Monday, February 17, 2003

Even as an emotional manipulation this stands out
Like many others, I tend to be suspicious of people in positions of power, not just because power corrupts but also because I ask myself what their motivation was in the first place to be willing to pay the heavy price required to reach such a position. But every so often, someone in a position of power does something that I find truly inspirational, something that leaves me speechless (a feat indeed!). This is a rare occurrence, but it does happen. When I was in the army, the then Major General Ehud Barak did something that still moves me to this day. Please forgive me, I know it's annoying, but for various reasons, I would rather not say what it was, although it's not a military secret or anything. I just don't think I can explain why it affected me the way it did. Today I am a different person and if it happened today, I don't think it would touch me in quite the same way. But I will continue to admire Barak for it, no matter what came after, and what is still to come.

My first impression of Tony Blair was quite positive. He seemed nice, charismatic, clean cut. I didn't think much of his wife, though, poor woman. She just has a face you love to hate (and she doesn’t like cats). Then I saw a program about Blair on TV. It was before he won the elections the first time. Naturally everyone was curious about him back then. The Brits obviously liked what they saw, because they voted him in, but I wasn't very impressed. He seemed too slick, far too smooth. The people who made the program filmed him meeting ordinary people of very different types, and just talking to them, listening to their grievances and sharing his thoughts about what should be done. He seemed to say to everyone he met exactly what he or she wanted to hear. "Typical slimy politician", I thought to myself and I didn't regard him very highly after that. Not that I really followed his career as prime minister or took much notice what he was doing. I don't live in the UK and I don't have the vote there. It's not as if he had any direct affect on my life, after all.

But on Saturday he earned my everlasting admiration.

On Saturday he faced not only a hostile audience of his own party members in the conference he was speaking at in Glasgow, but he also faced one million demonstrators and who knows how many millions more of their supporters, most of whom probably voted for him. Knowing quite clearly that he was destroying his political career with his own two lily-white hands, as it were, he did not attempt to appease them. Instead he said to them (my interpretation): I respect why you are marching, I respect your “understandable hatred of war” and your “moral purpose”, but there comes a time when war is inevitable.

This was of course very impressive, but it is not what won my admiration. The words that struck me, and stayed with me, and that I have read over and over and over again, were in these three sentences, so strong, so wise, so painfully aware and therefore so very sad:

"I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor. But sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction."

British prime minister Tony Blair, whatever he may do from this day on, has won a permanent place of honor in my private little, sparsely-inhabited, Hall of Fame for Great People.