Sunday, February 21, 2010
RIP, Al Haig
Alexander Haig is dead at the age of 85. Haig was a General in the United States Army, a White House Chief of Staff and the Secretary of State of the United States. In 1988, Haig ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States.
Haig was known as a man who knew how to take charge in a crisis. That reputation would prove to be a double edged sword to Haig. Haig is best known by pundits for assuming too much power on March 31st, 1981. President Ronald Reagan had been shot. Uncertainty was in the air as then Vice President George H.W. Bush was incommunicado during his flight from Texas to Washington.
Haig, sensing the potential chaos, took the White House briefing room lectern to declare that he was in charge constitutionally at the White House. Haig flubbed the line of succession and upset other cabinet members such as Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger.
Haig would never politically recover from his actions on the day Reagan was shot. Haig's credibility in the Reagan Administration quickly waned, and Haig would resign as Secretary of State on July 5th, 1982.
However, Haig's stint as Secretary of State should not define him. Haig was a winner of the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Haig's military career was without reproach.
But, Haig's role as White House Chief of Staff during the last days of the Richard Nixon Administration and the first days of the Gerald Ford Administration were Haig's finest moments.
It is difficult for many of us to imagine what the year 1974 was like. Richard Nixon was under intense scandal, and according to writings of the time, probably a bit mentally ill from the strain. General Alexander Haig had been picked in 1973 to be Chief of Staff because he was dedicated to America and seemed non controversial to political figures.
Haig's tenure as White House Chief of Staff would see the most controversial of times for a President. As Nixon languished, friends and foes alike saw Haig as doing the really heavy lifting of the Presidency. Haig would be credited with not only talking Nixon into resigning, but in working out the transition between Nixon and Ford. In short, Haig was credited by many for holding the executive branch together as the constitutional crisis of Watergate unfolded.
It is for that service that General Haig should first be remembered. Further, history should temper its criticism of him on the day Reagan was shot. While Haig was misinformed of the constitutional line of succession to the Presidency, his acts that day were well intentioned. The old General saw chaos and wanted to bring order so that people would calm down and do the nation's business. Nothing suggests that his acts that day were motivated by anything other than a old General's sense to do his nation service.
General Haig was a stand up guy. America is a lesser place without him. Rest in Peace, General Haig, and thank you for your service to our country.