ELEVEN MONTHS AGO, when Gen. Alexander Haig was nominated by Mr. Reagan to be secretary of state, the rap against him was different. It was--and we know this because we shared the apprehension ourselves--that Gen. Haig was all office- political, bureaucratic skills and no substance. The man (the analysis ran in its most acute and unfriendly form) had got where he was strictly by a devilishly clever gift for manipulating his professional peers and betters, but there was no evidence that he had any good or comprehensive or even serviceable ideas about how to conduct foreign policy.
Well. We would like here and now to amend that view: it seems to us today, just about one full year later, that the pre-confirmation hearing analysis was upside down. In the past several months, while the Reagan administration in general and Mr. Haig in particular have done plenty of things abroad you could wonder and worry about, Mr. Haig nonetheless has shown much more talent for grappling with the substantive issues of policy than most of the others have. But it is, unfortunately, also much more talent than he has shown for grappling with the people, whoever they are, who keep pulling the chair out from under him as he is about to sit down. We don't like to deal in absolutes, but we can't help ourselves here: Alexander Haig, far from being the four-star Rasputin of common imagery, strikes us as being instead very possibly the worst and most inept and self-destructive office-politician we have ever seen in Washington. By now he may actually have done himself in.
We say this believing all the while that these pitched battles among the members of a president's national security "team," which occur in every administration, are not necessarily, in themselves, useful indicators of how poorly or well policy is being conducted. They can be overstated; they engage more attention than they deserve because they provide so much purely wicked fun for those of us not involved in them; it is much more agreeable to pass half an hour, after all, pondering the latest mortar exchanges among the competitors at the White House, Defense and State than it is, say, to contemplate the merits of their stand on poor countries' access to credit. But even when you have said all this you are left with an obdurate fact: Secretary Haig, in this episode and the others that preceded it, has demonstrated a degree of pettishness, sensitivity and rage on matters concerning his own reputation and place in the room that have damaged him severely.
That there are folks taunting and tormenting him in the Reagan administration is known to be true-- but so what? Surely such fragging goes with the territory, and nothing that has been done to Mr. Haig by his antagonists could have been nearly so harmful to his capacity to do his job and do it well as his own almost incredible responses. He has reacted and dragged others, including the president, into reacting to affronts and various acts of malice that he either should have ignored or dealt with privately, quickly and firmly. He seems also to have invented some affronts and, by his own particular manner of exercising power, to have invited others that his antagonists hadn't even thought of until he gave them cause. This is the sad part. We don't have a prediction to make, but it does seem to us that Mr. Haig has, in these reactions, created a situation that he can no longer control and which may well get him in the end.