HAIG: The General's Progress by Roger Morris
Kirkus Star

HAIG: The General's Progress

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Alexander Haig's rapid rise from obscure army colonel to secretary of state has long been attributed to his proficiency at bureaucratic maneuvering--an impression that Morris, a former National Security Council aide and author of a book on Kissinger (Uncertain Greatness), does nothing to dispel. But he does add some nuances, along with lots of particulars (and the occasional gratuitous sneer). The son of a well-off lawyer who died at age 38, Haig grew up in an affluent Philadelphia suburb under the tutelage of his mother and his wealthy political-broker uncle. It was the uncle's influence that got Haig into Notre Dame, and later into West Point (which he had failed to make on his own). With World War II on, the West Point stint was shortened-with more emphasis than usual placed on field maneuvers, even less than usual on academic studies. Haig, in any case, placed two-thirds down in his class. After graduation, he joined the Occupation staff of General MacArthur--emerging from MacArthur's Korean fiasco with a few medals and new patrons. Morris, however, places the greatest emphasis, as a catalyst, on the transformation of the armed forces after Korea. The peacetime army, swollen with officers, adopted a new routine of promotions by specific steps--a stint at one or another War College, a few graduate courses in international relations or business administration, and other tasks designed to show versatility. Haig, playing the game, landed a routine Pentagon post which he held, asking no questions, until escalating American involvement gave him the chance to go to Vietnam. There, the worst traits of the war facilitated his career-from the profligate awarding of medals to the use of massive air power to compensate for archaic ground tactics. (Morris, reviewing Haig's military exploits, shows that most of his medals were received for flying around in combat zones, while his troops escaped annihilation only because the planes were there to bail them out.) He was a West Point instructor, ironically, when Kissinger selected him as an intelligence briefer for the NSC: his very deficiencies, say Morris, eliminated him as a potential rival. But Haig outlasted better-qualified colleagues--he stoically took Kissinger's abuse, while others quit-and wound up as the Council's number two man. And precisely those qualities of Haig's that Kissinger both despised and needed--the unreflective paper-channeling that led Kissinger to label him a robot--endeared Haig to Nixon. From published sources and logical inferences, Morris argues that Haig aided Kissinger in wiretapping his colleagues; that he coordinated assassination plots against Chilean president Allende; and that he knew of the existence, at least, of the Plumbers. When Nixon rewarded Haig by promoting him to general (over 240 senior officers) and took him into the White House as chief of staff, Haig responded by challenging Kissinger--with whom, Morris suggests, he managed the October 1973 worldwide alert (while Nixon was drunk upstairs), in direct violation of the Constitution. Ultimately, he acted as go-between to win Nixon a pardon from Jerry Ford. And, when Kissinger opposed his subsequent appointment as head of allied forces in Europe, he threatened to disclose the taping of NSC staff. Morris then recounts Haig's efforts to win the Republican presidential nomination--but falls short on exactly how Haig wound up as secretary of state, claiming lack of sources. As for the gaffes and policy blunders, they're explained by Haig's abysmal education and lack of substantive knowledge of foreign affairs. At times venomous and repetitive--but a fascinating/unsavory account of an officer-on-the-make.

Pub Date: July 26th, 1982
Publisher: Playboy--dist. by Harper & Row