I have been thinking all day about Shimon Peres and how much I will miss him. I first got to know Shimon in the mid 1990s when I was working in the International Affairs section of the Treasury. It was a time of more optimism than we have today about the efficacy of economic assistance in supporting harmony among nations. We were intensely engaged in supporting economic development in reform in the nations of the Former Soviet Union.
Shimon was pushing very hard for various Marshall Plan like schemes for the Middle East referencing the European Community experience in making war within Europe inconceivable after a thousand years of intermittent strife. The White House and the State Department very much wanted to support him in any responsible way.
Treasury staff rightly saw a million problems with Shimon’s proposals. There were corruption risks, duplication of already fragmented efforts of the existing development banks, shortages of trained personnel, and real security issues to mention just a few. I have never seen anything like the response of Shimon and his close aide Uri Savir to these problems. They would listen sympathetically and then explain how one could not let obstacles stand in the way of grand vision. I called their interventions “dare to be great speeches”. They were unlike anything I have ever heard in a diplomatic meeting. Little wonder that they persuaded me and many others.
Tragically, politics got in the way and much of what Shimon was trying to do did not get done. A lesser man would have been discouraged. Shimon simply persevered looking for any daylight where hope could replace fear. To be sure, there was nothing soft about him. Indeed early in his career he had driven the Israeli nuclear program. But he never stopped standing for hope.
Most people who have spent a decade in government let alone a half century become consumed with process, with prerogative, with the next task. Not Shimon. He was always thinking about the value of scientific truth and of beauty. The last time I saw him maybe 9 months ago he shared with me a manuscript addressing the transcendent values that needed to guide civilization going forward.
Shimon was an immense presence on the global stage. Most large men make others feel small. Whenever I saw him, I always left elevated feeling there was more I could do to make the world a better place. I am diminished by the knowledge that I will never see him again. The world is now a harsher place.