Netanyahu’s reelection – I told you so!

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The author photographed with Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in 2007.

In light of yesterday’s historic elections in Israel and the resounding victory of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a fourth consecutive term (his fifth) at the helm of the government, I find it pertinent to post here the content of an op-ed I have penned, 14 years ago this month, about this legendary statesman. Many people were then very skeptical about my prediction. But history and the leader of the Likud have proven me right.

Netanyahu is not finished
by Marc Nadeau
(originally published in the Record (Sherbrooke), Friday. March 31st, 2006, p. 7)

Conventional wisdom suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu was the great loser of this week’s election in Israel. Finishing fifth, the Likud Party he has led since Ariel Sharon departed to create Kadima sustained its worst defeat since its creation in 1973.

Even before voters went to the polls, pundits and observers predicted that Netanyahu would be challenged for the leadership of his own party.

The Likud finished not only behind the ruling Kadima and the Labor Party, but was also eclipsed by the Shas, a party popular among Orthodox Jews and Beiteinu, an outfit that draws most of its support from Russian-born immigrants.

Consequently, some say that the traditional voice of conservatism in Israeli public life may has lost its pertinence. For many reasons, it’s far too soon to conclude that.

If he decides to stay on, the man who led his country as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 is not finished.

In the past, Netanyahu has shown a legendary resilience. He not only came back from oblivion after his defeat in 1999, becoming minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance, but when Sharon left the Likud last November, it fell to him to pick up the shattered pieces of a party that lost an important number of members.

The result of this week’s election was not a personal defeat, but rather a testimony that Israeli politics have dramatically changed in the past few months. Thus, he should not shoulder the exclusive blame for Tuesday’s electoral outcome.

Analyzing the results further, one can also note that the Likud’s agenda did not spur popular passion this time.

About security issues – Netanyahu’s forte – the former Prime Minister was hardly a match for another leader – new Prime Minister Edud Olmert –  who promoted the exchange of territory for peace. The withdrawal plan for the West Bank comes when many are tired with the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.

From now on the new Prime Minister will have to deliver on this plan. The road may bring numerous pitfalls.

First, Olmert is ready to unilaterally implement a plan which would give a group that promotes terrorism and refuses to recognize the existence of Israel – Hamas – the opportunity to govern a new Palestinian state.

Second, Israelis have not directly encountered terrorism for some time. But if a resurgence of violence was to directly affect Israel again in the future, the Prime Minister may find it difficult to promote concessions toward Israel’s tormentors.

Such a context, along with the failure of the upcoming government in its general policies may well pave the way for a Netanyahu comeback.

Last but not least, contemporary Israel history teaches its observers that it is sometimes premature to write up a political obituary.

Following his 1977 retirement from politics, who could have predicted that Itzhak Rabin would orchestrate the victory of the Labor party in 1992? In the aftermath of the controversy of his involvement in the Lebanese war, Sharon’s career seemed to have come to an end. He came back and left his imprint of Israeli politics, notably by becoming Prime Minister in 2001.

These are two eloquent illustrations that public figures may have a long life in the land of the prophets. After all wasn’t it Menachem Begin – another famous figure from the Likud – who was asked to form a government after 29 years in the opposition?

In politics, anything can happen. Netanyahu could decide to retire and attend to other challenges. He may alternatively be defeated in his bid to retain the leadership of his party. But if he decides to stay in the arena, he still has many good cards in his hand.

It may thus be too soon to confine him to the pages of history. Already, Netanyahu “shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat”, to borrow an expression from former US President Theodore Roosevelt.

Why Mattis didn’t survive in the Trump administration

HoldingTheLineReading memoirs of important players who worked during presidencies has always fascinated me. I notably cherish the moments spent reading Dick Morris, Ed Rollins, Peggy Noonan, George Stephanopoulos and James Carville’s books during my University years. Classics in my humble opinion.

I was therefore thrilled to dive into Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon with Secretary Mattis by Guy M. Snodgrass, former Chief Speechwriter and Communications Director for Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis.

