ALEXANDER M. HAIG JR. has traded in his four-star epaulets for dark suits and rep ties, but behind the mufti he is still every inch the general. Al Haig the man and presidential candidate cannot be separated from Al Haig the soldier. In a sense, for him the presidency would be the culmination of his military career. He is the commander who would be commander in chief.
His years as an Army officer, spent in such tumultuous spots as Korea, Vietnam, and the Nixon White House, have given him discipline and a steely determination. But his military experience undoubtedly would affect Mr. Haig's performance in the free-for-all environment of American politics.
As a high-ranking military officer, Al Haig was accustomed to a strict chain of command, in which subordinates promptly followed orders. The last general in the Oval Office, Dwight Eisenhower, was reportedly nonplused initially that as President he couldn't simply issue a command and have Congress salute.
How would Haig manage in a post where policy is made by persuasion, cajoling, and tradeoffs? Although the military is not without its own politics, it is a world apart from from the political culture that exists between Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill. Did Haig, in his years as a White House aide and President Reagan's first secretary of state, absorb enough of the give-and-take to be an effective chief executive?
Many political analysts believe the question itself is moot, however. Haig consistently lands near the bottom of the preference polls, and campaign contributions have only trickled in. Last week he folded his campaign tent in Iowa, where a recent poll showed him with less than 1 percent backing from those expected to participate in the GOP caucuses. He plans to concentrate his campaign on New Hampshire and states that will hold primaries on Super Tuesday, March 8.
Some say Haig is running simply to keep his policy agenda in public view, while others suggest he is angling for further government service.
Then there are those who cite Haig's ego. It's a subject that comes up frequently in discussions about the candidate. Haig is seen by some as an ego-driven power monger who has always been close to but has never grasped the brass ring.
Questions about Haig's personality and character were particularly fueled by his short but stormy tenure at the State Department in 1981-82. The period was marred by reports that he was autocratic and full of venom over turf battles with the White House staff. He was considered by some to be erratic. The country was transfixed at the image of Haig standing in front of nationwide television when President Reagan was shot, asserting, ``I am in control here at the White House.''
But many who have worked for Haig respect him. And in return, say some of these former colleagues, he respects people who use good judgment and give rational explanations. He was very loyal to his staff at the State Department, says Robert Hor-mats, vice-president of Goldman Sachs International and a former assistant secretary of state under Haig.
Mr. Hormats concedes that Haig was very impatient with people who had not thought things through or who shot from the hip. ``That was his problem with the White House staff - he didn't like cooks that hadn't been to cooking school,'' Hormats says. ``It is true that his personality was more assertive than the White House people liked.''
BUT Haig was simply trying to give them serious, tough foreign-policy advice, Hormats says. Haig felt undermined by what he perceived to be a lot of posturing and backstairs maneuvering by the White House. Those loyal to Haig suggest that the White House staff did much to fuel speculation over Haig's behavior.
Bill Taylor, who was with Haig at West Point when Haig was a regimental commander there, thinks Haig got ``an extremely bum rap'' while in the Reagan administration, particularly over the ``I'm in control'' incident. Haig's swiftness in exerting leadership in a chaotic situation reflects his military training, says Dr. Taylor, now vice-president for political and military affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
``He is a guy who accepts full responsibility. The man does not have an ego. He is used to being close to the seat of command and is ready to assume responsibility. He is not out to grab power - there is a difference. He will assume responsibility.''
Taylor adds: ``He is an extremely organized and selfless person.''
Taylor says Haig is a first-rate tactician and a consummate strategist, and that those skills were evident when Haig was supreme commander of NATO from 1974 to 1979.
But there are less flattering portrayals of Haig. Roger Morris, who worked on the National Security Council staff with him, has written a biography critical of the general. He quotes a former aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur - on whose staff Haig served in Japan and Korea - as saying that none of MacArthur's men would risk being first-rate. ``Whether by calculation or plain human limits, that has been true of Haig regardless of the patron of the moment,'' Mr. Morris writes. Haig is a ``bureaucratic everyman ... [who has] risen regardless of talent or substance.''
