Gen. Al Haig sees a resurgence of populism as the most troubling trend in American politics.
Haig, the former NATO commander and alumnus of three presidential staffs, spoke Friday before 300 during a Rotary Club luncheon at the Coeur d’Alene Inn.
The U.S. military intervened in Somalia because American voters were incensed at the sight of starving Africans, he said. When soldiers started getting wounded, politicians responded to demands that the United States pull out - a pandering seesaw of populist decision-making, Haig said.
Now, with November’s election around the corner - a period Haig refers to as the “quadrennial silly season” - President Clinton and some Republicans are falling into a similar pandering trap. It’s a domestic practice that makes for bad foreign policy, he said.
“It confuses your friends and your enemies,” Haig said Friday. “They don’t know what you stand for. That’s no way to run a railroad.”
It’s no surprise that the politician who Time magazine once declared “picked the wrong 15 minutes to be famous” isn’t enamored with “populism as stage craft.” He’s never been known for sugar-coating his thoughts.
During a short-lived 1988 bid for the Republican presidential nomination, political humorist Mort Sahl wrote that Haig was the only candidate voters believed would do what he promised … and it made them nervous.
When asked about the future of U.S.-Cuban policy Friday, Haig dismissed the question as barely relevant.
“Castro is a corpse,” he said. “It’s just a question of the Grim Reaper stepping in or someone putting a bullet between his eyes.”
And the general, of course, is most known for his televised announcement after President Reagan was shot in 1981 that “I am in control here.”
Friday, Haig told the group of area business leaders he was glad to be outside the Beltway during the presidential election season - even though he was the only qualified Republican who already had served as president.
In Haig’s funny, sometimes vitriolic 45-minute speech, he spoke about the threats of terrorism, Bob Dole’s chances in November and his favorite topic - China.
Haig accompanied President Nixon on his historic first presidential trip to China and now serves as a consultant to companies interested in doing business there.
Coeur d’Alene Mines executive Dennis Wheeler, who does some work with Haig, dubbed the general the “catalyst for the collapse of communism.”
Haig also promised Friday that “China will be the next superpower.
Haig took a shot or two at the Nixon, Reagan and Bush administrations - including former Secretary of State Jim Baker, part of a White House trio Haig once called “the three-headed hydra-monster.” He also referred to former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as “Herr Kissinger.”
But in true lightning-tongued Haig style, he saved his best zingers for Democrats.
“Old Republicans - even old Republicans with Alzheimer’s - are smarter than most Democrats,” he said at one point.
Tourism magnate Duane Hagadone said he hoped Haig’s appearance would be first in a regular series of “town hall meetings,” where city leaders could host speakers from business, politics, education and sports.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
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