What strikes me upon finishing this book is how difficult it must have been to work for and with the 45th President. Picture this. You’ve prepared a briefing for the leader of the free world and this man is only fixated on organizing a big military parade in Washington, D.C., because he was impressed with the 14th of July celebrations in Paris. You therefore realize that, next time around, you will “[…] only use slides with pictures… no words.” You’re talking here about the individual who makes life-and-death decisions for 1.3 million members of the Armed Forces and can decide to start a war.

I could also mention the particular episode when Lockheed Martin’s executives decided to flatter Trump’s ego by pretending his involvement in the F-35 contributed to lower the cost. “The only problem? Those savings had been already planned for years in advance […].” That’s how insecure and immature the current resident of the White House is.

And then there’s the moment when people at the Pentagon – the Secretary of Defense at the top of the list – learnt, probably live on TV or over the Internet, during a summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un that “war games” historically planned and organized between the US and South Korean armies would be suspended. Talk about respecting your allies. Much the same happened with the creation of the Space Force. Not to mention the NATO summit when POTUS went off message. In brief, “the administration wasn’t operating strategically, but rather looking for issues to provide immediate satisfaction.” The type of instant gratification you can expect from children.

To a certain extent, this portrait of the man was to be expected. Donald Trump has never been renowned for being a serious person, an avid reader or an intellectually curious politician. Chances are slim he will fall in love with a tome about General George Marshall or the minutiae of military affairs. I doubt we will see a pile of books set aside for him at the Barnes & Noble downtown D.C. (I once saw such a pile set aside for President George W. Bush during one of my visits in the US Capital).

I don’t know why, but what flabbergasted me the most was to read how Mattis reacted to Trump and the way he accepted to be treated. On one hand, he could have a phone conversation with the President, using a very ingratiating tone of voice and, on the other, he would lose control of a meeting with National Security Advisor John Bolton, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and State Secretary Mike Pompeo, allowing them to interrupt him with impunity. Not the type of behavior you expect from a man who is compared to General George Patton and whose nickname is “Mad Dog”.

According to the author, James Mattis “[…] is actually conflict-adverse in dealing with people he sees on a regular basis.” Which could explain how a retired US Marines Corps General got trampled over by a real estate mogul and his minions. In other words, Mattis became a legend with men who served under him, but he was not necessarily cut to serve alongside a president who doesn’t believe in the tenets of diplomacy which are so important to Mattis and to Rex Tillerson who served as Secretary of State at the beginning of the current administration and was also fired by the Tweeter-in-Chief.

It goes without saying that Donald Trump could have benefited so much more from the talent, expertise and knowledge of a bookish military figure “[…] who at one point owned more than seven thousand books in his library […]” and who takes inspiration from the legendary Henry Kissinger, but these type of men need more than 180 characters to reflect and take action. In a sense, one wonders how is it that such a great man could stick around so long in an administration that doesn’t know the meaning of grace, diplomacy and vision.

Many books will be published in the future about the inside story of the Trump administration. But I’m certain Guy Snodgrass will be among the most interesting, because of his inspired style, but also his profound decency (between the lines, you can understand that this guy was way too kind for the treacherous world of politics). Like his former boss, he’s a warrior-scholar. And Lord knows we need such men more than trigger-happy provocateurs.

Exclusive interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

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Ehud Olmert, 12th Prime Minister of Israel (courtesy of the Office of Ehud Olmert)

After reading the excellent book Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power (St. Martin’s) by Yaakov Kaatz, I was struck about the inestimable contribution of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to public life and international affairs. I therefore thought it might be an excellent idea to conduct an interview with this fascinating character. Mr. Olmert immediately agreed and you will discover a man who’s an avid reader nourishing a serious interest in US political history. Here’s the content of our exchange.

It is my opinion that you have been underestimated as Prime Minister. What accomplishment(s) are you the proudest of and why?

It seems to me that lately, the attitude to me as a former Prime Minister is different than it appeared to be when I left my position. Perhaps, in large part, because time has passed, and people can compare my activities as Prime Minister with the one who came after me. Many may think that my activity has been by far better than the impression they once had.

Many may think that my activity has been by far better than the impression they once had.