Haig's career, often so close to the top of foreign policy, has been one of missed opportunities and failures to understand a complex world, Morris suggests.
When he worked under national-security adviser Henry Kissinger in the Nixon administration, Haig was involved in the wiretapping of government insiders and journalists, and he was later questioned about the United States role in the violent overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende Gossens in 1973. In neither instance, Haig points out, was culpability found on his part.
As White House chief of staff in the waning days of the Nixon administration, Haig is credited with basically running the country as President Nixon sank into the miasma of Watergate. The key formative event in Haig's career was orchestrating Nixon's final days, Hormats thinks.
``He helped to ease the exit of the President, to whom he was very loyal,'' Hormats says, ``but he knew [Nixon] had to go. He understood it was for the good of the country to allow Nixon to leave with dignity.''
HAIG put it this way in his 1981 confirmation hearing to be secretary of state: ``I believe Nixon was entitled to a presumption of innocence. I worked hard within the boundaries of the law and the advice of lawyers to support him. I also believe passionately in the office of the presidency and the awesome ability of that office to inspire its occupant to consider constantly the judgment of history and to work for the broad public interest. ... I viewed my overriding duty as one to preserve that office in the national interest.''
Others had a dimmer view of Haig's role under Nixon. At the same hearing, Sen. Lowell Weicker (R) of Connecticut said that the position of secretary of state should be bestowed on ``the courageous, the forthright, the idealist. No such nominee is before your committee.''
Former Sen. Charles Percy, then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presided over Haig's confirmation hearing. The arduous examination, among the longest in congressional history, lasted 45 hours over five days and nights.
Mr. Percy took Haig, his wife, Pat, and his brother, Frank, into Percy's office for lunch the first day.
``I almost had to put a cold cloth on his forehead to calm him down,'' says Percy with a chuckle. ``He had spent his whole life being saluted, and he couldn't understand how 17 members [of the committee] could question his qualifications, going into extraneous details - if Watergate was extraneous.''
Percy reasoned with Haig that since he had considered running for president in 1980 - which would have cost millions and meant months of enduring scrutiny and questioning - he was getting off easy in becoming the third most powerful man in the country. He could go through these hearings for a couple of days.
``He had a military bearing when we started,'' says Percy. He noted that it is rare that a military man is in a powerful political position. Such an official has the unfamiliar obligation to deal with an argumentative Senate. As secretary of state, Haig would not be able to make any major appointment or usher through any treaty without the approval of Congress, Percy explained.
``His final statement was one of reaching out,'' Percy says.
Haig told the committee: ``I hope our exchanges in the future will always be as candid if I am confirmed. ... The lessons of these hearings and the experiences ... of the past decade make clear that the Congress and the executive must talk and think and act together in foreign policy.''
Taylor pauses a long moment when asked how well a President Haig would work with Congress.
``He's not a guy to waste time,'' Taylor says. But Taylor, noting that in war the failure of leaders to work together can cost lives, says Haig ``understands from being in the military that coordination is crucial.''
Third in a series. Thursday: Bruce Babbitt.
From years of soldiering, a global perspective
ALEXANDER HAIG comes to the race with strong views on foreign policy, shaped by years of military service in both Europe and Asia.
Although he offers opinions on many domestic issues, particularly the federal deficit, he appears most engaged by foreign-policy matters. Even as he talks about the effects of October's stock-market crash, he points to the impact it had on financial markets around the world.
US-Soviet relations. Mr. Haig says he is ``appalled'' that the Reagan administration has cast aside the concept of linkage in dealing with the Soviet Union.
``The Soviet Union is continuing to conduct aggression around the world and ... we have de-linked, so to speak, their international behavior from arms control in a quest for arms control for arms control's sake.'' In dealing with the Soviets, he says, the United States ``cannot leave untended violations of human rights, and aggression in the developing world. ... Linkage is an essential vehicle in American foreign policy.''
