In many ways he was the opposite of his legend. Yes, he had a temper. But he was a softy in many ways. He got Europeanized at NATO, where he was Supreme Allied Commander. He was a buddy of some German Social Democrats, he somehow learned a great deal about France, and was amazingly well informed about the Italians. Maybe he got some of that from (General Vernon) Walters, who was Ambassador at Large.
My real title was Ambassador at Small (aka Special Advisor to the Secretary of State), and the best way to describe it is to tell you about my first day on the job in 1981, in a little office down the hall from Haig, just past Bud McFarlane and just before Harvey Sicherman, the chief speechwriter and confidant. They assigned me to a career secretary who had worked with Phillip Habib. She was supposed to keep me in line, I think, and mostly she won. Anyway, that first day I was called into Haig’s enormous office and he emoted for about ten minutes. Mostly it had to do with the Soviets, of course, and he was furious at various West European socialists for causing trouble with regard to Central America, Africa, and arms control issues.
Let’s say he had a rich vocabulary. When he finally took a breath he lit a cigarette (most everybody smoked on the 7th floor of State) and growled “you know these people. Do something!”
Back in my cubbyhole I asked my keeper what “do something!” meant, and she said it usually meant writing a memo to him laying out the something I proposed to do. Then he approved it–or not–and then I did it.
Right. So I wrote a memo, she put it in the proper format, and sent it back down the hall. A few hours later his secretary called to say a) I had better get down there pronto, and b) he was really angry. A little heads-up.
In fact he was purple, pacing around with a cigarette in one hand (remember he’d just had a quadruple or quintuple bypass) and my memo in the other.
“WHAT” he snarled, “THE FOWL FILTH IS THIS?”
I confessed that it was my memo, sir.
“Number one,” he was now tearing it up, “DON’T WRITE MEMOS!!!.” The little pieces were now in the burn bag. “I didn’t bring you here to have you WRITE FOWLISH FILTHY MEMOS!”
And then probably the greatest orders anyone ever received: “When I tell you to do something, just go do it. If I don’t like it, you’ll hear from me. And if you don’t hear from me, keep doing it.”
Best boss I ever had. I only heard from him once, when one of our ambassadors called me in to the embassy to say that Haig wanted me to call him on a secure line, and the poor man added that he’d never ever heard language like that, ever.
All that business about Haig-the-war-monger was disinformation, by the way, carefully cultivated (as it had been with Nixon, from whom Haig probably learned it). My main problems with him came when he listened too attentively to the likes of Schmidt. I tried to resign when I thought he was insufficiently tough with the Soviets over Poland, and he asked me to stay. For two reasons. First, nobody else was giving him that kind of criticism, and he wanted to hear it. And second, “don’t be in such a hurry; I’ll be gone in a few months.”
And he was.