An interview with Alexander Haig, a true Cold Warrior
After eight years of refusing my requests for an interview about the Nixon presidency, retired Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., accosted in the Fox News green room, finally relented. Our tape-recorded session -- held in Haig's downtown office on July 27, 2000 -- lasted nearly three hours. I published some portions in a book I wrote on Watergate but decided to keep the vast majority private until Haig's death.
Haig, who served as secretary of state under Reagan and chief of staff in Nixon's White House, died Feb. 20 at age 85. In the interview, he was in rare form: sharp of memory, combative in tone, unsparing in recounting the famous and obscure, civilian and military. Below are excerpts from the conversation:
On his worldview:
I started out as a Cold Warrior, even my last years in grade school. I used to read everything I could get on communism. In fact, the first paper I wrote as a plebe at West Point caused a major upheaval in the faculty, because I predicted that our next enemy was the Soviet Union. . . . It was during the war [World War II], when we were allies. . . . I was viewed with some suspicion by the social sciences department. And I'd always been that way. And I stayed that way, rather consistently. I had a great interest in the subject and I really did have a concern about it. . . .
But I don't make any bones about being still quite concerned about it. To declare the Cold War over, and declare democracy has won out over totalitarianism, is a measure of arrogance and wrong-headedness. And if you look back at a lot of our problems today, it's the direct product of that baloney about the new world order and why Marxism collapsed. It wasn't that their values were defeated by our values; it was our system that defeated theirs, the market economy. But to keep pumping that out -- now you see why, even in the Bush camp, there's a hyper-fear of calling a spade a spade, when there's genocide taking place in Chechnya, and every one of our friends and enemies is being weaned away from us. The United States is isolated today in the world. . . .
If you look back at all of our troubles today, they didn't start with Richard Nixon. They didn't start with Ronald Reagan. They started with George [H.W.] Bush. . . . Total misreading of what was happening in the Soviet Union. Totally misreading the realities in Eastern Europe. Kosovo, Bosnia -- mayhem. . . . Totally misreading the termination of the Gulf War. Remember he told the American people if he got rid of Saddam Hussein, the coalition would be shattered? Shattered? The shattering took place precisely because we didn't get rid of Saddam Hussein!
On the Pentagon Papers:
[Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense] Mort Halperin wanted to hire me to be the Army guy on the preparation of what later became the Pentagon Papers. And I told him, I remember, at the time, I said, "What's the purpose of such a study?" And I said, "I don't want any part of it." And he said, "I'm sorry, this is your -- you're ordered to do this." And I said: "Well, I'm not going to be ordered to do anything. I'm a free man." So I went up to [Deputy Defense Secretary] Cy Vance, for whom I had worked more closely than I did [Defense Secretary Robert] McNamara -- but I worked closely with McNamara, too -- and I said: "Look, I'm not going to do this. This study is for no good purpose. And the only reason I can see that it's being done is to cover the rear ends of people who made bad judgments."
On the Vietnam War:
I wasn't happy with the outcome in Vietnam. Now, I've never said that, but, you know, I'm getting to an age where I think I'd better start saying it! . . . And I don't mean that to sound that I'm being critical of somebody or blaming somebody. . . .
But I was running around making trips to Saigon, and making assessments, and doing my best to get [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van] Thieu to accept what I myself feared was a flawed solution. . . . It was not a comfortable position for me. . . . Never in our history have we signed a treaty that didn't impose on us a national burden to be sure that the provisions of that treaty were going to be carried out. And if they weren't, then it was a flawed treaty. Now that, unfortunately, is what really happened at the Paris Peace Accords.
On Richard Nixon and Watergate:
Nixon knew a lot more than he admitted he did. And by inference, probably influenced more than he would ever admit he did, or recognize he did, as an individual. . . . He used to, in his lowest and highest moments with me, ruminate about how stupid it all was, and how badly [it] was handled. And: "Why, now, does it have to get up here? A second-rate burglary!" as he called it. And of course, he came from a school where those things were routinely done by both parties. . . .
I mean, he wasn't naive in this; he had an election stolen from him -- and he knew it. And everybody knew it! They all knew Chicago [in the 1960 presidential election] was fixed; but he didn't do anything about it. He knew what was going on with Alger Hiss. I mean, Alger Hiss is now proven in the history books to have been a goddamn spy, right? . . . All of those things, I mean, that shapes a man. So, you know, it was his environment. It was also core values, too.
On Henry Kissinger:
I think he was too soft on the Russians. And I thought he was naive on Vietnam. . . . Henry and I almost came to fisticuffs, only I would have been the puncher, on a number of occasions. . . . He was difficult to work for. . . . Henry had an ego; Henry was duplicitous. But you know, Henry Kissinger, the country's better for having had him than if they hadn't had him.