Saturday, February 20, 2010

Al Haig

What I know about Gen. Alexander Haig is what I've learned reading about Richard Nixon. I don't know why I have this Nixon fascination. The only thing that comes close to explaining why is, of all things, a Charlie Brown comic strip, in which Charlie Brown talks to Linus about his fascination with reading about the fall of the Roman Empire, the decline of golfing, et cetera. "I'm fascinated with failure," Charlie says.

I think what fascinates with Nixon are the flaws. A deeply intelligent man, but, ultimately, one done in by basic flaws all of humanity share. And Al Haig was in the middle of it. To Haig's credit, I think he did his best as a presidential adviser to Nixon, maybe not always giving the best advice, but given that he was almost always kept in the dark in regards to the truth, he did the best he could.

That Haig is better known for the "gaffe" in a so-called power grab after Ronald Reagan was shot is ludicrous. I've watched that tape over and over again, and can only conclude that the media blew the situation, and Haig's words, out of proportion. Haig was telling people that he was in constant contact with Vice President George Bush, and that he was "in control" at the White House in the sense of acting as the nexus for communication at the White House, including direct communication with Bush, during the VP's absence, not that he was seizing power in any line of succession kind of situation. The press' reaction to the situation was simplistic, naive and make them look downright silly, if you ask me.

Anyway, Haig with Nixon is much more interesting. It's a telling part to his character that even as the truth was parsed out and doled out reluctantly by Nixon, Haig did his best to protect his president, ultimately doing the right thing in protecting the country and the president from the president himself, in acting as one of the architects of his resignation. For those interested in this time period, I advise reading Woodward and Bernstein's The Final Days, a fascinating account of the Watergate period as told by the reporters mainly with interviews with Haig and others. Fascinating story there.

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