Alexander Haig, Former Secretary Of State, Dies

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  • Gen. Alexander Haig in 1978, while serving as supreme allied commander of NATO. Haig's military career spanned more than 30 years, and he also served as a close adviser to three U.S. presidents.
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    Gen. Alexander Haig in 1978, while serving as supreme allied commander of NATO. Haig's military career spanned more than 30 years, and he also served as a close adviser to three U.S. presidents.
    David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
  • Six days after his 1972 re-election, President Nixon meets with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Haig, then the deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs. The topic was Vietnam, but soon the president would be engulfed in the Watergate cover-up. While Nixon was distracted by the scandal, Haig was credited by many with maintaining the day-to-day operation of the gover...
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    Six days after his 1972 re-election, President Nixon meets with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Haig, then the deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs. The topic was Vietnam, but soon the president would be engulfed in the Watergate cover-up. While Nixon was distracted by the scandal, Haig was credited by many with maintaining the day-to-day operation of the government.
    National Archive/AFP/Getty Images
  • After Nixon resigned in 1974, Haig stayed on as White House chief of staff to ease President Ford's transition into office.  Moments after Ford pardoned Nixon, he and his staffers — including Haig (whose back is to the camera) — were met with a critical response from Congress.
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    After Nixon resigned in 1974, Haig stayed on as White House chief of staff to ease President Ford's transition into office. Moments after Ford pardoned Nixon, he and his staffers — including Haig (whose back is to the camera) — were met with a critical response from Congress.
    David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
  • President Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush and the Reagan Cabinet in February 1981.  Haig (lower left) was Reagan's first secretary of state. He resigned his post in June 1982.
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    President Reagan, Vice President George H.W. Bush and the Reagan Cabinet in February 1981. Haig (lower left) was Reagan's first secretary of state. He resigned his post in June 1982.
    White House/AP
  • Following the attempted assassination of President Reagan in March 1981, Haig tells reporters, "I am in control here."  It was a low moment for Haig, who was reminded that constitutionally, there are several people ahead of the secretary of state when it comes to presidential succession.
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    Following the attempted assassination of President Reagan in March 1981, Haig tells reporters, "I am in control here." It was a low moment for Haig, who was reminded that constitutionally, there are several people ahead of the secretary of state when it comes to presidential succession.
    Courtesy of Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
  • Haig and Reagan at an economic summit in 1981.
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    Haig and Reagan at an economic summit in 1981.
    Bettmann/Corbis
  • The six candidates for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination. Haig (far left) spent much of his campaign hammering Vice President George H.W. Bush (second from left) over his role in the Iran- Contra scandal. But Haig made little headway, finishing last in the Iowa caucuses, and he dropped out of the race prior to the New Hampshire primary.
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    The six candidates for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination. Haig (far left) spent much of his campaign hammering Vice President George H.W. Bush (second from left) over his role in the Iran- Contra scandal. But Haig made little headway, finishing last in the Iowa caucuses, and he dropped out of the race prior to the New Hampshire primary.
    AP
  • Former Nixon advisers Kissinger (left) and Haig at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston in 2006.
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    Former Nixon advisers Kissinger (left) and Haig at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston in 2006.
    Lisa Poole/AP

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Alexander Haig, a retired four-star general who served as White House chief of staff under Richard Nixon and secretary of state under Ronald Reagan, died early Saturday morning. He was 85.

Haig At A Glance

Born: Dec. 2, 1924, in Bala-Cynwyd, Pa.

1947: Graduates from U.S. Military Academy at West Point

1950: Marries Patricia Antoinette Fox, with whom he has three children

1961: Receives master's degree in international relations from Georgetown University

1969: Becomes military assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger

1970: Appointed deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs

1972: Promoted to four-star general

1973: Retires from military and becomes White House chief of staff under Nixon

1974: After serving as White House chief of staff under President Ford for four months, resumes military career as supreme allied commander in Europe

1979: Retires from military

1981: Sworn in as President Reagan's secretary of state. After Reagan is shot in March 1981, Haig infamously tells reporters at the White House: "I'm in control here."

June 25, 1982: Resigns as secretary of state amid friction with other Cabinet members

1987: Announces candidacy for 1988 Republican presidential nomination

Sources: Current Biography, Encyclopedia of World Biography, The Cold War, 1945-1991

The Haig family says he died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from complications associated with an infection, according to The Associated Press.

Haig had a long career — in the Army, at the highest levels of government and in private industry. But the one moment that most people remembered from that career came on a March day in 1981, after President Reagan had been wounded by a would-be assassin.

Vice President George H.W. Bush was flying back from an out-of-town engagement, and Haig, who was then the secretary of state, was asked by reporters who was making decisions for the government:

"As of now, I am in control here, in the White House, pending return of the vice president and in close touch with him," Haig said. "If something came up, I would check with him, of course."

That statement — "I am in control here" — was lampooned mercilessly, in part because Haig mistakenly thought he was next in the line of succession. Critics said Haig was overly ambitious.

From Military Man To Presidential Adviser

A West Point grad, Haig earned the rank of captain in the Korean War and took part in the Inchon landings. In the 1950s, he studied war, business and international relations. He became an assistant to Deputy Defense Secretary Cyrus Vance and fought as the commander of a battalion and then a brigade in Vietnam.

In 1969, Haig attached his star to that of Henry Kissinger, who was then national security adviser to President Nixon. Haig won Nixon's trust and was promoted from two-star to four-star general, superseding many more senior officers.

At the White House, Haig became a special assistant to the president and eventually succeeded H.R. Haldeman as Nixon's chief of staff. In 1974, Haig played a key role in persuading Nixon to step down when the president's impending impeachment in the Watergate scandal threatened to become a constitutional crisis. He later said it was a tough sell:

"First, he was ready to do it," Haig said of Nixon, "and he would meet with the family. And the family, understandably, would be very much opposed to his quitting — and that's the term he used, quit. And so he delayed."

Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, appointed Haig supreme commander of NATO. In 1979, Haig retired from the military to become head of defense contractor United Technologies.

With Reagan's election in 1980, Haig returned to Washington as secretary of state. He battled with the national security adviser over control of foreign policy.

Such infighting within the administration led to Haig's resignation in 1982. In 1988, he decided to make his own run for the Republican presidential nomination. During a GOP candidate debate, Haig challenged the party's eventual nominee, then-Vice President Bush, to reveal his advice to Reagan regarding the Iran-Contra affair.

"I think the American people do want to know what you said," Haig said, "and sooner or later, you're going to have to do it. And if you can't answer your friends, what in heavens is going to happen next November if you are standard-bearer and these Democrats get after you on this subject?"

But Haig's campaign never gained traction, and he withdrew from the race, returning to the private sector. He gave speeches, wrote, and hosted television programs.

Asked once what he saw as his greatest achievement, Haig said it was the privilege and honor of leading American troops under fire.

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