Though Alexander M. Haig Jr. -- that tough-talking, steely eyed former general -- still ranks as a superhawk when it comes to the Soviets, the new secretary of state also seems in many instances to have taken on the role of pragmatist in trying to keep simple ideology from dominating U.S. foreign policy.
All things, of course, are relative. Haig is right up there among the all-time anticommunists. He is not too concerned with the difference between terriorists and revolutionaries. He probably scares the Russians, some Europeans and maybe some Americans.
His early emphasis on the military, rather than the social and economic, problems in El Salvador may be the price U.S. diplomacy pays for having a military man at State.
Nevertheless, in the like-minded ranks of the Reagan administration's national security establishment, where few if any nay-sayers have been spotted, Haig has the broadest experience, probably the broadest view and seems to be the one most likely to inject sensitivity to the concerns of other nations into U.S. foreign and defense policy.
When West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Haig showed up at a White House news conference last week, the two senior officials, who have known one other for years, heaped more than the usual diplomatic praise on each other.
In Haig, Genscher said, the Europeans have a partner familiar with their problems and concerns. There is no one more qualified, Genscher said, to handle U.S.-European relations.
Genscher's point was important. Throughout the Carter administration, the Germans frequently complained that there was no one at or near the top at State or even the White House staff who was really an expert on, or even spoke the language of, a country that was a key economic and military partner of the United States. What Genscher was saying was that in Haig, the former NATO commander who got to know all the leaders of Europe, the Europeans felt for the first time that they had somebody with the president's ear who they believed understood them.
There is no doubt some Europeans are worried about Haig's letting his hardline instincts get out of hand and producing a confrontation on their doorstep. But by and large they are pleased with his sensitivity on such items as the U.S.-Soviet talks on limiting European-based missiles, which the United States is now moving to get started again after the visit of four European foreign ministers here.
Whereas the Pentagon has also begun to lean heavily on the allies again, as the Carter administration did, to do more for defense, Haig has tended to be more positive in discussing the value of contributions that have been steadily made to NATO by at least some Europeans countries.
There are other examples. Last week, when Navy Secretary John Lehman told a group of reporters that, in his view, the United States need not feel legally bound any longer by provisions of the expired SALT I agreement and the never-ratified SALT II accord with Moscow, the State Department, under Haig's orders, put out an immediate rebuttal.
The administration has not made up its mind about SALT, doesn't want to be boxed in to a policy of total abandonment when there may be provisions that are acceptable, and Haig knows how sensitive the allies are to keeping the process alive.
So too on the neutron warhead. At his initial news conference after taking office, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger was asked about the controversial neutron weapon and he said he favored eventual production and deployment in Europe, but only after consultations with the allies. Immediately afterward, Haig sent a cable to all U.S. allies pointing out that no decision had been made here and making sure they understood Weinberger had said nothing would happen withour prior consultations.
Haig knows the first priority for the United States and NATO is to complete deployment of new U.S.-built cruise missiles and Pershing Ii missiles in West Germany, Italy and England. He knows, better than others in the administration, that public talk here about neutron weapons -- talk that once caused an uproar in European politics -- can derail the cruise missile agreement, which was achieved at considerable poltical risk in allied governments.
Weinberger's willingness to repond to reporters' questions about the need for a greater U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, including possible bases in Saudi Arabia if the Saudis approve, also bothers Haig's State Department. The view there is that the best way to gain such access is not to talk about it.
Haig has attempted to deflect other administration and congressional forces who favor visibly improving relations with Taiwan, including supplying new jet warplanes. The secretary reportedly has argued that such a move, at least at this time, would be ill-advised because it would anger mainland China, whose support is of greater importance in keeping pressure on Moscow.
In Africa, Haig reportedly has kept U.S. options open in dealing with the touchy situation in Namibia and won the battle to name Africa specialist Chester Crocker as assistant secretary of state despite objection by some conservative lawmakers.
He won the battle with those conservatives and others in the White House to name the man he wanted as assistant secretary for European affairs, Lawrence Eagleburger, an experienced diplomat and top aide to then-secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger. Eagleburger has quickly become a force in the department, reportedly taking over the delicate, European-based tactical nuclear weapons modernization and arms control responsibilities.
Haig is not an imtimate of the Reagan inner circle. Before the election, he did not know Ronald Reagan very well. Some suggest that his tough public talk is real but also partly tactical, meant to keep the superideologues at bay, to ensure that he gets a good report card from the monitors the White House has installed at State to keep an eye on him, and to give himself some maneuvering room to balance the overriding theme of anticommunism with the more-complicated local issues around the world.