Alexander Haig, Reagan's Doctor Strangelove, dies

The soldier and statesman served three presidents but was always haunted by his 'I'm in control' gaffe

Alexander Haig, the four-star general who played a crucial role as White House chief of staff at the climax of the Watergate scandal, and later served as secretary of state during Ronald Reagan's presidency, died yesterday in Baltimore. He was 85.

"I think of him as a patriot's patriot," George Shultz, his successor as secretary of state, said of Haig, who had been admitted to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore last month, with complications from an infection.

Born in Philadelphia in 1924, Haig was one of the soldier-statesmen who have been a constant in American history. He failed in a bid for the Republican nomination for president in 1988, but over two decades occupied some of the highest posts in both the US military and government.

A decorated veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam wars, he was vice-chief of staff of the army in 1973, and between 1974 and 1979 served as supreme allied commander in Europe before a brief spell in civilian life as chief executive of the military contractor United Technologies.

But his most important and controversial posts were in government. To some surprise, the newly elected Reagan chose Haig as secretary of state – and within barely two months the country's top diplomat uttered the ill-considered words that would bedevil him ever after.

Hours after the near-successful assassination attempt on Mr Reagan on 30 March 1981, Haig went into the White House briefing room to tell reporters: "I'm in control here." The remark appeared to betray an ignorance of the constitution: as well as the vice-president, the speaker and the senior member of the Senate also rank ahead of the secretary of state in the line of succession if the president is incapacitated.

More important, it seemed to confirm the square-jawed and forthright Haig as a power-crazed general. "It was reminiscent of Dr Strangelove," Richard Darman, Reagan's deputy chief of staff, would later write. "Haig intended to calm the nation. He unnerved the world."

Haig never lived the episode down. His tenure as secretary of state lasted only 18 months, and was notable for ferocious turf battles with colleagues, and for an unsuccessful effort to mediate a settlement of the Falklands crisis in 1982. After Haig's efforts at shuttle diplomacy between London and Buenos Aires broke down, Britain went to war to reclaim the islands. His replacement that June by steady, unflappable George Shultz brought general relief, inside and outside government.

In fact, Haig's most vital service to his country had come a decade earlier. He had already earned Richard Nixon's confidence during a two-year stint as deputy national security adviser under Henry Kissinger when Nixon made him White House chief of staff in May 1973, just as Watergate began to engulf the presidency.

As the crisis moved to its climax, Haig played a crucial role as a channel between the president and Congress. He gently persuaded Nixon to resign once impeachment proceedings had become a certainty. With a skill belied by his later gaffes, he handled the delicate negotiations for the transfer of power from Nixon to Gerald Ford.

Haig remained at the White House only a few weeks after Nixon stepped down on 9 August 1974. It was widely believed, though never confirmed, that he had brokered a secret deal for Nixon to resign in return for a guarantee from Ford of a pardon – a pardon that would be granted on 8 September 1974.

Suggested Topics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone