Alexander Haig died on Saturday, February 20, 2010 in Baltimore. He was 85. A decade ago, Mother Jones published a piece by Ken Silverstein that drew back the curtains on Haig’s late-in-life work. We’re republishing it today.
The early part of 1999 found retired general Alexander Haig in constant motion. In February, he was off to Seoul, South Korea, where he was a VIP at Blessing ’99, a Unification Church event at which some 40,000 couples exchanged wedding vows at a sports stadium during a ceremony conducted by Sun Myung Moon himself. The following month, Haig returned to Palm Beach, Florida — where he owns a mansion worth more than $4 million — for a party to celebrate the 60th birthday of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney. In April, Haig was in Washington, D.C., for yet another birthday party — NATO’s 50th — as well as a dinner sponsored by business groups at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel in honor of Chinese premier Zhu Rongji, who was on an official visit to the U.S. capital. Soon thereafter, Haig was named a “Strategic Board Advisor” to SDC International Inc., a Palm Beach-based firm that is in negotiations to acquire Tatra, a Czech truck manufacturer. The press release announcing his appointment said that Haig would “draw on his extensive contacts in government, business, and diplomatic circles” in helping SDC export its equipment.
It was a busy period — though not unusually so — for the 74-year-old Haig, whose years in government paved the way for his later career as a Beltway wheeler-dealer. Largely out of the public spotlight these days, Haig does not command the same clout in the United States accorded such better-known influence peddlers as former national security advisers Brent Scowcroft and Henry Kissinger. But, like those men, he has many friends abroad — often leaders in corrupt, dictatorial regimes who are appreciative of the support Haig offered them or their predecessors while serving in the Nixon and Reagan administrations. Thanks to such connections, Haig is able to rent out his services as a door opener for corporations seeking overseas investment opportunities. He also serves as an unelected foreign-affairs mandarin, with interests that span the globe from Washington to Ankara to Beijing and a stature that permits him to pursue the same imperatives he did as Reagan’s first secretary of state: putting commerce before human rights, peddling weapons abroad, and maintaining political and military ties with some of the world’s most authoritarian regimes.
The revolving door between government and the private sector is commonplace in Washington, of course. The names of those who have migrated smoothly between legislative or administrative power and the corporate trough are legion, including in recent years figures as diverse as former Sen. Bob Dole, retired Gen. Colin Powell, and former Clinton commerce secretary Mickey Kantor. But many people, including prominent conservatives in and out of government, say Haig is a particularly cynical example of a public official who has cashed in on his credentials. Many of these sources — including some powerful Beltway players — demanded anonymity as a condition of speaking with Mother Jones. Not so retired Army colonel, author, and syndicated columnist David H. Hackworth. “Haig didn’t become a multimillionaire based on his military record or his brains,” he says with characteristic frankness. “In the military he was the ultimate perfumed prince who brownnosed his way to the top by always being a horse holder to a top guy…. He didn’t invent the revolving door, but he became the ultimate master at making it spin.”
A 1947 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a Korean War veteran, Haig took a job at the Pentagon during the Kennedy years. Following a tour of duty in Vietnam, Haig in 1969 was made an aide to Henry Kissinger, President Nixon’s national security adviser. Like his boss, Haig was a hawk on Vietnam and, during his time in the Nixon White House, was intimately involved in U.S. plotting against Chile’s elected president, Salvador Allende, overthrown in 1973 by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, with significant help from the CIA.
By the time the Watergate crisis exploded, Haig had become Nixon’s chief of staff. It was then that he first came into clear public view, for, as others close to Nixon resigned or were indicted, Haig acted as the president’s closest aide during his final months in office. After Nixon was forced to resign in 1974, President Ford put the loyal Haig in charge of NATO’s military operations. He stepped down from that post in 1979, served a brief stint as president of defense manufacturer United Technologies Corporation, then signed on as secretary of state for the incoming Reagan administration.
