The following are excerpts of an interview by CBS Radio correspondent Abby Regier of former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about Alexander Haig, who passed away this morning at the age of 85:
“We worked together for many years, for eight years in the Nixon and Ford administrations, and he remained a good friend for the rest of his life.
“When I was made National Security Advisor, the Vietnam War was still going on, and I believed that I needed on my staff an officer who had had combat experience, and who could help me understand the military and strategic problems. So Alexander Haig, who at that time was an instructor at West Point and who had had distinguished and decorated service in Vietnam, was brought to my attention.
“I hired him first as a military adviser and then he became my deputy. He performed extraordinary services for our country, in helping steer the country through the Vietnam War and the Watergate crisis, and for many decades after that as a devoted citizen.
“Al Haig believed in this country, and he believed that this country had a central role to play in the defense of freedom. And service to his country was the motive of his life. I’m proud of him as an American, and grateful to him for the service that he had rendered.”
On Watergate, Kissinger said, “He was my chief of staff in an extremely difficult period, and the international position of America does not end because it has a domestic crisis. And it was a delicate period of holding things together and advising a president. He, Alexander Haig, carried that out with distinction, with tact, and the country owes him a great deal.”
Kissinger also described Haig as “a great family man, extremely devoted to his family, very close to his family. He was a man of very emphatic convictions, personally intelligent . . . But he was a man of a service; he lived for his country.”
When asked about the occasion of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, where he said “I’m in charge here,” Kissinger said, “First of all, when you are in a crisis situation you cannot ask your public relations adviser ‘What is the best form of language [to use]?’ The situation as I understand it was as follows: President Reagan had been shot, Vice President Bush was on an airplane coming back [to Washington]. There was confusion as to who was responsible in the White House when the President was in the operating room and the Vice President was in the air.
“So he wanted to convey that somebody, that there was not a breakdown of the command structure, but that there was somebody in charge. It was something that was meant to be conveyed for the one-hour gap until Vice President Bush could land and be briefed.
“Was it the ideal statement to have made? Would you have done it differently with public relations advice? Probably. It was intended to serve that purpose, and it was totally distorted.
“He wasn’t referring to the Vice President; He was trying to say that there was a chain of command in place. I think the technical line of command, of succession would have been to the Speaker of the House, but for the management of the crisis he was the highest-ranking person in the White House at that point.”
When asked if the fallout from his remarks caused him personal embarrassment or hurt him, Kissinger said, “I have never heard him complain. I guess he thought it like was a wound of war. . . . He thought he was doing his duty. I don’t know what anyone else would have done in that situation when the president’s on the operating table and the Vice President is flying and you need to convey that government is functioning until the Vice President gets here. That’s all he was trying to do.
“The thing to remember is that he was a great American performing great services for several administrations. And he was a natural resource on which the president could always call.”
He added, “He was a good friend, and both Nancy and I miss him.”