Once upon a time there was a two-bit colonel who couldn't speak English but knew what he wanted. One day this colonel found himself on a battleground he came rather to relish. . .

Dad.

Yes, son.

I'm sleepy.

The battleground, son, was Kissinger's suite of offices on the ground floor of the West Wing of the White House, and the time was Nixon's first presidency.

I think I'm waking up, Dad.

You'd better, son. This colonel became a general, thanks to barely credible promotion by Nixon.

Hey, dad, is he the one Nixon calls a mean son of a bitch?

Yes, son, it's Nixon's way of being nice to him. The general's done a whole lot since then. And now Reagan's nominated him to be his secretary of state. And Haig [that's the guy's name] wants the job because he reckons it's the best way he can succeed Reagan when Reagan poops. So we've got to stop him.

We, Dad? The voters have just landslid you out of the Senate and the friends who survived you on that committee of yours don't have a majority any more.

No matter, son, we've got Safire, we've got Lewis, we've even got the press.

Dad, you've always said that Safire's just a Nixon castoff, that Lewis is just a Canonbury square, and that the press are just rats.

They were, son, they were.

It's a bit late, Dad. Haig's almost got confirmed. He rocked them in the aisles at the hearings again yesterday.

Then we'll get him later.

But why, Dad, why?

Come on, son. You read the papers too. Cambodia. Christmas bombing. Allende. Watergate. Archibald Cox. The pardon. I tell you, son, we can't have that guy. America can't afford Haig.

Dad, when Ford put Haig in charge of NATO forces, what happened?

The Europeans were furious, son. Took his appointment as an insult. I told you, we can't have. . .

How'd it work out, Dad?

You'll never believe it. That mean Old Sonofabitch had the Europeans eating out of his hand inside a year. The commanders got to like him. Then -- astonishing, this -- he got Schmidt and the Germans and Callaghan and Thatcher and Giscard and all those other finky Europeans eating out of his hand too. Just shows, never trust a European.

How'd he do it, Dad?

He was tough, son, and mean and direct -- told them how it was. And political. Goddammit, yes, Haig's nothing if he's not political.

Came across as an all-American, Dad?

'Fraid so, son.

Tough but trusty, Dad? Sort of Eisenhower?

Meaner face, son.

Dad?

Yes, son.

If America gets into another war, Dad, what should it do?

Make damn sure it wins, son.

Bomb 'em all to hell, if necessary, Dad? Like you said in your Abbotsville Plaza speech when your campaign was going down the . . . er, when your campaign was drawing to a close, Dad?

Absolutely, son. Don't wait, get on with it, as I said. Take the War Powers Act's second option, consult, sure, but consult after the event.

Like Cambodia and Hanoi at Christmastime, Dad?

Don't be cheeky, son.

Truce, Dad. Carter -- you remember Carter, Dad?

Just, son.

Remember what you told the country chairman privately, Dad, at dinner after the Abbotsville speech: how Carter had allowed foreign policy to become a muddle, left hand not seeing the right, friend and foe alike finding an unreliable America, leaks galore? Chaos costing every Democratic senator like you a bundle of votes -- remember, Dad?

Sure, son. I'll tell you one thing. Old Sonofabitch won't let that happen at State. Why, he even put Halperin and that crowd up for FBI wiretaps in his White House days.

That's what I was getting 'round to, Dad. Was he right to do that, Dad?

Of course not, son. I mean maybe. Oh heck, I dunno, son. But for God's sake don't tell your mother I said so.

Hell, no, Dad. But Dad?

Yes, son.

Seriously, Dad, why don't we Americans leave all that to the historians and get on with business? You kept saying at Abbotsville that we must put the past behind us, that we need a return to experience, a coherent State Department, a cogent policy to contain Russia and manage change.

Indeed, son.

Let bygones be bygones, Dad? Pardon the pardoners, Dad?

We in America can't do that, son. We're not cynical Europeans, you know.

Perhaps we'd be better, in this respect, if we were, Dad.

They never had a Watergate, son.

You're growling again, Dad. When was the Watergate break-in, Dad?

Nine years ago, son.

I was hardly born, Dad, you're still fighting about it. With the Russians at the gates, Dad. Why, Dad?

It, er, matters, son.

But Dad?

Yes, son.

I can just remember you, when I was little, haring into the kitchen and telling Mom that the only guy keeping America going single-handed while Nixon wallowed in Watergate was a guy called Haig. Same one, Dad?

Sure, son, but that was before Cox was fired, and the files were sealed up, and the scales dropped from my eyes.

Dad, I see Old Sonofabitch said on Friday that he did that because he believed passionately in the office of the presidency and in the president's right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Al's nothing if not political, son. And smart. And, dammit, he's got the courage to say what if I said it your Mom would shoot me for. Al's smart all right.

Al, Dad?