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In defense of Al Haig

By Malcolm ToonMalcolm Toon has sewed as US ambassador in the USSR, Israel , Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. / April 8, 1981



Our secretary of state is now under heavy fire -- and rightly so in the view of some -- for he has committed several indiscretions of late hardly worthy of the high office he holds.

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In his references to our chief adversary -- the Soviet Union -- he has been correct in substance but somewhat shrill and strident in tone, whereas as the self-styled "vicar" of foreign policy he should be restrained and balanced.

In his handling of the admittedly serious problem in El Salvador, Secretary Haig has triggered apprehensions of an America still traumatized by Vietnam and thus has complicated the essential job of helping our neighbors to the south resist the intrusions of the Soviet imperialists acting through Castro and minions of his ilk. And in his legitimate efforts to reassert the primacy of his office in foreign affairs -- so seriously eroded under Mr. Carter -- he has managed to bring down upon himself and the department he manages the wrath of the newcomers to Washington who are striving for their own place in the Reagan sun.

But, despite his penchant for hip-shooting, despite his rather callous disregard for the sensitivity of others, despite his at times rather annoying arrogance. Al Haig is the high official in the administration, along with George Bush, who has proven expertise in foreign policy and who, because of this, can command the respect of both friends and foes alike. There are few around President Reagan who can match Mr. Haig's international reputation, his awareness of the Soviet threat, and his expert grasp of the political-military ingredients of foreign policy, and I would hope that those who may be somewhat miffed by his recen t behavior would bear this in mind.