So long as a regime, however repressive, allied itself with the United States’ interests in the Cold War, Secretary of State Haig would embrace it — as so many of his predecessors had done. He supported the apartheid government in South Africa, pushed for military aid to the junta in Turkey, coddled the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia, and was a staunch supporter of the Marcos kleptocracy in the Philippines. After right-wing government forces in El Salvador raped and murdered four American churchwomen, Haig responded by informing a House committee investigating the atrocity that the vehicles the nuns were riding in may have tried to run a roadblock. Never mind that the women were found with bullets in the backs of their heads, 20 miles away from the roadblock in question.
Haig’s hardline views were in line with Reagan’s, but his frequent blunders and misstatements embarrassed the administration. The general’s obtuse syntax led the press to coin the term “Haig-speak” to describe his public pronouncements. Haig is probably best remembered for his deportment after John Hinckley shot the president at the Washington Hilton Hotel in March 1981. Vice President George Bush was out of town, and confusion reigned at the White House. Ignoring the constitutional chain of command that puts the speaker of the House next in line to assume power, Haig appeared before a media throng and announced: “I am in control here.” Administration officials — some of whom feared that Haig’s performance was damaging the president’s political standing, others who perceived him as trying to usurp Reagan entirely — convinced the president to fire Haig after he had served a mere 18 months.
In 1988, Haig made his first and only run for public office when he sought the Republican presidential nomination. It was not an auspicious debut: The most influential person to endorse him was political comedian Mort Sahl. Haig pulled out of the race following the Iowa caucuses, where he finished seventh in a field of six candidates. With 364 votes — 0.3 percent — Haig had less than half the tally of the sixth-place finisher, “No preference.”
The general’s political flameout and lack of popular appeal did not diminish his marketability with corporate America or the Beltway establishment. “His involvement in world affairs was a commodity to cash in on,” says one retired military man who keeps a close eye on the revolving door. “When you’re a former NATO commander and secretary of state, you don’t have to go looking for [clients] — they come looking for you.”
And come they have. A Haig biography prepared by Worldwide Associates, his downtown Washington consulting shop, says his firm assists corporations “in developing and implementing marketing and acquisition strategies in addition to providing strategic advice on the domestic and international political, economic, and security environment.” Worldwide’s client list is confidential — “People we work with wouldn’t want us to talk about where we do business,” explains Haig’s longtime aide and spokesman, Sherwood Goldberg (Haig himself declined to be interviewed by Mother Jones) — but a review of published accounts, public records, and corporate records filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission reveals a number of interesting details.
Not surprisingly, the general’s client roster has included several defense firms: United Technologies, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, and International Signal and Control Corporation, a company, according to the Wall Street Journal, that paid him to help market cluster bombs to Pakistan and weapons fuses to China. In addition, Haig has served on the boards of (among other companies) America Online, Interneuron Pharmaceuticals, MGM Grand, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Chase Manhattan, General Atomics, and Texas Instruments. All of these seemingly disparate enterprises share a common interest in international markets, a realm in which Haig’s governmental experience and contacts are highly valuable. (Witness the enthusiastic announcement that accompanied his signing on as an adviser to SDC International: The company declared that Haig’s presence would assure it of “tremendous market growth, especially in the many regions where he has strong personal relationships.”)
Though Worldwide Associates’ fee schedule is also confidential, public records make clear that Haig is often amply compensated for his services. Early this year, he sold — for $11.5 million — 147,488 shares of America Online (about 42 percent of his holdings) in the form of stock options granted to him for serving on the company’s board. In 1996, he signed a contract with a Phoenix firm called Interactive Flight Technologies, which called for him to be paid $50,000 per year plus “one percent of gross revenues received by the company from customers obtained through the significant advice or assistance of General Haig.”
