Rattling the Cage: Era of the strongman

Barak doesn't look for loyalty because he doesn't trust anybody, and knows that nobody trusts him.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
When Ehud Barak started making his political comeback in the Labor Party however many months ago it was, I thought: This guy is crazy. What, the ex-prime minister who gave us the intifada thinks somebody's going to vote for him again? Especially now, when even his one seeming accomplishment, the pullout from Lebanon, doesn't seem like such an accomplishment anymore? And after he left his wife? And after he went to America to get rich? I put his return to politics down to megalomaniacal delusions. But by Monday, primary election day for Labor, even though the polls gave Ami Ayalon a slight lead, I figured Barak was going to win by a comfortable margin. (I have witnesses.) Seeing him on TV again, reading about the people in his circle and his campaign strategy, I said to myself: This man is a winner. This man is a leader of men (less so of women) for our time. I'm sure Henry Kissinger likes Barak a lot. Kissinger once told Yigal Allon that he would never be prime minister because to be prime minister, you have to have the killer instinct, and Allon didn't have it. Barak's killer instinct is so palpable, so vibrant that birds fall dead from the sky when he's around. Kissinger's spiritual ancestor, Niccolo Machiavelli, would have liked Barak, too. Machiavelli wrote that it's better for a leader to be feared than loved. I don't sense that Barak inspires a welling up of love in the hearts of Labor voters - but fear? Definitely. Whatever he might have been in the past, Barak is now a hard-eyed, cynical, rich, endlessly ambitious, endlessly ruthless man of power. "A villa in the jungle" is how he once proudly described Israel, which only proves that he's got his finger on the nation's pulse. He's a deal-maker who knows what everybody's price is, and he's got the wherewithal to pay it. In the people he surrounds himself with, he values shrewdness to the exclusion of any other trait. Barak doesn't look for loyalty because he doesn't trust anybody and knows that nobody trusts him. HIS LEGEND as an IDF commando is an integral part of his presence. Today he offers himself to Labor voters as a cunning, proficient political killer. Such a leader makes people afraid, but he also makes them want to follow him because if they do, he will protect them. This is the one and only thing Israelis want in a prime minister today, it's the only thing they've wanted ever since the intifada began. We are living in a time of insecurity, of selfishness, of longing for strength and power, of hard, practical, bottom-line calculations, of cynicism. Ariel Sharon was the ultimate Israeli leader for this era. Ehud Olmert has all the qualities to fill the role, but he made the fatal mistake of not winning his war. That branded him a loser, and Israelis are looking for winners only. And since they seem to have very, very short memories for politics and politicians, Bibi Netanyahu once again looks to them like a winner. And so does Ehud Barak. What else has his campaign been about? Only he can beat the Arabs in the next war, only he can beat Netanyahu in the next election. It was a winning message. As for his silence about his record as prime minister, his silence about any issue that might concern people, his refusal to say anything except "experience, war, victory, me" over and over again - that strategy began to grow on Labor voters. "You gotta admire Barak," they said to themselves. "Never apologize, never explain - a true aristocrat. A natural-born leader. Let's vote for him." THERE'S NO denying it - Barak has that something, that Ariel Sharon, Don Corleone appeal. The polls for the June 12 runoff show that he's behind Ayalon again, that Amir Peretz's voters will go for Ayalon, that Ophir Pines-Paz's voters will go for Ayalon. Forget it. Ayalon is an idealist, or at least he comes off as an idealist - Mr. Clean and all that. Whatever they may say, most Labor Party voters, like most Likud voters, do not want an idealist to lead them, not now anyway. They want a strongman. They don't want a leader for peace, they want a leader for war. In the privacy of the ballot box, they'll vote for the candidate who makes them feel secure and safe. I say Barak will beat Ayalon again by a comfortable margin. If I'm right, then at some point he'll again be running for prime minister against the hard-eyed, cynical, rich, endlessly ambitious, endlessly ruthless man of power who heads the Likud. It wouldn't be a surprise. For a time like ours, these two men are natural leaders.