The actions I am most proud of in the field of welfare. The fact that I brought about the rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors who for various reasons over many years the Israeli government ignored its duty to look after their needs. The Israeli government during my time invested billions of shekels for this important cause.

In the field of education, I was involved, as Prime Minister, in reforming Israel’s education system, along with the then Minister of Education, Professor Yuli Tamir. We instituted a far-reaching reform called “New Horizon” which entailed adding billions of shekels to the Education Ministry’s budget.

In the security field, I am proud of the achievements of the Second Lebanon War, which have resulted in a complete calm for over the past 13 years on the northern border. Kiryat Shmona has lived for decades under a constant threat of terrorist attacks and artillery fire no more. I am proud of my decision to destroy of the nuclear reactor in Syria, which posed a real danger to the State of Israel. I am also proud of the peace negotiations that I made with the Palestinian Authority and that were closer than any negotiations we have ever had to a permanent peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people.

I am also proud of the peace negotiations that I made with the Palestinian Authority and that were closer than any negotiations we have ever had to a permanent peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people.

Who’s the historical figure / leader that inspires you the most?

Many characters have influenced my worldview and have been an inspiration, it is hard to think about one person.

Churchill – Who didn’t grow up to admire him?!

Roosevelt – the man who rescued the US from economic immersion and brought America to save the entire world from the Nazis in Europe and Japanese fascists in the Far East.

The man I remember in international politics with great longing is Bobby Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy was a man with a huge heart, with a great sensitivity to the distressed populations who demanded someone to care about them. African Americans, Hispanics, Mexicans, Native Americans and many others, there was no one to care for them like him. I remember how much it hurt when he was murdered.

Bobby Kennedy was a man with a huge heart, with a great sensitivity to the distressed populations who demanded someone to care about them.

In Israel, two characters have always been my inspiration. Menachem Begin, who was the first Prime Minister of the National Camp and whom I was privileged to work with and for him as a Knesset member in the Likud. And Moshe Dayan who was a brave soldier and statesman who saw far more with one eye than many saw with two eyes. He was a poet and writer and archaeologist and a brilliant military leader. A man who did not like people’s company but accorded me many hours of private conversations at the beginning of my career whose tastes have not disappeared to this day.

You have been through very difficult periods in your life (Mr. Olmert spent 16 months in prison in 2016-2017 in relation with a real-estate project). I could only imagine how hard it must have been on you and the members of your family. What gave you strength to surmount it?

What helped me deal with the difficulties I encountered was on top of the love of my family – my wife, my children and my grandchildren, also the knowledge that I had never done anything that justified my indictment. The sense of justice gives a lot of power.

What helped me deal with the difficulties I encountered was on top of the love of my family.

I know your wife is a very talented artist. I once saw one of her paintings at the office of what was then called the Canada-Israel Committee (now CIJA) in Jerusalem. It goes without saying that intellectual life must be important in your family. Are you an avid reader and what do you like to read?

My wife is a very talented painter and I am very happy that her paintings are in both the office and the home we share and are exhibited in many places in Israel and abroad.

I read many books, my tastes are very eclectic. I read fiction, thrillers, biographies of political people. I read all of Robert Caro’s books in the past year about former President Lyndon B. Johnson. I read the biography of General MacArthur by William Manchester. I have read John Steinbeck’s books – East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath and I now read William Faulkner’s The sound and the Fury and many other books.

I read all of Robert Caro’s books in the past year about former President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Are you a fan of James Bond and books about special / secret operations? (that question came from reading the following in Shadow Strike: “During his term as prime minister, Olmert made a point of knowing every detail and approving every single Mossad operation that took place outside Israel’s borders.” (p. 46) Okay, okay, I should have known that Israeli Security Services undeniably can match any James Bond movie.)

I’m not a big fan of James Bond movies, I know a lot more fascinating realities than these movies but as an entertainment I sometimes watch them.

What do you appreciate the most about your new life?

I enjoy my life with my extended and beautiful family. I enjoy my business activities and especially the world of innovation and technology in which I invest money from a venture capital fund I run.

Do you miss political life?