In the case of United Technologies, certainly, Haig’s ties to foreign leaders have proved golden. The Washington Post reported that in 1983, the year after he was pushed out as secretary of state, he flew to Manila and helped persuade then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos to cancel a preliminary sales agreement with Bell Helicopter. Marcos instead signed a $63 million contract for 17 civilian and two Black Hawk military helicopters made by UT subsidiary Sikorsky Aircraft — a switch opposed by his own Air Force. In December 1992, Haig traveled to Turkey and helped nail down a $1.1 billion helicopter deal for his employer. “He was highly regarded and extremely well received by senior officials in the [Turkish] military establishment,” says Morton Abramowitz, U.S. ambassador to Turkey under George Bush. “They don’t necessarily buy things for that reason alone, but it certainly helps you get a foot in the door and make your case.”
As he trots the globe putting together business deals, Haig works to influence American policy by promoting friendly ties with nations where he and his clients have business interests. He belongs to a variety of business-backed organizations that promote trade and fraternal relations with individual countries, thereby serving as a means for corporate executives to meet important foreign officials. One example is the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, which Haig serves as an “Honorary Advisor.” The organization covers airfare for congressional staffers’ trips to China and otherwise seeks “the continued improvement of U.S.-China relations.” Haig is also affiliated with the American-Turkish Council, which works to bolster business and military ties with Ankara, and the Hannibal Club, which performs similar activities on behalf of Tunisia.
As with Henry Kissinger, it’s often difficult to know where Haig’s opinions end and his business interests begin. Recently, he was a staunch public advocate for the expansion of NATO, which earlier this year ratified Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic as new members. He was especially active in pushing for Warsaw’s entry, which he called for in a series of speeches around official Washington. Haig’s role in promoting Poland’s NATO membership was important enough that he was singled out for mention by President Clinton when the president asked Congress to approve the three countries’ admission. Meanwhile, weapons companies with lobbying staffs in the capital were pressing on the same front, because incoming NATO members are expected to buy new military equipment so as to become “interoperable” with NATO forces. Though Haig’s client United Technologies denies that it was among the arms dealers directly lobbying for NATO expansion, the company was one of those that met with the Polish defense minister in the United States earlier this year, and it contributed $250,000 toward the cost of a NATO 50th-anniversary event — a contribution aimed at ingratiating event sponsors with the three entering alliance members.
Haig has demonstrated remarkable flexibility in selecting clients, being equally comfortable with despots on the right and left. In 1993, President Saparmurad Niyazov of Turkmenistan hired the general to advise him on winning U.S. business and political support for a natural-gas pipeline project that would cross Iran. Niyazov, a longtime Communist Party hack, was elected in 1992 with 99.5 percent of the votes cast. Human Rights Watch’s current world report said his government “continued to deny its citizens nearly every civil and political right” while operating “a Soviet-style secret police” that allowed for “no political opposition, no freedom of assembly, no opportunity for public debate.”
In seeking to sell the pipeline plan to the Clinton administration, Haig reportedly helped arrange a visit by Niyazov to the United States, where he sought to portray his client as a bold reformer. (The Turkmen ruler “should be a hero rather than a pariah,” Haig told the Associated Press.) Haig himself became one of Niyazov’s trusted advisers. In 1993, he flew to the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat and appeared on the reviewing stand with Niyazov during independence celebrations. He also joined the Turkmen leader at the head table for a state dinner that was part of the festivities. “For a while there they were joined at the hip,” says Allen Moore, head of the U.S.-Turkmenistan Business Council, of the Haig-Niyazov romance. The pipeline deal was ultimately blocked by the Clinton administration, which has opposed any economic dealings with Iran.
Haig also lends business a helping hand in Indonesia (though his marquee value has no doubt diminished since his ally Suharto was driven from office last year). In March 1997, he accompanied a group of congressional staffers and corporate executives — including officials from Federal Express, Mobil, Caterpillar, and United Technologies — on a tour there. The trip, which was sponsored by the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, came after months of ethnic and religious riots during which hundreds had been killed. While in Indonesia, the tour group met with Suharto and several government ministers. Steven Clemons, then a staffer to Sen. Jeff Bingaman, was on the trip and says Haig’s presence was one reason such high-level doors swung open. “He was a big deal over there,” recalls Clemons, who is now at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank. Haig spoke on several occasions during the trip and, Clemons says, “it was all warm and fuzzy stuff…. He never had a negative thing to say.”
