No Longer In Charge

Poor Alexander Haig will always be remembered for his Constitutionally-mistaken effort to keep everyone calm when President Reagan was shot. Everyone acts as if he was usurping the line of succession, but even House Speaker Tip O'Neill said at the time that Haig meant no such thing and the issue was making a mountain out of a molehill.

When I think of him, what comes first to mind is his old soldier's use of Pentagonese instead of English, captured beautifully in a MacNelly cartoon when his "I'm in charge here at the White House" remark forced his resignation. (Not directly, but it set a chain of events in motion....)

I wish I could find that cartoon, but it had Haig announcing, "I decisioned the necessifaction of the resignatory action/option, due to the trendflowing of our foreign policy...."  Comedy gold at the time.

The formerly gray lady's obit makes no bones about disliking the man --mostly for his service in the Nixon White House-- but it can't hide his valor. Graduating from West Point, he went to Japan in 1947, serving under Gen. Fox, a MacArthur deputy.
In the Korean war, he took part in the Inchon landing, where his first battle experience was especially ugly:
General Almond sent thousands of American soldiers north toward the Chinese border in November 1950. They met a ferocious surprise counterattack from a far larger Chinese force. General Almond and First Lt. Haig flew to the forward outpost of an American task force on Nov. 28, where the general pinned a medal on a lieutenant colonel’s parka, told him the Chinese were only stragglers, and then flew off. Of that task force, once 2,500 strong, some 1,000 were killed, wounded, captured or left to die. In all, within a fortnight, American forces in Korea took 12,975 casualties. It was one of the worst routs in American military history.
Then came Vietnam, where he served as a battalion and brigade commander and earned the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Flying Cross & Purple Heart. During one battle in which we were outnumbered 3-1, Haig took off in a helicopter to get a look at the terrain. Each time he took off and landed, it was of course into a barrage of bullets and eventually he was shot down and forced into two days of hand-to-hand combat.  The citation for the Distinguished Service Cross reads:
Heedless of the danger to himself, Col. Haig repeatedly braved hostile fire to survey the battlefield. His personal courage and determination, and his skillful employment of every defense and support tactic possible, inspired his men with previously unimagined power. Although outnumbered three-to-one, Col. Haig succeeded in inflicting 592 casualties on the Vietcong.
In 1969, he became Kissinger's deputy on the National Security Council and completely "consumed" by Vietnam, then by Watergate fallout. WaPo's obit credits him with persuading Nixon to resign, possibly brokering the pardon as a condition. (I know we are all surprised that WaPo is taking the occasion of the general's passing to run Watergate tie-in stories. At least three already, and the death was just announced.)

Kissinger liked the energetic Haig so well that he had him promoted from 2 to 4-star general, leapfrogging more than 200 officers. In 1974 Haig became the NATO commander as well as the head of all American forces in Europe. For his committed anti-Communism, he was a target, and a week before he retired (over disagreements with the "namby-pamby" Carter Administration) a Red Army IED narrowly missed him near his Belgium headquarters. The best obit so far is this from Arnaud de Borchgrave, which includes the anecdote that after Haig survived, Pres. Carter's Defense Secretary  called Haig and said, "Just want you to know we didn't do it!"

His service in the Reagan Administration ended bitterly. Lots of turf wars with Reagan's White House staff, with probably some blame all around. Haig said White House staffers manipulated the President's dislike of him, which must have some truth, but you could certainly tell in Haig's entire demeanor that he'd have had an old decorated soldier's chip on his shoulder about political operatives.

Haig always struck me as something of a conventional thinker, and therefore limited as a politician, but an admirable and tough old bird and committed anti-Communist --so he got the most important question of his time fundamentally right. Former Sec. of State George Shultz called him "a patriot's patriot."

de Borchgrave says one of Haig's best achievements is little known.
His least known accomplishment was a close working relationship with Irving Brown the AFL-CIO's roving ambassador abroad. Together, at SHAPE HQ, Brown and Haig got together to assist Poland's Lech Walesa as he led the Lenin shipyard workers in Gdansk against their Communist overlords. It was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.
Irving Brown received the Medal of Freedom for his efforts. Al Haig's contribution to the same endeavor that changed the world and led to the collapse of the Soviet Union was critical.
Haig, who was Catholic, is survived by his wife of 60 years, three kids, eight grandkids, and a brother, the Rev. Francis R. Haig.

Update: In comments, C. Blosser leaves this delightful remembrance of  the "best boss I ever had" from Michael Ledeen.