Four-star Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., expected shortly to be nominated as US secretary of state by President-elect Ronald Reagan, wants "to restore a sense of reliability, consistency, and flexibility" to American foreign policy.
In testimony and statements before congressional committees and elsewhere during the past year and a half, General Haig has urged "aggressiveness and boldness" in American dealings with the rest of the world. And he has urged a more activist approach in dealing with developing problems.
Haig's nomination would have both immediate and later consequences. Immediately, he faces a congressional confirmation fight in which he would almost certainly be confirmed but in which the memory of Watergate would be revived. In the long run, he faces a likely push toward a hard-line foreign policy reinforcing Mr. Reagan's own indicated position.
Five-star Gen. George C. Marshall served President Truman as secretary of state (1947-49) and received the Nobel Prize for the Marshall Plan. But his job was essentially world reconstruction, not that of handling the diplomatic turbulence of the present.
Reagan hopes to achieve consultative "cabinet government," which predecessors Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter also attempted without full success. Many believe the goal is illusive. In any case, it is hard for those who have watched Haig in action, in Watergate, or in 4 1/2 years as supreme allied commander in Europe, without believing that he would be a major force in any team that Reagan puts together.
For the nation, the two parts of the Haig story involve his relation with Nixon in Watergate and his probable role if he joins the Reagan cabinet.
Watergate. Most of the public would like to forget Watergate, but Senate confirmation hearings almost certainly will recall its highlights.
In a White House tape of June 4, 1973, Nixon and Haig listened to earlier tapes, including the crucial one of Nixon's meeting with White House staff member John Dean March 21 in which, among other things, the possibility that the Watergate burglars might demand up to $1 million for their silence was discussed. The President told Haig he would have H. R. (Bob) Haldeman "handle it" by giving his recollections of the meeting.
Says Nixon: "Bob will say, 'I was there; the President said . . . .'"
"That's exactly right . . . ," Haig says on the tape. "You just can't recall; it was in a meeting . . . ."
In another episode, the Haig role in the White House campaign against special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox culminated in the so-called "Saturday night massacre." Haig told Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Mr. Cox: "Your commander in chief is giving you the order, Bill."
Senators also are bound to review Haig's role in 17 illegal wiretaps of federal employees and newsmen. He arqued that "national security" justified the operation.
Foreign policy. Haig is highly regarded by NATO allies who believe he thinks strategically and will give consistent, firm, and vigorous support in problems dealing with the Soviets. His views from the time he left NATO in June 1979 generally support Reagan's charge that President Carter has been vacillating or weak. As witness before Senate committees here, Haig recommended the SALT II treaty be delayed until its "flaws have been resolved" and until Carter's defense policies are thoroughly reviewed.
He left Europe, he said, believing it was deeply concerned by the sense of drift in the United States and that he favored greater aggressiveness and boldness.
In Boston, in December 1978, Haig was quoted as "deploring" the idea of recognizing communist China.
Some of Haig's criticism took on a political sharpness because of a tentative presidential campaign that was briefly instituted in his behalf.