Tag Archives: Alexander Haig

Al Haig, An American Hero, Dead At 85

Bookmark and Share   General Alexander Haig has died today at the age of 85.

Beginning as an aide to General Douglas MacArthur, up to and even beyond, his Reagan era involvement in the defeat of communism, General Alexander Haig’s life was a record of American history similar to that which you could find in the history that is recorded in the rings of tree’s trunk.

As a graduate of West Point,  Alexander Haig’s military career took him from waking up General McArthur one morning to inform him that the communists of North Korea had penetrated past the 38th parallel and started a war, to joining with Ronald Reagan and setting the table for a strong anti-communist foreign policy agenda that would remain in place throughout the entire Reagan Presidency and help tear down the Berlin Wall and free Europe from the grip of the Soviet union.

In Viet Nam Al Haig eventually served as a battalion and brigade commander where his bravery and brilliance won him the Distinguished Service Cross during battle at An Loc. As described in his Distinguished Service Cross citation Haig’s “personal courage and determination, and his skillful employment of every defense and support tactic possible, inspired his men to fight with previously unimagined power. It continues; “Although his force was outnumbered three to one, Colonel Haig succeeded in inflicting 592 casualties on the Viet Cong.”

For many, this may have been the height and limit to such dedicated sacrifice in the service of his nation but for Al Haig, it was just the beginning.

His knowledge and strategic mind would earn him a call to serve as aide to President Nixon’s, then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. His stellar abilities in this post eventually caught the eye of the President, who in turn scooped up the masterful  military and political strategist for himself as Nixon made Haig his Chief of Staff.

It was in this roll that Al Haig would end up becoming a major figure in one of the most tumultuous times in our nation’s history…..the negotiations that would end up convincing President Nixon to resign from office before he was officially impeached by Congress. In this, Haig was instrumental in negotiating the resignation and setting up the smooth transition from the presidency of Richard Nixon to the presidency of Gerald Ford.

For his part, President Ford would end up having Al Haig answer another call to military service as he made Haig NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. But this was a position that Haig would resign from when in July of 1979, President Jimmy Carter helped the Iranian Revolution remove the Shah of Iran from power. Haig felt that the decision would throw the region in to unprecedented turmoil and he considered Carter’s decision a stab in the back of an important regional ally of the United States.

Shortly after all hell broke loss in the region and American hostages became the center of attention in the Iranian Revolution, the election of President Ronald Reagan meant that Al Haig would again serve his country. This time as Secretary of State.

In the first 18 months of the Reagan Administration, Secretary of State Haig was a brash and unavoidable influence on the Administration and in foreign policy. His hard line against communism would remain a staple of foreign policy throughout the entire 8 years of the Reagan Presidency.

But on March 31st of 1981, Haig’s influence met a bump in the road.

On that day, an assassination attempt on President Reagan sent  the President to the hospital with what would later be describes as wounds much more potentially fatal than was originally disclosed.

At the time of the shooting, all that was known was that the President was hit. The severity of the wound was not immediately clear. But a shocked nation sat in fear, not knowing if President Ronald Reagan would survive or if the assassination attempt was part of an unfolding and continuing conspiracy. Possible even one conspired by a Soviet Union that was rattled by Reagan’s vehement anti-communist foreign policy. At the time the Pentagon had long understood that in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack on the US, the Soviet Union would first attempt a “decapitation” operation that would sever channels of communications and the American chain through assassinations of our leaders.

During all the urgency and fear, Vice President George H. W. Bush was in flight, somewhere over the country. White House attorney’s were preparing for the legal transfer of power from the possibly dying President to the flying Vice President and back in the White House, the Administration’s voice, White House Press Secretary James Brady was being reported as dead, after receiving a bullet to his head during the assassination attempt on the President.  The report of Brady’s death ended up to be errneous.  Brady did survive the shooting but suffered neurological damage and lives life in a wheelchair.

In the midst of all the chaos, in an attempt to insure the nation and the world that the government was running smoothly, Secretary of State Haig rushed to a briefing room where he addresses the nation and throngs of anxious and rattled reporters. It was here that Al Haig said the words that would ultimately help force him out of the Administration.  He stated;

“As for now, I’m in control here, in the White House”

That was all that anyone really listened to.

Word that Al Haig was in charge of the nation immediately ran out.

The actual quote however was;

“Constitutionally gentlemen, you have the president, the vice president and the secretary of state, in that order, and should the president decide he wants to transfer the helm to the vice president, he will do so. As for now, I’m in control here, in the White House, pending the return of the vice president and in close touch with him. If something came up, I would check with him, of course.”

Haig did later try to clarify that he was simply communicating that he was controlling the flow of information and was insuring to send all the right messages out to the right people, and being available to speak should if anything needed to said or done, pending return of the vice president. He also expressly stated that he was not referring to any transition of power.

But it was too late. Haig’s enemies used the authoritarian sounding comment to bury him as a brash, power hungry zealot who was out of control.