But it is in China that Haig has carved out a special niche as a door opener for American companies. The general has been a steadfast advocate for China ever since he led the advance team for President Nixon’s historic 1972 visit. Later, as secretary of state, he earned the respect of the Chinese leadership by holding fast against the powerful Taiwan lobby in Washington. (He saw China as a useful ally in the struggle against the Soviet Union.) Haig continues to speak out for Beijing in his present role. Perhaps the most striking example came when he turned up at Tiananmen Square on October 1, 1989 — four months after the notorious crackdown — to mark the 40th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. The only American to grace the proceedings that evening, Haig knew that the United States and all other Western ambassadors would be boycotting the event, but he shared the podium with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who congratulated him on his courage in appearing.
When Deng’s daughter, Deng Rong, visited the United States in 1995, Haig threw a party for her at Worldwide’s Washington offices. “His remarks that day were extraordinary,” says a person who attended. “He was dripping with contempt for human rights activists who try to influence China policy.” Ironically, it is conservatives — those who share Haig’s sensibilities on so many other issues — who are angriest with him on this score. “It’s tragic that a man who has contributed so much to his country would now become an apologist for China,” says Ed Timperlake, a former high-level Pentagon administrator under Ronald Reagan.
Current and former Hill staffers tell Mother Jones that Haig has called members of Congress on China’s behalf, be it to urge that Beijing be admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) or to suggest that China have its most-favored-nation trade status renewed. “He doesn’t register as a foreign lobbyist, but he’s effectively a voice for a foreign government,” says Mark Lagon, a former foreign-affairs adviser to the Republican House leadership. A current Hill staffer who closely follows China says of Haig, “He’s a guy we worry about because every time we try to put together a piece of legislation [critical of China], Haig gets on the phone to Republican members and we suddenly find that we’ve got less votes than we thought we did.”
Haig spokesman Goldberg denies that his boss has ever called a congressional office on WTO or most-favored-nation matters. He draws a distinction between lobbying and what Worldwide Associates does for its clients. “General Haig does not represent any foreign government or lobby for foreign governments,” he told Mother Jones. “Promoting American business interests in China or anywhere else is important to America’s economy in an interdependent world. It’s in that regard that we’ve assessed the China market [for clients].” Goldberg says that Haig “promotes a strong, stable, mutually beneficial relationship with China.”
If Haig is valuable to Beijing, the reverse is also true. The general serves as an adviser to the China Ocean Shipping Company, the state-owned firm involved in a controversial bid to take over closed U.S. Navy facilities in Long Beach, California. Beyond that, when he travels to China, Haig routinely meets with top officials, a level of access that has allowed him to help clients sell Beijing everything from air conditioning equipment to military matZ
To Goldberg, none of this is inappro-priate. “General Haig has been out of office for 17 years,” he emphasizes. “He’s a private citizen. Former government officials also have the right to engage in business activities, particularly when those activities promote American interests.” To his critics, though, Haig’s relationship with Beijing is based on an unseemly quid pro quo. As one former GOP government official remarks, “It’s very simple. If he were critical of China on human rights or any other issue, his access would dry up and the companies that use him would no longer do so.”
Haig himself would be hard-pressed to disagree with that plainspoken assessment. It’s a clear statement of a practical political realism — the kind that political theorists call Realpolitik. That’s a philosophy that Alexander Haig learned from old masters such as Nixon and Kissinger, and that he has carried forward into the private sector. In diplomacy, the goal of Realpolitik is the pursuit of national advantage. In business, as Haig’s adoption of the venerable doctrine demonstrates, it can just as easily be profit.