I never liked political activity. I liked being in positions where I could make decisions on national affairs and I miss that. If I could, I would continue my work to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I believe that the Trump Peace Plan is not good enough and lacks many elements to be balanced, but even though, it has the basis that can prompt renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is what I recommended to Abu Mazen to do.

The Trump Peace Plan is not good enough and lacks many elements to be balanced, but even though, it has the basis that can prompt renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

What do you think of the fact that Israelis have to return to the polls for the third time in about 6 months?

I think it is a pity that there will be a third round of elections in less than a year in Israel, but I believe that following the upcoming elections, the government will change and the political atmosphere in Israel will change as well as the nature of public discourse can be changed and the atmosphere will be more tolerant and more relaxed in Israeli politics.

I believe […] will change and the political atmosphere in Israel will change as well as the nature of public discourse can be changed and the atmosphere will be more tolerant and more relaxed in Israeli politics.

How do you feel generally about your country?

The State of Israel is a very successful state, there is none like it and will never be, and I am proud to be its citizen and its former Prime Minister.

________

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to former Prime Minister Olmert for the generosity of his time. I surely hope his memoirs, which have already been published in Hebrew, will be available in English at some point in the future.

Les douze piliers d’Israël

DouzePiliersIsrael« Je ne suis ni meilleur ni plus intelligent qu’aucun de vous. Mais je ne me décourage pas et c’est pourquoi le rôle de chef me revient. » – Theodor Herzl

La terre d’Israël m’a toujours captivé. Jeune écolier, l’une de mes professeurs passait son temps à parler de la Palestine, gommant systématiquement le nom d’Israël de son vocabulaire puisque ce pays n’existait pas selon elle. Un certain lundi matin, elle nous demanda, fidèle à son habitude, ce que nous avions fait durant la fin de semaine qui venait de se terminer. Lorsque mon tour arriva, je lui mentionnai que mon père m’avait acheté un Atlas géographique et que cela m’avait permis de découvrir qu’elle nous mentait éhontément puisqu’aucun pays répondant au nom de Palestine figurait sur la carte du monde. Je fus quitte pour une petite visite chez le bureau de la directrice, une vieille religieuse souriante et bien compréhensive qui s’est beaucoup amusée de mon sens de l’argumentation.

Plusieurs années plus tard, il m’a été donné de fouler le sol de ce pays à plusieurs reprises. Je me suis toujours senti choyé de pouvoir visiter le kibboutz de David Ben Gourion à Sdé Boker ou encore le Menachem Begin Heritage Center à Jérusalem. J’aurais tellement aimé aller me recueillir sur la tombe de Theodor Herzl ou Yitzhak Rabin, mais je n’en ai pas eu l’occasion – du moins pas jusqu’à maintenant.

J’étais donc enchanté de parcourir – dévorer serait un qualificatif plus juste – le dernier ouvrage de Georges Ayache, Les douze piliers d’Israël : Theodor Herzl, Haïm Weizmann, David Ben Gourion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Menahem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Isser Harel, Shimon Peres. Ces hommes et cette femme ont non seulement permis l’avènement de ce pays en 1948, mais ils et elle en ont assuré la survie, l’épanouissement au prix de sacrifices exceptionnels – l’un d’entre eux, Yitzhak Rabin, ayant même consenti au sacrifice ultime en 1995 en tombant sous les balles d’un extrémiste alimenté par la droite religieuse.

À plusieurs reprises, Georges Ayache revient sur une qualité ayant habité la plupart d’entre eux, soit le pragmatisme. Pensons notamment à un Begin faisant la paix avec Sadate ou à Sharon qui décrète un retrait israélien unilatéral de la bande Gaza. Ou encore à Shimon Peres revêtant les habits de la colombe après avoir consacré des décennies à construire les forces armées israéliennes.

Il met également en évidence le fait que, dès avant sa naissance, Israël doit composer avec le double-standard réservé à un pays qui « […] avait commis le péché de survivre. » C’est ainsi que, durant le mandat britannique, « peu soucieux d’interrompre les violences perpétrées par les Arabes, ils [les représentants de Sa Gracieuse Majesté] semblaient en revanche obsédés par la recherche d’armes chez les sionistes. » Des années plus tard, après la guerre des Six-Jours, « […] personne, à l’étranger, ne se souciait des violations permanentes du cessez-le-feu par les Égyptiens; en revanche, chacun scrutait à la loupe les réactions israéliennes, qualifiées mécaniquement d’« excessives » ou de « disproportionnées ». Comme quoi rien n’a vraiment changé…

Cela dit, le livre nous permet de constater à quel point l’esprit de plusieurs de ces figures fondatrices était empreint d’une anglophilie surprenante, si l’on prend en considération l’attitude de Londres par rapport au Yishouv. Que ce soit en apprenant que Jabotinsky s’est vu remettre la prestigieuse distinction de Member of the British Empire (MBE) « […] pour services rendus » for king and country, en lisant que Menachem Begin avait offert du thé aux policiers du NKVD venus l’arrêter chez lui à Wilno, en se régalant de lire que Abba Eban était accouru à la librairie Foyle’s sur la rue Charing Cross à Londres (un endroit mythique et légendaire pour tout bon féru de lecture qui se respecte) pour dénicher des livres à propos de l’ONU ou en s’étonnant de découvrir que Ben Gourion « […] préférait les méthodes classiques de l’armée anglaise ». Le britannophile en moi était très heureux de recueillir ces perles déposées à plusieurs endroits entre les couvertures.

Inévitablement, la question se pose à savoir lequel de ces douze piliers retient ma faveur personnelle. Bien que je sois pris d’une affection historique pour plusieurs, pour ne pas dire presque tous, je dirais que Moshe Dayan est celui qui m’a le plus marqué.

Après qu’il eut perdu un œil en Syrie en juin 1941, à la tête d’une compagnie spéciale au service des forces britanniques, « sa mise à l’écart et, surtout, sa nouvelle apparence physique, défigurée par un bandeau noir de pirate lui barrant le visage, le démoralisèrent. » « Sa traversée du désert dura de 1941 à 1948 », mais il persévéra et parvint à surmonter son handicap pour devenir une véritable légende, transformant un point faible en une force redoutable. De quoi faire sourire Sun Tzu.

Au final, les éditions Perrin doivent être remerciées d’avoir publié ce livre, qui fait non seulement partie des meilleurs au sujet de l’histoire d’Israël selon moi, mais qui permet également de mieux comprendre ces onze hommes et cette femme qui ont posé les fondations de l’un des pays les plus fascinants – et résilient – du monde.

Je sais que l’actuel Premier ministre d’Israël ne correspond pas aux critères de Georges Ayache dans le portrait qu’il brosse des 12 piliers, parce qu’il n’est pas associé au moment charnière de 1948 (il est né en octobre 1949), mais je serais quand même curieux de savoir ce que Georges Ayache aurait à dire et écrire au sujet de Benjamin Netanyahou.

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Georges Ayache, Les douze piliers d’Israël : Theodor Herzl, Haïm Weizmann, David Ben Gourion, Vladimir Jabotinsky, Mehahem Begin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Isser Harel, Shimon Peres, Paris, Perrin, 2019, 429 pages.

Je tiens à exprimer ma plus vive reconnaissance aux représentants de Interforum Canada qui m’ont généreusement offert un exemplaire de ce livre, ainsi qu’aux gens des éditions Perrin pour leur précieuse collaboration. Un blogueur ne pourrait espérer mieux.

L’hiver de Napoléon

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« Son corps alourdi n’était qu’apparence. Il sentait ses 20 ans couler dans ses veines. »

Quelques mois après la campagne de Russie (1812) et la funeste bataille de Leipzig (1813), Napoléon est pourchassé par ses ennemis et engagé dans une lutte pour sa survie. Pour la première fois depuis ses débuts, le virtuose de la bataille voit l’adversaire envahir son pays. Même si « l’empereur français n’avait pas beaucoup d’hommes, encore moins de chevaux, et pas assez de canons, le nom de Grande Armée semblait renaître dans l’hiver champenois avec le renom de son chef. »

Sous une plume alerte, Michel Bernard invite la lectrice ou le lecteur à suivre celui qui « […] s’était taillé son uniforme de général à coups de sabre » sur les sentiers de l’Hiver 1814, dans sa voiture « à la lumière d’une lanterne », bivouaquant dans les presbytères ou remettant une importante somme d’argent à des religieuses dévouées afin qu’elles puissent poursuivre leur mission salvatrice auprès des victimes des hostilités.

Cette véritable épopée se voulait non seulement une tentative désespérée pour remporter sur le terrain les gains nécessaires à la survie du régime dans les négociations face aux Alliés russes, prussiens et autrichiens, mais c’est aussi un véritable retour dans le temps pour celui qui avait passé une partie de sa jeunesse à l’École militaire de Brienne, sur cette terre enneigée et empreinte de nostalgie où se déroulaient maintenant les combats.

La « légende en redingote grise » (le propos de Michel Bernard est fréquemment émaillée de ces formules délicieuses qui rendent l’histoire captivante) aura beau avoir conquis une partie de l’Europe et inévitablement causé beaucoup d’insomnie aux têtes couronnées déstabilisées par sa présence, il n’en demeure pas moins que c’est un ancien maître d’étude à Brienne, le père Henriot, un curé de paroisse, qui lui servit de guide à un certain moment. Comme pour donner raison à François Mitterrand qui affirmait que nous n’avons jamais que le pays de notre enfance.

La lecture de l’histoire-bataille peut souvent s’avérer fastidieuse (j’ai laissé en plan plusieurs de ces récits), puisqu’il s’agit principalement de mouvements, d’unités et d’une trajectoire qui peut s’avérer hermétique. Et la plume trop mécanique de certains auteurs permet difficilement de s’y plonger facilement. Il n’en est rien ici, puisque l’auteur nous invite à observer la psychologie d’un chef de guerre luttant d’abord contre une « défaite inéluctable », avant de jeter la serviette à Fontainebleau lorsque tous les espoirs se sont évanouis. Entre les couvertures, on ressent le froid, la fatigue et le stress accablant celui à qui la fortune avait cessé de sourire. On peut également mesurer l’ampleur de sa détermination, on pourrait même dire son acharnement, devant le sort des armes qui lui était nettement défavorable sur papier. Parce que la guerre, Napoléon le savait mieux que quiconque, se gagne sur le terrain.

Sur une note personnelle, j’avoue ne jamais avoir été un grand admirateur de Napoléon dans le passé – bien au contraire. Cette disposition a évolué au fil du temps, notamment grâce à l’historien britannique Andrew Roberts, avec pour résultat que je suis maintenant toujours impatient de mettre la main sur les bonnes feuilles qui sont écrites et publiées à son sujet. Et la capacité narrative exceptionnelle de Michel Bernard a fait en sorte que je me suis surpris à souhaiter, tout plongé que j’étais dans ces mois fatidiques du début de l’année 1814, à pratiquement souhaiter une victoire de l’Empereur des Français.

Dans les faits, est-ce que cela aurait été possible? La question me taraude…

Pour l’heure, je conclurai en disant que ce fut un moment de lecture tout à fait exceptionnel, bien que trop bref à mon goût. Je recommande chaudement cette incursion dans la geste napoléonienne à tous les férus d’histoire souhaitant apprécier les rebondissements d’une campagne militaire annonciatrice de l’exil et du retour qui se soldera par la défaite ultime de Waterloo.

Ça y est, on peut dire que je suis maintenant envoûté par Napoléon. J’aimerais bien que Michel Bernard reprenne la plume à son sujet.

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Michel Bernard, Hiver 1814: Campagne de France, Paris, Perrin, 2019, 240 pages.

Je tiens à exprimer ma profonde reconnaissance envers Interforum Canada de m’avoir gracieusement offert un exemplaire du livre et aux gens des éditions Perrin à Paris pour leur précieuse et généreuse collaboration.

Riding with Napoleon

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In April 2013, I made a point to be in London for Lady Thatcher’s funeral, on my way back to Canada from Rome. Throughout my youth, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain had always been one of my favorite leaders. It was therefore an honor to stand on the street and see her casket pass in front of me on a morning of reverence.