Such was not the case, but in politics perception is reality and during this time of crisis, Haig’s enemies would define the perception that they wanted to convey. However history did in the end show Al Haig to be an important figure during the hours that followed the assassination attempt.

Audio tapes of meetings in the Situation Room indicated that during the crisis, the US was dangerously close to sparking an unimaginable confrontation with the Soviet Union.

During the assasination crisis, Haig had repeatedly stated both publicly and privately that there was no increase in the American military alert status. However, unbeknownst to Al Haig, Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger raised the US alert to Defcon 2. This meant that Air force pilots were readying nuclear bombers in preparation for a Soviet attack. When Haig found this out, he quickly told Weinberger that he will not alow himself to be seen as a liar and if he assured the world that we were not at a raised level of alert, than there must not and would be no rased level of alert.  Haig knew that if Soviet intelligence discovered that while we declared that there was no hieghtened level of military activity, we secretly were raising the alert and arming nuclear weapons, they would believe that we were readying for a surprise attack against them which in turn could lead them to possibly try to launch a preemptive attack of their own on us.

It was Al Haig who calmed and corrected the potentially dangerous situation.

Nevertheless, accepting of how perception often trumps reality in politics, Haig exited the Reagan Administration, unapologetically and proud.

In the years to follow he would embark on different private sector ventures and do so quite successfully but in 1988 he decided to reenter public service

He ran for the Republican presidential nomination.

Haig was a strong figure and his campaign took aim at Vice President George H. W. Bush and criticized the Vice President on his leadership and competence and even pressed the Vice President on the Iran-Contra issue.

It was during this time that I met Al Haig. I was in New Hampshire working for Jack Kemp’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

I found Al Haig to be a commanding figure, but ironically, when face to face with him, I was surprised to find him to be  a very gentle person. Most startling to me was his size.  This leader, this mighty warrior and stoic historic figure who had wielded such power and attention seemed larger than life on television, but in person he was actually much shorter than his TV persona depicted him to be on screen.

Ultimately, Haig did not get very far in the 1988 Republican presidential primaries and shortly after New Hampshire he withdrew from the contest, but only after endorsing Senator Robert Dole…..not Vice President Bush.

Al Haig was one of our nation’s most colorful figures. His military and political service are matched by few and surpassed by even fewer. And the same goes for his accomplishments. Al Haig’s fingerprints are allover some of the most dramatic events of contemporary history. From fighting and defeating communism to opening up Sino-American relations, preventing nuclear Armageddon and adding ideas and perspectives to the American political debate, Alexander Haig is a true American hero and he leaves behind a legacy of commitment to freedom and justice and service and integrity.

May he rest forevermore in pride and peace.

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antjackkemp8x10aIt has been reported that Jack Kemp has cancer.

His office released the following statement:

“Mr. Kemp has been undergoing tests to determine the origin of the disease and the options for continued treatment. He will continue to serve as Chairman of Kemp Partners and plans to remain involved in his business, charitable and politically related activities. Mr. Kemp and his family are grateful for the thoughts and prayers of friends and appreciate respect for their privacy at this time”.

The disturbing news hits POLITICS 24/7 hard. For me Jack Kemp, has been a shining example of the type of leadership we expect, want and need in government and the news causes reason for me to pause.

As a young man Jack F. Kemp spent 13 years in professional football, playing quarterback for the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills. He led the Buffalo Bills to the American Football League championships in 1964 and 1965 when he was named the league’s most valuable player. He also co-founded the AFL Players Association and was elected it’s president for 5 consecutive terms.

After a period working for the Reagan gubernatorial campaign in California during 1966 and as special assistant to Reagan when he was Governor, Kemp in 1969 worked for the chairman of the National Republican Committee. In 1970 Kemp was elected to Congress where he represented the people of Buffalo, New York in the state’s 38th district and served their until 1989.

Barely in my teens, my political interests were inspired by Ronald Reagan. They grew each day for the eight years thatant952 he was President but during the mid 80’s I also came to appreciate a Congressman from my home state of New York.   My own Congressman was Scmuck Schumer and not exactly a heroic political leader. But Jack Kemp was and  although Kemp was from Buffalo and I was from Brooklyn, the distance did not takeaway any sense of the Congressman’s impact on me.

Many casual voters outside of Buffalo may not have heard of him at the time but those involved in the issues shaping America sure did. Especially those who considered themselves “movement conservatives“. They considered Jack Kemp a leading figure.

A movement conservative is one who supports all or nearly all conservative principles with a coherent philosophy, and who advances broad conservative goals both individually and through teamwork. At the time, I did not know it, but I was one and Jack Kemp was one of the movements leaders.

Kemp’s credentials increased in In Congress where he became increasingly interested in economic ideas and was a keen supporter of supply-side economics and especially of large cuts in direct taxes, which he argued, would pay for themselves. Kemp was also a strong and vocal advocate of deregulation and enterprise zones. In 1978, together with senator Roth of Delaware, Kemp sponsored a 30 percent across the board tax cut which was in large part enacted in the 1981 Reagan budget. It is said that he sold Reaganomics to Reagan. Kemp’s vigorous promotion of supply-side economics made him a well known, if not controversial, politician and earned him a popular following among the Republican rank and file.

