Back Home, General Haig Has 'No Interest' in Politics (Isn't That What Ike Said Too?)

updated 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/16/1979 AT 01:00 AM EDT

He might be called the Republicans' Ted Kennedy—a Catholic whose flirtation with a presidential candidacy is serious enough to force the competition into preemptive strikes. "He doesn't have a political future for a lot of reasons," insists John Sears, Ronald Reagan's chief strategist. "You need a constituency," Phil Crane's fund raiser Richard Viguerie points out, "and he doesn't have one." That, of course, is precisely what was said of Dwight Eisenhower when he stepped down as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe. Last week, Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. retired as SACEUR, and, in remarks that lay somewhere between coincidence and calculation, he sounded just like Ike. "I have no desire to go into politics," Haig said. "I am just very, very concerned about our country. I'm going to speak to those concerns."

He exited NATO in a whirl of pomp and publicity: changing-of-the-guard ceremonies in Germany, Belgium and Washington, preceded by an assassination attempt near NATO headquarters (the remote-controlled bomb missed his Mercedes but slightly wounded three of his guards). "With all that hoopla, I believe you are a candidate," cabled his old friend Henry Kissinger, to which Haig cracked in reply: "I didn't expect such an instantaneous ground swell." The political ground swell is now little more than a bump: The only "Citizens for Haig" Committee reported so far is located in Cicero, Ill. Still, there are rumors of angels-in-waiting in Philadelphia, Boston and Wilmington, and Haig has already signed up as a speaker on the lecture circuit. Says one Republican professional: "He's certainly leaving the impression with people who talk to him that he wants to run."

Haig, 54, makes no secret of his distress with foreign policy in the Carter White House. He recites a litany of failures stretching from the fall of the Shah to unchecked Soviet adventurism in Africa to the Administration's policy on human rights and the neutron bomb. "I am not singling out personalities," he says. Rather, he traces the decline he perceives in U.S. influence abroad to an isolationist despond he thinks Carter inherited from Vietnam and Watergate. Though Haig remains uncommitted on SALT II, he is known to have reservations. "We are entering the most dangerous period since World War II," he says. "I am worried about the increasing Soviet military capabilities." Unlike generals on active duty, Haig has no intention of suffering his doubts in silence. "I will offer my comments," he promises.

Nothing less could be expected of a man whose leisure reading still runs to books on national security ("That's what interests me") and whose only period out of uniform since he entered West Point in 1944 was 18 tumultuous Watergate months in the White House. At the end he was President Nixon's closest adviser and the country's de facto Commander in Chief. "Once you've been President," cracks one GOP senator, "you don't want to settle for less."

Some say he might: either as a vice-presidential nominee or, possibly, as a candidate for the Senate from Pennsylvania, where he pays taxes and votes as a registered independent. Though he's already house-hunting in Philadelphia with wife Patricia, Haig says whether they buy "depends on what we do." Echoing a favorite phrase of former boss Nixon (whom he sees or talks to "maybe three times a year"), Haig describes his future as "unstructured at this point in time." Still, his sell is hard. "I am sufficiently young and energetic to generate a great deal of enthusiasm," he says. "I just feel loaded for more contributions." His detractors had better keep their powder dry.

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