Just a few days ago, I finished reading Andrew Robert’s last book, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from those who made history and, to my great delight, the 9th leader about whom he writes is Margaret Thatcher (the preceding 8 are Napoleon Bonaparte, Horatio Nelson, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, George C. Marshall, Charles de Gaulle and Dwight D. Eisenhower). I was pleasantly surprised. After all, if the Iron Lady doesn’t deserve a place in such a book, who does?

Thinking about leaders who left an indelible mark in military leadership makes one wonder how did they get there in history? Andrew Robert answers this question when he writes that: “Except through heredity, one does not become a war leader in the first place unless one has a strong personality.”

While it is easy to think and write about the qualities and strengths of great figures of history, it is no less important and vital to understand that, like us, they are humans. The first challenge they must meet is failure. For the road to success if filled with obstacles, but, as Winston Churchill would say, “sometimes, when she scowls most spitefully, [goddess Fortune] is preparing her most dazzling gifts.” Furthermore, you can’t please everyone. I found it almost unbelievable to read that “Although eight admirals, all of them in tears, carried his [Admiral Nelson’s] coffin, such was his controversial status in the Admiralty because of his ceaseless self-promotion and occasional refusal to obey orders that eighteen other admirals refused to attend.” How can anyone dare refuse attending the victor of Trafalgar’s funeral? Statesmen also need to cope with ungratefulness – like those dealing with Stalin and Charles de Gaulle learnt. Finally, you can’t afford modesty. After all, most of these leaders understood “[…] that if their reputations could help conquer, and thus save the lives of their men, who were they to be modest?” Hence, the myth created by de Gaulle to safeguard France’s self-respect during World War II.

But, more than anything, the leaders perform better when they’re profoundly humane. Those who know me are aware of my deep admiration for Churchill, but my favorite chapter is the one Andrew Roberts wrote about Napoleon. I loved to read about the Emperor’s obsession with his men’s boots (after all, his army covered lots of territory by foot), the fact that “he always made sure that wine from his own table was given to the sentries outside his door”, the fact that Napoleon didn’t hesitate to take his own medal of the Légion d’honneur to present it to a deserving soldier or having the feeling that you are observing the Emperor’s “superb filing system” while riding in his busy carriage moving across Europe on bumpy roads. I never was a big fan of the man derisively called the “God of War” by Clausewitz, but Andrew Roberts deserves the credit for turning the ship of my fascination in his direction.

Tomorrow, January 27th, will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, let me say a few words about Margaret Thatcher again. Before picking up Leadership in War, I was totally unaware of her profound philo-Semitism – a disposition I share with her. It was also fascinating to read that “Churchill […] was theologically a lot closer to Judaism than to the Anglican Church into which he was born.” But I digress. Thatcher learnt from her father “[…] the superiority of decisive practical action over mere hand-wringing and vapid moralizing, of the kind that all too many appeasers – in the 1930s and since – have been guilty.” As the metastases of the antisemitic cancer are spreading throughout the world, men and women of goodwill who seek to fight this disease will have to take inspiration from Margaret Thatcher to wage this vital battle. But that’s another story for another post.

I’m writing it for the first time on this blog, but I have been saying it for years. Few authors compare to Andrew Roberts. He dips his pen in the most eloquent ink to bring to life figures who have heaps of lessons to teach us (sometimes about values not to espouse like in the case of Hitler or Stalin).

If there was one leader about whom I would love to know what Andrew Roberts has to say, it would be Moshe Dayan. He mentions him on a few occasions in the book. Just enough to tease, but who knows? We might see something published about the famous Israeli warlord by the author in the future.

Leadership in War is an essential addition on the bookshelves of any leadership enthusiast, whether in the business world, in politics or in the ranks of the military.

239 pages of exquisite intellectual pleasure.

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Andrew Roberts, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from those who made history, New York, Viking, 2019, 256 pages.

I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the fantastic Sharon Gill at Penguin Random House Canada for helping me with a review copy of this excellent book.

