Alexander Haig

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Few American public figures have had such tempestuous careers. Alexander M. Haig Jr. has spent much of his life in war zones—bureaucratic and geopolitical, as well as the kind for which he prepared in the U.S. Military Academy at West Point: Viet Nam, where he served as a battalion and brigade commander; as the indispensable aide-de-camp to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger; as White House Chief of Staff during the climax of Watergate; and, after Richard Nixon's presidency fell, as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, with the rank of four-star general. But it was during his tenure as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State that Haig found himself most embattled. From his stormy confirmation hearings it January 1981 until his resignation not quite 18 months later, he was almost constantly fighting, and on two fronts at once: against his colleagues in the Administration and against the Soviet Union and its clients in the Third World. In the end, Haig was defeated in the intramural struggle and frustrated in the global one. He lost Reagan's confidence and support, and he left his successor, George Shultz, with a daunting agenda of unfinished business. In the eyes of his critics, Haig's defeat was self-inflicted: the soldier in him got the better of the statesman; he did not know when to stop fighting and seek conciliation; he was too obsessed with his enemies, however real; he spent too much time defending turf and proclaiming his prerogatives; and he was sometimes a poor conceptual thinker.

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Haig sees it quite differently. His memoir is not just a defense of his record as Secretary of State, but a blistering counterattack against those former colleagues he blames for bringing him down and for thwarting his policies. Caveat: Realism, Reagan and Foreign Policy, to be published shortly (Macmillan; 384 pages; $17.95), takes its title from the Latin for "warning." The word underscores Haig's argument that the experience of the past three years offers a cautionary lesson in how not to conduct American foreign policy.

On the following pages, TIME presents the first of two excerpts from Caveat, carrying Haig from his initial meetings with Reagan and his early adoption of a tough stance toward the Soviet Union, particularly for its mischief by proxy in Central America, through his controversial conduct on the day President Reagan was wounded in an assassination attempt. The principal villains of the piece are Edwin Meese, the longtime Reagan aide who has served as Counsellor to the President and is now Reagan's nominee for Attorney General; James Baker and Michael Deaver, who together manage the White House staff and channel advice to the President; and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. While Haig starkly portrays the President's men as amateurs in foreign policy who care only about its short-term domestic political implications, he praises Ronald Reagan for sound instincts, and his criticism of the President is, for the most part, oblique. Nonetheless, he strongly implies that Reagan also became part of the problem by siding too readily with his "chums" in skirmishes over policy, presiding over an "incoherent" national security process and above all failing to control or even to comprehend fully decisions that were being made in his name. "To me," writes Haig, "the White House was as mysterious

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