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Haig meets with President Carter in the Oval Office in 1978. (National Archives Photo)
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Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.

As General, Adviser, And Statesman, Haig Practiced His Own Brand Of Practical Politics

Gen. Alexander Haig was once asked why he, a fervent anti-Communist, smoked Cuban cigars. "I prefer to think of it as burning down their crops," Haig replied. The 27-year Army veteran's answer was flippant, but right in line with his personal brand of practical politics, refined in bureaucratic milieux around the world.

Born Dec. 1, 1924, Alexander Meigs Haig Jr. grew up in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb. After graduation from the U.S. Military Academy in 1947, he was immediately assigned to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's personal staff in the Pacific arena. He served on combat duty with the infantry during the Korean War, then took a Pentagon desk job during the Kennedy administration, the first of several positions that would earn him the label of a "political general."

Haig served in Vietnam and returned in 1969 to become an aide to Henry Kissinger, then President Richard M. Nixon's national security adviser. Kissinger named Haig his military adviser for the National Security Council, where Haig lost no time in burnishing his wings as a hawk on Vietnam and other American foreign policy involvements. In 1970, he was named deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs, becoming involved in secret peace talks in Paris to end the Vietnam War.

In 1972, Haig was appointed vice chief of staff of the Army. He is widely credited with a substantial part in the Army's rearticulation of its role, mission, and policy, and in its reorganization to reflect modern social and political realities.

General Alexander Haig visits NATO soldiers in the field, Sept. 1977. (NATO Photo)
When the Watergate crisis exploded, a reluctant Haig retired from the military to become Nixon's chief of staff, acting as the president's closest adviser during the final months of that administration. Haig reportedly had a strong role in convincing the president to resign on Aug. 9, 1974.

Shortly thereafter, Haig returned to active duty in the military and took over as commander in chief of U.S. European Command, with a quick promotion in 1974 to Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO forces. During his four-year tenure, Haig used his persuasive powers to win the respect and admiration of NATO member leaders, soldiers, and civilians, leading many to reverse their view of him as a political puppet.

Haig resigned his post as SACEUR in 1979 to support Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. He became Reagan's first secretary of state and is famous for having proclaimed himself acting president after Reagan was shot. He left the post after a year and a half, due in part to political differences he had with other administration officials. Since then, Haig has held positions in private industry and consulting, currently as president of Worldwide Associates Inc. in Washington, D.C. In 1988, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination.

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