It has been, for two months, an all-too-public saga of Haig agonistes.

Alexander M. Haig Jr. -- the proud and politic general who fought in Korea and Vietnam and who ultimately earned his four stars in the wars of diplomacy -- bringing himself to the brink of his own undoing.

He began his second tour in Washington as the most experienced and most renowned Cabinet member of a new and largely faceless administration, and by his own hand has almost become its first casualty. He became, most of all, a victim of his own dominance.

And presidential assistants, who had expected to rely heavily upon Haig's expertise, instead found themselves wrestling for two months with the question of how to contain Haig -- to keep him from "running away with the store," as one said -- while still making the most of his talents.

Washington, a city that has lost two baseball teams, long ago embraced as its national pastime those classic struggles between White House and Cabinet members. But Haig's problems, unlike those of the most recent rivalies, were born not out of struggles over ideology, but over territory.

His problems began on Inauguration Day, when Haig, who learned all about the levers of White House power as the chief aide to Henry A. Kissinger and chief of staff to Richmond M. Nixon, sought to get the jump on his Cabinet colleagues.

He handled presidential counselor Edwin Meese III a memorandum to President Reagan outlining just how he thought national security decision-making should be structured in the new administration. Haig envisioned a policymaking and crisis management framework dominated by himself, as secretary of state.

And his concerns over turf containued, unabated and unrequited, even as he was embarking upon his now fateful testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning. That same day, he also unilaterally assumed command of the administration's sensitive talks with Japan on auto imports, supplanting special trade representive Bill Brock, who thought he would have the lead role.

In between were two months of public and semi-public jockeying for position that most often pitted the secretary of state against the president's senior White House assistants.

It seemed often to be an incredibly insensitive attempt at power policies, especially since Haig was, of all of the Reagan men, the one who knew the workings of those White House levers best of all.

Reagan's top-level White House aides were dismayed, for example, by Haig's early decision to mount a public campaign to roll back the sharp cuts in foreign aid that were proposed by Office of Management and Budget Director David A. Stockman. And his eagerness to enlist the support of allied countries in his quest.

"I can't understand what Haig is up to," one senior White House official complained at the time. He went on to say that Reagan had long spoken out against the high price tag of foreign aid, and that cutting foreign aid is the one budget reduction that is supported overwhelmingly in public opinion polls.

"Why is he going to the mat on this?" the aide asked. "He's not going to win." And in the end, Haig did not win, as the foreign aid cuts were just about what Stockman had wanted.

The president's senior aides were upset as well by Haig's actions that placed public emphasis on El Salvador as the bulwark of the Reagan stand against communism at a time when Reagan was trying to place public emphasis on his economic program as a bulwark inflation.

And throughout the past two months there were protracted intramural battles over just who would be in charge of national security policy decision-making and who would coordinate the administration's handling of crises.

They turned into crossfires among Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and the president's national security affairs adviser, Richard V. Allen, and Haig. But what they really came down to in the end, was the secretary of state vs. the White House.

And that was what Haig was airing in public in that House of Representatives hearing room Tuesday.

The confrontation between Haig and the White House in many ways captures the complexity of Haig's personality. Haig's talents and industriousness have brought him into key jobs for four successive presidents. Yet for most of his years near the top, he was a staff person, a No. 2 man and insider, removed from the public eye and public statements.

But beginning with the closing years of his assignment as the fourstar general in charge of NATO, Haig began to speak out forcefully in public and did not shy away from being verbally combative when challenged.

When Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) hit a nerve at confirmation hearings for Haig's state post in Januray, Haig shot back: "Nobody has a monopoly on virtue, even you, senator."

And when House questioners on Tuesday provided him with an opportunity to comment on the new White House crisis management setup, Haig did not back away from letting his unhappiness be known.

It was, even his close aides acknowledge, a tactical error to challenge the president so openly. A more controlled response might have been better.

Why he did it, they don't say, except that Haig has grown increasingly impatient over what he views as interference by the White House staff in the proper foreign policy role of the secretary of state's position as he sees it.

Haig, one official said, has become fed up with the daily fights over who does what within the administration.

There are undoubtedly other sources of frustration that feed Haig's aggressiveness within the new administration.

Many career officials within state point out the lack of foreign policy expertise throughout the rest of the administration, and Haig on several occasions chose to challenge statements of other officials to protect his options on policy.

Most important, officials close to Haig say they believe that the biggest problem has to do with the gap between rhetoric about the role of the secretary of state during the election campaign, in which Reagan repeatedly stressed his intention to make the state job preeminent, and what has happened since.

In this view, confusion over the inter-agency decision-making process has continued to this day, and the problem of not speaking with one voice, which lacerated the last administration on matters of substance, is also engulfing this one on matters of responsibility.

Haig has described the role he thought he was to have as that of "vicar" and "general manager" of U.S. foreign policy, second in command to the president on that score. Aides say he doesn't want anybody between him and the president on foreign policy matters.

On Capitol Hill he stressed the importance of leadership by those who were elected and those who went through the confirmation process in the Senate, categories that leave out other White House aides.

Aides say Haig considers himself a dedicated man and feels that the country needs him.

All of these emotions, plus those acquired during some 35 years of military experience, may well have combined to make Haig, despite his talents, appear to officials around the president to be too outspoken and too threatening -- to others and to the primacy of the presidency.