Alexander Haig was the Wednesday's child of the administration, "full of woe." It seemed to follow him everyplace. His was a dazzling mismatch of instincts, skills and style with those of his colleagues at the top in Ronald Reagan's government. Haig's customary, and formerly successful, techniques of working his will in the political/bureaucratic jungle were not only unsuccessful; they also represented an affront to the other players who were doing it other ways. Largely as a consequence of these techniques -- reportedly: freezing people out of meetings, keeping things very much to himself, angering far too quickly when any edge of his turf seemed threatened -- he managed at the outset to have scrapes with practically all of the Reagan intimates in his field: Weinberger, Casey, Allen, Bush, the White House Big Three.
These were people whose regard a truly skillful manipulator would have cultivated. Unlike Haig, who came to this administration a relative stranger, all had won the confidence of the president before Haig came on the scene; all were men whose cooperation and respect Haig therefore needed or, at a minimum, whose suspicion he did not need. He never learned how to handle their sytle: congenial roughnecks, smiling guys who got what they wanted and knew not to make a terrible I-cannot-put-up-with-this fuss when they didn't. So Haig stayed a loner in this administration. He let himself get maneuvered into that awful place of ridicule reserved for those with a hot temper in a cool room.
The techniques that got Haig to the top, in other words, didn't do a thing for him once he was there -- except to get him in trouble. This could be looked on as a misfortune of timing: in earlier administrations his style had proved amazingly effective in getting things done. Even when he had a lucky break, as in the Richard Allen departure, the relatively halcyon days didn't last long. Haig was also in some measure a victim of the ideological anarchy so characteristic of our times in foreign policy: everybody was mad at him -- those who should have been and those who shouldn't.
Haig was in trouble with the Jesse Helms right almost from day one, largely for nominating assistants who had a strong identification with the Henry Kissinger era and policies. He had to use a lot of his political capital at the outset getting these appointments through. Haig must have noted as time went on, however, that Kissinger himself seemed to become ever more acceptable to many of those on the Hill who were still chopping on Haig for having Kissinger's people on his staff and some of Kissinger's ideas lying around.
He was, in short, seen as something of a devil by the more ideologically committed conservatives in Reagan's constituency while continuing to be regarded on the left as a devil of bombish anti-communism. I thought it interesting that there was some cheering at the Democratic Party conference in Philadelphia when his departure from office was announced. In many ways, Haig was doing more of the things they would presumably favor than any other comparably high-up person in the Reagan administration. He had long since begun to be hanged for a liberal in parts of the conservative press, even as liberals themselves oddly retained him as a symbol of illiberality in foreign policy in this government.
It is the ultimate Washington observation, I suppose, but it is true: to have talked with Haig on subjects from Poland to El Salvador to arms control at any time during the past year and a half was to sense yourself in the company of a man who bore almost no resemblance to his public persona as conveyed in the press and on television. He didn't even use that buraeucratic gobbledygook that so heightened the ridicule he was to inspire. In this case, however, I don't think we are dealing with media malfeasance. Rather, I think we are dealing with the way his intrigues and struggles within the administration looked to others when they were reported, as they were bound to be. And we are also dealing with the caricature that he became and remained in the minds of his policy opponents who were free to express their views.
It was, when you think about it, pretty much open season on Haig from the first days of the administration. The man who insisted on establishing and exercising his authority didn't, as they say, get no respect. All quarrels with him came out -- the ones he should have won and the ones he should have lost. Some part of this no doubt attaches to his ancient Watergate role, some part also attaches to his identification with Kissinger-time, with the State Department regulars and with traditional Eastern establishment foreign policy objectives and predilections -- all highly suspect on the right and on the Hill.
The irony is pretty strong. Haig wanted -- if not too much, then at least too openly and unremittingly -- to be the top, authoritative voice in foreign policy in this administration. That amibition and his way of trying to achieve it almost guaranteed his failure in the Reagan political ambiance. Yet it is also true, I think, that the administration desperately needs such a voice. Maybe, given his utterly different style, George Shultz will be it. Maybe, unlike Wednesday's child, too, he will be lucky.