Haig advocates achieving a balance of conventional forces between the NATO allies and the East bloc.
He has been one of the sharpest critics of the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty signed by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev last month. The United States, Haig says, should not withdraw nuclear missiles from Europe without concessions from Moscow eliminating the Warsaw Pact's superiority in conventional arms.
Defense. Despite a soldier's commitment to national defense, Haig says defense spending in 1981-83 was excessive and carried out without a coherent strategic plan. He would hold the defense budget to the rate of inflation to help reduce the budget deficit.
Haig supports the Strategic Defense Initiative and continued military aid to the Nicaraguan contras.
The budget deficit. Haig takes aim at those GOP contenders who he says try to absolve the party of blame: ``This deficit is a Republican deficit, and any candidate who suggests it's the fault of the liberal left-wing Democrats in the House - who do have a major contributory role - is wrong. We were in the White House, and we had control of the US Senate, and the men involved in this deficit have some questions to answer to the Republican Party and the American people.''
He criticizes the Reagan administration for following a policy of tight money and higher interest rates to control inflation, while trying to stimulate the economy with tax cuts.
He does not deny that tax increases may be necessary as part of balancing the federal budget in the next four years.
``It's going to be tough, but we have to do it,'' he says of reducing the deficit. ``There needs to be a dramatic reduction and belt-tightening across the board, equally spread.''
Domestic policy. Haig is not viewed as an ideological conservative, and he claims that one of his strengths is that he could attract votes across party lines. He is a strong proponent of free-market capitalism, but he is cautious about drastic phasing out of current federal farm-subsidy programs. He also favors helping farmers dispossessed by bank foreclosures recover their land.
He does not support trade protectionism, but he is also ready to give incentives for capital investment to American energy producers.
In education, Haig wants higher teacher salaries and tuition tax credits. He would make reducing acid raid a top environmental priority.
With regard to AIDS, Haig opposes education on ``safer sex,'' but instead advocates the teaching of premarital abstinence, monogamy, and the dangers of AIDS.
How others see us. Haig is sensitive to how other countries view the US. He says the deficit compromise that the administration and Congress came to in December was a product of ``political cowardice.'' Haig, who was in West Germany when the plan was announced, says Germans ``couldn't believe the tepid character of the compromise arrived at.''
Haig further says the Iran-contra hearings ``made the US a laughingstock around the world. And they never got to the truth. We lost six months [of work] on the economy, arms control, and Central America.''
His opinions sometimes take a rather macho tone. In discussing with a New York City audience how the US moved from being a creditor to a debtor nation, he said the US had ``relinquished a measure of its nationhood.''
Love of family - and tennis
GIVEN his rather rough public image, Alexander Haig's close, warm relationship to his family may come as a surprise to some, a former associate says.
General Haig is the husband of Patricia Fox Haig and father of sons Alexander and Brian and daughter Barbara. Their relationship and support are as important to Haig as anything, says Keith Shuette, who was Haig's special assistant at the State Department, and is now with the Republican National Institute for International Affairs.
Pat Haig, who met her future husband in Tokyo, where her father and Haig were both posted after World War II, often acts as a sounding board for her husband, several associates say. And, they add, she feels free to throw cold water on some of his ideas.
Also close to Haig are his brother and sister. Frank Haig, a Jesuit priest, was always just behind his brother's shoulder during Haig's confirmation hearings as secretary of state in 1981, one observer says.
``[Al Haig] was not a man with a great number of personal friends,'' Mr. Shuette says. ``His family is very important to him.''
Religion also apparently plays an important role in the life of Haig, who is a Roman Catholic.
In his spare time, Haig reads, listens to classical music, and plays tennis. One campaign brochure has pictures of Haig in leadership positions in Vietnam and Washington. And then there is one of Al Haig on the tennis court.