Behind the Headlines Haig Says the U.S. Could Have Avoided Failure in Lebanon if It Had Followed His
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Behind the Headlines Haig Says the U.S. Could Have Avoided Failure in Lebanon if It Had Followed His

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By now it is no secret that former Secretary of State Alexander Haig believes that if the United States had followed his policy in Lebanon it could have achieved the goals it sought there, avoiding the failure demonstrated in the pullout of American forces this year. He has been making this point on ABC-TV’s “20/20” and other television appearances.

Haig makes a good case for his argument in his account of his 18 months as Secretary of State, “Caveat: Realism, Reagan, and Foreign Policy” (New York, Macmillan, 367 pages, $17.95).

He also convincingly denies the charges that he gave Israel a “green light” for its “Peace for Galilee” invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982, and instead stresses that he strongly urged Israel not to go into Lebanon.

But once Israel acted, Haig believes the U.S. should have used the opportunity presented Washington to achieve a reunited Lebanon and advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.


“The primary obstacle to peace in Lebanon had been the presence of two foreign armies — the Syrian ‘peacekeeping’ force and the military arm of the PLO — each in its own right stronger than the Lebanese army,” Haig wrote. “This defacto occupation had stripped the central government of its authority and created the conditions for strife among the religious and ethnic communities in Lebanon.”

While the Israelis were now a third foreign army, Haig argues that “Israel’s military incursion also created circumstances in which it was possible, during the fleeting moments in which the former equation of power had been overturned, to remove all foreign troops from Lebanon and restore the powers of government to the Lebanese.

“Beyond that, a settlement in Lebanon would have significant consequences for Arab-Israeli peace: Syria and the PLO, the heart of the Arab opposition to Camp David, had been defeated. With the PLO’s military option’ gone, Israel’s arguments against granting a wider measure of autonomy to the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza would be negated.

“There would be a fresh opportunity to complete the Camp David peace process, including measures that would have given the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza political control over their daily lives.”


Haig believes that the U.S. had to act quickly and he argues that the effort was being achieved by tightening the pressure on the PLO at the time when President Reagan told him on July 5 that he would leave office immediately and not wait until George Shultz had been confirmed as Secretary of State as originally planned after he was fired in June.

Reagan announced the next day that the U.S. would commit troops to a peace-keeping force and because of this and other events the PLO decided to play for time rather than leave at once as Haig had sought, the former official contends. But Haig also charges that his policy in Lebanon was damaged in Lebanon also by statements by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, National Security Advisor William Clark and others who sent contradictory signals to the PLO and the Arab countries at a time Haig was trying to keep the pressure on the PLO so that they would leave.

In fact, “Caveat” is replete with examples of statements by Weinberger and others which Haig said damaged U.S. policy not only in the Mideast but elsewhere.


Haig, who stresses that he supports Reagan’s re-election, defines “caveat” as “a warning,” a warning that he hopes the President will heed in order to achieve an effective foreign policy. As the one member of the new Administration with experience in foreign affairs, Haig was concerned that too many people like White House Counselor Edwin Meese, Chief of Staff James Baker or Weinberger, with little or no experience in international affairs, were making decisions in the field.

Haig believed one man should be the Administration’s voice on foreign affairs, or the vicar, as he put it, and naturally he thought it should have been him. Regardless of this, it is shocking to read that Haig could almost never get in to see Reagan, especially alone.


Yet, the book leaves the question open of how Haig, a veteran of the army and its vast bureacracy and of the Nixon White House, not to mention someone who worked for Henry Kissinger, could have allowed himself to be undercut by the White House staff as he charges.

Part of it was due to Haig’s personality which grated on the close-knit Californians in the White House. His efforts to achieve the spotlight did not sit well with them.

But Shultz, who is a team player if there ever was one, also became the victim of anonymous White House sources after the Lebanon debacle. Yet, it is also difficult to understand how Haig, with all of his White House experience, failed to realize that things were being run as they were because the President wanted it that way.

As the rocky year after Haig’s departure demonstrated this had unfortunate consequences for U.S.-Israeli relations. Haig came into office as Secretary of State not only as a friend of Israel but one who valued the strategic importance of the Jewish State and as one of the few American leaders who was not taken in by the Arab “moderates.” Shultz had to reach this point through bitter experience.

Haig describes several times when he prevented the Administration from taking anti-Israel acts or at least softened up efforts by Weinberger and others to punish Israel by a complete cutoff in arms after the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor and the invasion of Lebanon. He describes his last minute overturning of Clark’s decision to support a United Nations Security Council resolution censuring Israel after the Lebanese invasion.

Haig demonstrates a warm understanding for the Israelis as evidenced by a description of former Premier Menachem Begin in which he said it is “nonsense” to accuse Begin of having a Masada complex.

“Begin certainly believes that Israel is besieged, but his entire motive is to preserve the lives of Jews,” Haig wrote.

“He has no ‘complex’ — only the inescapable memory of the Holocaust …. His letters, his conversation, his speeches — and, unquestionably, his thoughts — were dominated, when he was Prime Minister, by the sense that the lives of his people had been personally entrusted to him. He once said, when asked what he wanted to be remembered for, that he wished to be known to history as the man who established the borders of the State of Israel for all time.”

Haig is the first Secretary of State to publish his memoirs while the Administration he served is still in office.

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