Gen. Alexander Haig who served as President Ronald Reagan's secretary of state as well as a national security adviser and White House chief of staff to President Richard Nixon, died Saturday at age 85 at Johns Hopkins Hospital following complications from an infection.
Haig will always be remembered, and somewhat unfairly, for his infamous line after Reagan was shot and fighting for his life in the hospital: "As of now, I'm in control here."
Those were words which made it sound as though he had launched a one-man coup but which Haig always insisted really were meant to reassure a frantic nation amidst a grave crisis.
Of course he understood the constitutional order of succession, he would have to later say in his defense.
Below is a YouTube clip worth watching of Haig from a 2006 discussion he had at the Nixon library. It's clear that Haig still had a measure of forcefulness even at an advanced age.
An illuminating passage comes when Haig gives his definition of a neocon:
Neoconservative. Let me tell you what he believes. He believes that you and I, we the American people, have not only the right but the obligations to make people democrats. And even if it takes a bayonet. That's what he believes.
Now what is the problem with that? These guys have never read history. Or if they have, they've intentionally distorted it.
Go back to John Quincy Adams and the first thing he even wrote was, for godssake, we Americans must always be careful not to think we can exploit or expand our democratic values around the world through intimidation, through blackmail, or through force of arms. Because it will frequently have the exact opposite effect. Now let me tell you, it's time we learned that lesson again that was written in the early 1800s.
Haig was clearly a foreign policy realist scornful of neocon idealism. He was also a statesman of the sort who seems to becoming increasing rare in American public life.
As he is remembered today and in the days to come, it would only be fit and proper to recall the sum total of his life and remarkable career and not just a gaffe made during a calamity that tested everyone associated with it.