Others might be better. But Gen. Alexander Haig obviously possesses the qualifications to be secretary of state.
So if Ronald Reagan wants him, questions arising from Watergate ought not to stand in the way. On the contrary, there is now occasion for putting firmly in the past a scandal, perhaps overblown at the time, that is now unmistakably harmful to the precarious position of the United States in the world.
Haig's qualities hardly need reiteration. He personifies authority, and his designation as secretary would transmit a positive message to this country's friends and adversaries. He is highly articulate, and he could deal comfortably with the public, Congress and his opposite numbers around the world.
Above all, he commands a broad strategic view of America's interests that goes far beyond the vulgar toughness associated with so many in the Reagan entourage. Haig is not only familiar with the Soviet military buildup and the perils it presents, in view of the weakness of Western Europe and the instability of the countries around the Persian Gulf. He also understands, from his days in the Nixon administration, both the limits and advantages of arms control agreements with the Soviet Union. He is equally conversant, from experience in the Nixon administration, with the assets and liabilities that flow from the China connection.
Compared with the other members of the Reagan Cabinet, Haig is of high caliber and would bring to the new administration a quality that is now in dangerously short supply. There is a crying need for his broad strategic sense.
Moreover, the diverse character of this country's foreign interests, and the complexity of the way the parts fit together, ensure against a possible weakness in Haig. He may lack the instinct of restraint. But by its very nature, the American strategic outlook fosters a sense of measure.
As to Watergate, Haig's role falls into two phases. At the outset of the Nixon administration, Haig was involved in several ugly operations -- the wiretaps, for example, and the secret bombing of Cambodia -- that led step by step to the Watergate coverup. But he was a relatively junior officer at the time, acting under orders, not initiating policy.
That whole period, furthermore, was subject to meticulous scrutiny by the Watergate special prosecutor. It is hard to believe any serious wrongdoing on Haig's part would have escaped that scrutiny. In any case, the law has been duly applied. Good procedure alone dictates a closing of that chapter.
A second Watergate phase concerns Haig's behavior as White House chief of staff during the last months of the Nixon administration. At that time, Haig participated as a main player in an administration that was sytematically trying to dupe the American people and their elected representatives in Congress. He did some ignominious things -- things like shoving around Cabinet officers and abusing the trust of senators.
Still, as top aide to a crooked president, he was in an impossible position. In the end, he did bring off a safe transition from Nixon to Ford. Whatever hanky-panky figured in Ford's pardon of Nixon was part of that transition. To me, anyway, it makes sense to give Haig the benefit of the doubt.
For in the end, what is at stake here is the legitimacy of government in America. Elected authorities require associates of their own choosing. The country cannot go on turning the knife in its wounds over and over again. To the nightmare of Watergate there must be put a term, an act of finality.