18. Editorial Note
Following his electoral victory on November 4, 1980, President-elect Ronald Reagan asked Alexander M. Haig, Jr., to serve as his Secretary of State. Haig had served in various capacities during the Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter administrations, including as Military Assistant to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs and President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, Army Vice Chief of Staff, Assistant to the President and White House Chief of Staff, and Commander-in-Chief, European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. Following his retirement from the U.S. Army in June 1979, Haig moved to Philadelphia to become director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In late 1979, he became President and Chief Operating Officer of United Technologies Corporation (UTC).
In his memoir of his tenure as Secretary of State, Haig noted that Reagan’s primary foreign policy advisor Richard Allen had telephoned him after the November 1980 election to indicate that Haig was a candidate for a cabinet post. Reagan subsequently telephoned Haig on December 11, 1980, to ask him “to join my team.” Haig wrote, “I accepted. I accepted with a certain sense of loss, to go back to an old life that I knew was filled with difficulty and misunderstanding and implacable (and often unjust) judgment of character and performance. I had served near to six Presidents. I had seen one of them fall in dreadful disgrace, but I had seen Presidents, including Richard Nixon, rise in triumph also. I had seen war as it was made in high places and as it was fought on the battlefield. I did not want to see any more of it. It seemed a good thing to do what one could to prevent more wars from being made. Therefore, I accepted the post Reagan had offered me with a glad and hopeful spirit.” (Haig, Caveat, pages 12, 13–14)
On January 9, 1981, Haig testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which was holding a hearing in order to consider Haig’s nomination. Senator Charles Percy (R–Illinois) chaired the hearing and began by welcoming Haig and summarizing his professional career. Following discussion regarding the participation of Senators who were not members of the committee and a request that the committee subpoena additional documentation, Percy directed Haig to offer his opening statement. After asserting that “there could [Page 74] be no more critical time at which to assume the post of Secretary of State,” Haig acknowledged that the American “record in this century is not perfect” but “should be a source of great pride.” He continued: “Our ideals must be reconciled with the reality we face. The United States must pursue its vision of justice in an imperfect and constantly changing world—full of peril, but also full of opportunity. The world does not stand still for our elections, important as they are. Complex issues already crowd our foreign policy agenda. The earlier the Reagan administration articulates its approach to these issues, the better served the nations of the world and the people of our own Nation will be.
“It would be premature here to set forth definitive policies or offer detailed programs. Both tasks require analysis and thoughtful consideration by the President-elect and his advisors. But President-elect Reagan and I firmly believe that American foreign policy should have some permanent bedrock. The United States has been most effective in the world arena when the solid foundations of its foreign policy have been recognized and understood—by our own people and by the nations with which we must deal.”
After summarizing his prior government service and explaining how he viewed the Watergate scandal during the time he served as Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Haig described the international environment in which the incoming Reagan administration would pursue its policies. He suggested that the coming years would prove “unusually dangerous,” adding that the evidence “is everywhere.” Yet these dangers were only symptomatic “of a more fundamental world problem.” Haig explained: “These fundamental problems—the diffusion of power, the interdependence of the allied community, and the failure to recognize the variety among the so-called Third World nations—are made the more intractable by what is perhaps the central strategic phenomenon of the post-World War II era: The transformation of Soviet military power from a continental and largely defensive land army to a global offensive army, navy, and air force, fully capable of supporting an imperial foreign policy.
“Considered in conjunction with the episodic nature of the West’s military response, this tremendous accumulation of armed might has produced perhaps the most complete reversal of global power relationships ever seen in a period of relative peace. Today, the threat of Soviet military intervention colors attempts to achieve international civility. Unchecked, the growth of Soviet military power must eventually paralyze Western policy altogether.
“These, then, are the fundamental problems which challenge American foreign policy and the future of democracies generally.
“To say that is not to diminish the importance of other Western goals: The eradication of hunger, poverty, and disease; the expansion of the free flow of people, goods, and ideas; the spread of social justice; and [Page 75] through these and similar efforts, the improvement of the human condition. It is simply to recognize that these desirable and critical objectives are impossible to achieve in an international environment dominated by violence, terrorism, and threat.
“The United States has a very clear choice. We can continue, if we wish, to react to events as they occur—serially, unselectively, and increasingly in the final analysis, unilaterally. One lesson of Afghanistan is certainly that few symptomatic crises are capable of effectively rallying the collective energies of the free world. We may wish it were otherwise, but wishing will not make it so.
“Alternately, we can confront the fundamental issues I have discussed. We can seek actively to shape events and, in the process, attempt to forge a consensus among like-minded peoples.
“Such a consensus will enable us to deal with the more fundamental tasks I have outlined: The management of Soviet power; the reestablishment of an orderly international economic climate; the economic and political maturation of developing nations to the benefit of their peoples; and the achievement of a reasonable standard of international civility. Acting alone, each of these tasks is beyond even our power; acting together, all are within the capacity of free nations.
“I do not mean to belittle the difficulties. They are formidable. But our collective capacity to meet them is also formidable. The challenge of American foreign policy in the eighties is to marshal that capacity.”
Continuing, Haig stated that success required consistent actions, reliable behavior, and a demonstrated balance in foreign policy approaches and orchestration. The task before the United States, he stated, was the reestablishment of “an effective foreign policy consensus.” After describing the contours of this policy, Haig concluded his remarks by enumerating the resources that the United States continued to enjoy: “Although we have economic problems, we still possess the largest and strongest economy on Earth. It is within our power to revitalize our productive base; maintain and expand our agricultural strength; regain commercial competitiveness; and reduce our dependency on foreign sources of energy and other raw materials. No American foreign policy can succeed from a base of economic weakness.
“Our alliances enable us to draw on the strengths and the wisdom of some of the world’s greatest nations. Yet, our alliances must be tended, and adapted to new problems not visualized by their creators. In the process, we must bear in mind that the essence of any alliance is the core of shared commitment and shared endeavor. In the 1980’s we should not let ourselves become preoccupied with debates over who is doing more; the challenges we face will require more from all of us.
“We possess a full range of the instruments of effective statecraft: a diplomatic corps second to none; economic and military [Page 76] assistance programs; a variety of sophisticated cultural and informational resources; and, of course, a military power which no potential adversary can afford to ignore.
“These instruments provide the United States with the unrivaled capacity to influence the course of international events. Their maintenance or neglect will declare American intentions far more clearly than any rhetoric you or I dispense today.” (Nomination of Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Hearings Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninety-Seventh Congress, First Session, on the Nomination of Alexander M. Haig, Jr., to be Secretary of State, January 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 1981, pages 12, 14–18)
Excerpts of Haig’s statement are also printed in Department of State Bulletin, February 1981, pages C–F. For Haig’s recollection of the hearings, see Caveat, pages 37–52. On January 15, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 15–2 to approve Haig as Secretary of State. The full Senate voted 93–6 to approve the nomination on January 21. Haig was sworn in as Secretary on January 22.