Haig as diplomat

There is no question Alexander Haig has the capacity to be US secretary of state and would bring some strong qualifications to the job. He is an extremely good organizer and could be expected to try to bring consistency and steadiness in foreign policy -- qualities that have often been lacking in recent decades. Because he so thoroughly understands the workings of Washington -- the interplay of State Department, National Security Council, Defense Department, Congress, the White House, and other centers of power -- he presumably would be less stymied by institutional problems and obstacles. This is a big plus in forging and carrying out policy.

General Haig has also had a wealth of valuable experiences. As NATO commander , he was at the heart of problems in Western Europe. He knows the Russians. It can be presumed, too, that as chief of staff to Richard Nixon he learned a great deal about the operation of the presidency and the factors impinging on the conduct of foreign policy.

To recognize certain strengths is not to be without misgivings, however. It is not the American tradition to have a professional military man serves as secretary of state. The appointment of George Marshall broke with that pattern and no one today would say other than that President Truman made an inspired choice. But that has been the only exception and the question remains whether a career military man presents the image of America which its people want to convey to the world. The very fact that the Defense Department cannot under law be in the hands of a soldier (even recently retired) points to the underlying stress on civilian control and on projecting a posture of peace. General Haig himself might do well to speak to the issue.

In this instance, of course, President-elect Reagan is sending a signal to Moscow (as well as to the American voter) -- a signal of toughness and military determination. The Russians will certainly get the appopriate message, just as the United States would if the Kremlin plucked the commander of the Warsaw Pact to be Soviet foreign minister.

We do not necessarily call in question the message, but we are dubious about a military presence in that particular office and the implications around the globe generally. Especially given the fact that General Haig would likely be an extremely powerful man. With Mr. Reagan's inexperience in foreign affairs, Caspar Weinberger's need to gain expertise in defense matters, and the new administration's intent to downgrade the position of the national security adviser, the new secretary of state will have considerable influence.

Then there is the Watergate issue. It will be for the Senate to bring to light answers to unresolved questions about General Haig's role during the Watergate years and to verify his ethics. Did he do what anyone in his extremely sensitive position would have done? Will it be found that the country does indeed owe him a debt of gratitude for holding the presidency together? Mr. Reagan has examined the Haig record in that period and presumably determined that nothing in it will embarras him or undermine the appointment; otherwise it would seem politically foolhardy to unwrap the whole Watergate saga again. In a case, it is to be hoped the Senate hearings will be conducted in the spirit not of political partisanship or titillating rehearsal of seamy events but of wanting quickly and fairly to get at the facts.

It is important, too, that the lawmakers probe General Haig's views of the world. We know what he thinks about defense matters overall.But little is known of his unerstanding of such issues as the Middle East, the third world, human rights. Does he, for instance, regard the latter as an important factor in a nation's stability and strength -- an issue that comes to the fore, for instance , in a country like South Korea where social unrest grows behind the facade of a military-oriented government? General Haig's reluctance to be specific even on the SALT treaty during hearings in 1979 suggests he should also be examined on defense matters. He has built his reputation more as an organizer than as a conceptual thinker. So it would be useful for Americans to hear his ideas.

There is no reason to think the secretary of state-designate will not successfully run the congressional gauntlet before him. It ought to be said, too, that a president should be able to have the men and women he wants in his cabinet and entourage. These reflects his own bent of mind, his ideals, his purposes. They determine what kind of presidency he has, and he bears the responsibility for the outcome. It could well be that General Haig will in fact make a good diplomat and bring great credit to the Reagan administration. However, it would be less than forthright not to voice questions we feel ought to be met head-on rather than be allowed to linger unanswered.

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