Once again Gen. Alexander Haig Jr. is the center of Washington controversy echoing the Watergate years. He weathered it before to become commander of NATO , a post in which he won respect from military leaders abroad. But can the Watergate questions be sufficiently cleared up for President-elect Reagan to go through with supposed plans for nominating the general as his secretary of state? Doubts about Senate confirmation have been raised in public by the present majority leader, Robert Byrd, and repotedly in private by his incoming Republican counterpart, Howard Baker.
Of course, it may be that Reagan officials allowed the likelihood of a Haig appointment to emerge unofficially as a means of testing the climate. In that event, the senatorial signals, as well as both liberal and conservative warnings in the press, ought to have provided the answer. The way is eased for selecting a no less qualified alternative without the same burden of close involvement with the Nixon White House.
Among the lingering questions about the general are whether he sought to hamper or manipulate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski in investigating Watergate , whether he joined in misusing national security powers in the wiretapping of government officials and newsmen, whether he sought to influence Vice-President Ford on behalf of a Nixon pardon before the Nixon resignation.
Mr. Jaworski has noted Haig's dangling of a Supreme Court judgeship before him and helping to frustrate him in the investigation. Columnist William Safire , a wiretapped Haig colleague under Nixon, has complained about Haig's role in the wiretaps.
Former President Ford's memoirs include this comment by his vice-presidential chief of staff, Robert Hartmann, after Nixon chief of staff Haig had spoken with Vice-President Ford about various options -- including one that Nixon resign in return for a pardon from the new president:
". . . Haid didn't come over here to go away empty-handed. . . . And he mentioned the pardon option, and you sat there listening to him. Well, silence implies assent. He probably went back to the White House and told Nixon that he'd mentioned the idea and that you weren't uncomfortable with it. It was extremely improper for him to bring the subject up."
These are some of the matters that Mr. Reagan will have to consider -- and that the Senate will have to consider if he ignores the advice from various quarters and names General Haig anyway.