It's been 15 years since the release of the controversial movie, "Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," about the dangers and insanities of accidental nuclear war. George C. Scott played Gen. Buck Turgidson, a caricature of a brass-buttoned, power-mad, American Firster who saw all of America's enemies, real or imagined, as a blur of red, all tests of his country's will as tests of national manhood.
It is Buck who keeps coming to mind when I think about the questions being raised about how Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. is conducting himself in office. The most recent specter, in the wake of the assassination attempt on President Reagan, was Haig's emotional claim over national television of his constitutional authority in the line of presidential succession.
Somehow, it didn't reassure.
My discomfort with Haig -- a superhawk, ex-military general and ex-Nixon general -- as America's No. 1 diplomat is the image he portrays to the world, in particularly the Third World. There is a sense of deja vu that is raised by this martial man in the State Department, the center of measured American diplomacy, a sense that Buck has moved from the War Room to the negotiating table, bringing with him a whole set of rattling sabers.
Alexander Haig's military mentality combined with his role as dimplomat scares me.
After all, this is the man who explained that the 18 1/2-minute gap on a crucial Watergate tape of Nixon, who was no doubt plotting some still unknown infamy, was caused by a "sinister force" -- a force, you'll remember, that in more human fashion erased those moments more than half-a-dozen times. A man show sees sinsiter forces switching the on/off button just isn't the cut of diplomat we need in 1981.
American military and economic power in the world is still great, but by no means what it was when others envisioned the American Century. As much of the world relies on us for guns and grain, we rely on the rest of the world for natural resources and markets for our goods. It is a complicated, interdependent world that cannot be soley explained by clash of East and West. I have no doubt that Gen . . . I mean Secretary Haig knows that. The trouble is that it does not appear that he knows that.
When Haig stood before the White House lectern after the president's shooting -- sweating, voice cracking -- and said, "as of now, I am in control here in the White House", he was displaying under stress the kind autocratic style more fitting the four stars he once wore than the diplomat he must now be.
Insiders say that Haig's earlier internal power struggles over crisis management (that ended in a personal defeat for Haig) are based on the styles of two men for whom the tough talking soldier-turned-secretary has worked: Henry Kissinger and Joseph Califano. Kissinger was an imperial force for an imperial presidency, who forcefully ran American foreign policy from Foggy Bottom. As Health, Education and Welfare secretary, Califano ignored the White House staff, grabbed turf, and eventually ended up being shipped out. Do the styles sound familiar?
It's said that Haig is being pushed to take more power in the Reagan administration by the men around him. But a source familiar with the situation said the tactics are pure Haig: "He's not the kind of guy who takes advice," the source said.
Haig has been an effective administrator -- as an officer, as Nixon's chief of staff, as the head of NATO. But as visible as those jobs were, Americans have never seen Alexander Haig in action when every word, every drop of persperations, every change of pitch in his voice speaks for the nation to the world.
In President Reagan and in Haig, America has two of the most anti-Soviet talkers at the helm of government as we've seen in a long time. Ronald Reagan is himself prone toward indelicate, shoot-from-the-hip remarks.
The difference in the role of the president and the role of the secretary of State is that the president is a politician, and as all politicians he lets loose with rhetoric that will win him votes. But Reagan's style is forceful, yet relaxed, almost casual. Haig's forcefulness carries with it the image of Marines hitting the beach, B-52s, a state of emergency.
Gen. Buck Turgidson is simply out of place in civilian clothes.