the decade.

Further Reading

For additional information on Haig see his memoirs, Caveat: Realism, Reagan, and Foreign Policy (1984); and Inner Circles:How America Changed the World:A Memoir (1992); He is prominently mentioned in the two volumes of Henry Kissinger's memoirs:The White House Years (1979) and Years of Upheaval (1982). Haig is listed in Who's Who in America (1996); and Who's Who in the World (1996). Also see Business Week (June 3, 1996); New York Times (June 5, 1997); Washington Post (January 20, 1995). □

About this article

Alexander M. Haig Jr

Updated About content Print Article