Al Haig Dead at 85

Al Haig PhotoAl Haig, Ronald Reagan’s first Secretary of State, former NATO commander, and 1988 presidential aspirant has died at 85.

Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, who served Republican presidents and ran for the office himself, has died.

The Haig family says he died Saturday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from complications associated with an infection. He was 85.

Haig’s long and decorated military service launched the Washington career for which he became better known. But he never lived down his televised response to the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Hours after the shooting, then-Secretary of State Haig went before the cameras intending, he said later, to reassure Americans that the White House was functioning.

“As of now, I am in control here in the White House, pending the return of the vice president,” Haig said.

That line, for which he is best known, was always misunderstood and a source of great jocularity.   But anyone who has served as a military officer understood it implicitly.  It’s simply drilled into you from cadet days that, if someone more senior isn’t around, you’re in charge and have responsibility for the situation.   Haig wasn’t claiming that he was next in line for the presidency, merely assuring the audience that there was no void in the leadership of their government.  Until someone more senior showed up, Haig had it under control.

It was not only the right thing to say but factually correct on every level.

Of course, it’s usually reported that he said merely “I am in control here,” implying that he didn’t realize the VP was senior to the Secretary of State.   Even the correct version is sometimes criticized because the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 put the Speaker of the House and President Pro Tempore of the Senate between Haig and VP Bush.   But Reagan and Bush weren’t dead; they just weren’t in the room.

Even Haig’s military career is often misremembered because he was thought of as a “political general” who owed his rapid advancement to Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.  But he was a genuine war hero, earning the Distinguished Service Cross as a battalion commander during the battle of Ap Gu.  And, while he earned his stars in Washington, he later served with distinction as Supreme Allied Commander.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Obituaries, The Presidency, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. anjin-san says:

    Few have served with as much distinction. A real loss for the country.

  2. Rick DeMent says:

    Not to mention one of the few people in the Reagen administration that had a true understanding of geo-politics.

  3. Anon says:

    It really is a shame these days how one remark–misunderstood, misquoted, and taken out of context–too often ends up derailing the career of those otherwise very well qualified, on both sides of the political spectrum.

  4. John Personna says:

    “Dead, but still in charge”

    Too good a line to pass up, even if you have generally good feelings about Al.