In addition to being a fiscal conservative Kemp has also been conservative on cultural and foreign affair issues. In one debate with Mario Cuomo, Kemp said of himself, “I am not a hawk but actually a heavily armed dove“.

Over time, I came to appreciate Jack Kemp more and more. I followed his voting record and read the speeches he offered on the floor of the house in the congressional record. His words were always inspiring to me. Although those speeches were often intermingled with words that I needed to lookup in the dictionary, once I did, they made sense antkempsellingreaganomicsand they were supported by all that freedom in a free nation meant.

On top of that, his voting record always matched his rhetoric. Jack Kemp meant what he said and said what he meant.  With jack Kemp it was not rhetoric, it was reality.

Later, while working on Kemp’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, I learned that I was not alone in sometimes having to look up the meaning of something Kemp said. While gathering the mornings news clippings for the campaign’s press secretary, I stumbled upon a piece in a local paper that wrote “although very passionate about economic policy, Congressman Kemp often finds himself speaking to an audience of reporters and voters alike, who have a glazed look in their eyes that is brought about by his discussion of intricate policies and use of technical terms that Kemp uses with the familiarity that we have with the alphabet“.

After reading that I was actually relieved to know that I wasn’t quite as ignorant as most. I was just as ignorant as everyone else.  As the Reagan years were winding down I geared up to take the Reagan revolution to the next level and I prepared to make sure that Jack Kemp became our next President. The man to carry the torch into the future. I even developed a report which proved that Jack kemp would be the Republican presidential nominee and that Jean Kirkpatrick would be tapped as his running mate.

I was also a fan of Ambassador Kirkpatrick and the relatively close ties that she and Kemp had at the time, seemed to me, to make them a perfect and likely ticket.

antkemp1988As the 1988 campaign began, I found myself traveling to campaign for Jack Kemp in New Hampshire and eventually became a low level field director. I will never forget sitting on campaign busses traveling to every Notch from Dixville to Zealand and relaying between the state’s North White Mountains and Great North Woods to its southern sectionss of Portsmouth and Seabrook in the Seacoast region and Nashua, Concord and Manchester in between. I was often honored beyond belief to sit next Jack Kemp on the campaign bus and have the opportunity to brief the would-be-President on events at our next stops and update him on how the door-to-door events at previous stops went.

Although Kemp did win in Dixville Notch, when all of New Hampshire’s votes were counted, Kemp came in third behind then Vice President George H.W. Bush and Kansas Senator Bob Dole, but ahead of evangelist Pat Robertson, Reagan’s former chief of Staff, General Alexander Haig and Delaware’s former Congressman and Governor Pete DuPont, respectively.

Suffice it to say, I was devastated.

In 1989 President George H. W. Bush appointed Kemp to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development when he formed his administration. In this role Kemp was perceived by many as a maverick rather than a collegial member of the administration. Yet he successfully implemented many policies and programs which won over friends and foes alike. One of Kemp’s most effective creations was the introduction of urban enterprise zones.

antdolekempjugateWith his maverick image in place, in 1996 the Republican nominee for President, Bob Dole picked Kemp to be his Vice Presidential running mate. The selection was something of a surprise, not least because Kemp and Dole had policy disagreements in the past and had been rivals in 1988. Dole had generally been skeptical of massive tax cuts preferring to emphasize deficit reduction but the electoral dynamics of 1996 converted Dole to the merits of tax cuts. In this context Kemp was an ideal vice presidential choice. He symbolized vigorous tax cuts and was able to generate enthusiasm among Republican activists. Kemp was well known nationally because of his football career and visionary economic and defense policies; and it was hoped that Kemp’s energetic style and manner would balance Dole’s age.

Maybe it did or maybe didn’t but either way Americans wanted a second term of Clinton and Gore and whether they ended up liking it or not, they got it.


Just as was the case in the 1988 primaries, I was disappointed but just like before, I remained a fan of Jack Kemp.

I feel that there are few people who have actually been involved in politics on par with Kemp. Sincere, principled, hard working, innovative, persistent, consistent and scandal free, Kemp and his leadership has influenced our nation much more than your average politician and he helped take what was once a fringe wing of American political thinking and turned it into mainstream policy.

All of his leadership and accomplishments led me to pick up the moniker ‘Kempite”. On the internet, one must often come up with a user I.D. and since all of my online activity involves politics, I felt there was no name better to choose from other than Kemp’s.

So today, from the bottom of my heart, I offer my wishes for a speedy recovery for Secretary Kemp and it is the greatest hope of all of us that he defeats this bout with cancer with the same level of energy and success that earned him his victories and honors in the N.F.L. and that moved America over to his way of thinking in politics.

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