Le génie en guerre

ClaudeQuetelOperationsWW2« La guerre n’est jamais avare de nouvelles inventions », d’écrire l’historien Claude Quétel dans son dernier livre Les opérations les plus extraordinaires de la Seconde Guerre mondiale. J’oserais pousser la note en ajoutant « et d’audace » à cette formule, tellement les stratèges et leurs exécutants y sont allés de prouesses souvent inimaginables durant ces hostilités.

Ces 400 pages m’ont donné l’impression que l’auteur a pris la plume spécialement pour moi. D’abord parce que je suis un fan fini de Ian Fleming et de James Bond, j’ai toujours été fasciné par tout ce qui entoure les opérations spéciales et j’ai eu le privilège de visiter certains lieux décrits entre les couvertures du livre.

Je conserverai toujours un souvenir impérissable de cette journée d’été passée à Zagan, localité polonaise située à environ 200 km de Berlin et 400 km de Varsovie, lien emblématique où était localisé le célèbre camp allemand de prisonniers de guerre Stalag Luft III – immortalisé dans le long métrage La grand évasion (The Great Escape) (1963), mettant en vedette Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson et James Donald pour ne citer que ces noms-là.

RogerBushell
Photo prise au-dessus du nom du Squadron Leader Roger Bushell, lors de ma visite à Zagan à l’été 2015.

Effectuer de nos jours le court parcours du tunnel Harry offre au visiteur la possibilité de mieux comprendre la détermination, l’esprit de sacrifice et la maestria de ces braves hommes qui n’avaient rien perdu de leur volonté de croiser le fer avec la horde nazie. Leur quête d’évasion était d’ailleurs une manière très imaginative de poursuivre ce combat. Et que dire de l’émotion ressentie à la vue du nom de Roger Bushell (le fameux Roger interprété par Richard Attenborough dans le film) inscrit sur l’une des stèles de granit alignées, immortalisant le point de départ, le parcours très étroit, l’effondrement du tunnel et le point de sortie creusé et emprunté par les valeureux fugitifs.

Et que dire que la visite privée qui nous avait été généreusement offerte il y a de cela quelques années par un officier britannique à la retraite plus tôt à travers les tunnels creusés pendant le conflit mondial dans le roc de Gibraltar et sillonnés par nul autre qu’Eisenhower. J’imaginais les tractations et décisions à prendre par le grand homme en sillonnant ces passages interdits au grand public. Si seulement le rocher pouvait parler…

Vous l’aurez compris, j’ai une appétence passionnée pour le sujet. Et les 32 chapitres du livre ont dépassé mes attentes, notamment grâce au style de l’auteur. Les formules du genre « Le pacifisme et son cousin le défaitisme sévissent dans la troupe » ou « Dans le domaine de l’imagination, des trouvailles en tous genres et des idées baroques, la Grande-Bretagne en guerre mérite incontestablement la palme. Ces insulaires ont une psychologie d’éternels assiégés » émaillent le propos et agrémentent la lecture.

On croise aussi fréquemment un « grand amateur d’opérations spéciales » nommé Winston Churchill et d’une Écosse véritable pépinière des forces spéciales britanniques – un héritage notamment commémoré par l’impressionnant Mémorial des commandos situé à Spean Bridge en plein cœur des Highlands (une heure environ au sud-ouest du Loch Ness) et surplombant la région où les combattants appelés à accomplir des faits d’armes légendaires s’entraînaient inlassablement. Ce qui n’a rien pour me déplaire, bien au contraire.

Bref, si vous nourrissez un intérêt pour les batailles de l’ombre durant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, il serait tristement regrettable que vous passiez à côté de ces excellentes pages. J’aurais pratiquement même envie de les qualifier de délicieuses, tellement je suis gourmand du genre.

Avec tout ce qu’elle comporte de barbarie, de souffrances et souvent de stupidité, la guerre est champ de l’activité humaine qui fait aussi souvent appel à ce que l’être humain a de plus précieux pour son avancement, son génie.

En trois mots, le dernier livre de Claude Quétel est un pur délice.

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Claude Quétel, Les opérations les plus extraordinaires de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, Paris, Perrin, 2019, 400 pages.

Je tiens à exprimer ma profonde reconnaissance envers Interforum Canada de m’avoir gracieusement offert un exemplaire du livre.