Sebastian Gorka has presence

Nearly a year ago on 2 March, 2016 the Institute of World Politics hosted a talk from Dr Sebastian Gorka.

I have watched Dr Gorka a couple of times making mincemeat of aggressive opponents on TV programmes, but that’s dialogue and very different from the one-way traffic of a speech. I was interested to see how good he was in monologue.

Also he is now Deputy Assistant to President Trump, and with the world (as distinct from antipathetic mainstream media) holding its collective breath to see how the new POTUS will shape up, it seems worth while to have a look at those advising him.

He begins by laying out his stall, with particular attention to ethos, and while he is doing it the cameraman experiments with trying to see if he can encompass both the speaker and the screen in a single locked-off shot. We quickly learn that he can’t, so we will hear Gorka refer to slides that we cannot see.

I greet this with mixed feelings. This has happened before with this blog. Sometimes I satisfied myself that nothing was lost, and this raised obviously pertinent questions concerning the need for those slides in the first place. In the event this talk comes close to that same conclusion so, out of curiosity, I went looking for other of his talks to learn more about his use of slides. I found this talk delivered to the Westminster Institute on 23 August 2013. The biggest danger with slides is that they compete with the speaker for the audience’s attention, usually through being too numerous or containing too much information. With that single (and old) sample I found that he used few slides, though they were rather overfilled with verbiage. Nevertheless there is a particular reason that I am confident that his slides will never compete with him.

Dr Gorka has presence.

It is an almost indefinable quality, but unmissable when you meet it. It is a quality that can barely be taught, though it can be nurtured, because it has to come completely from within. It cannot be synthesised, cannot be faked. It is built on a measure of inner confidence in your command of the subject; and that command comes firstly through a huge amount of work and secondly through experience – testing and arguing your opinions to destruction. We in the audience cannot help but believe that Gorka really knows what he is talking about.

That is what makes him so formidable in TV interviews, and what gives him that huge presence. His powerful voice also helps. Note that I said powerful, not loud. There is an important difference.

His self-confidence is not hubris: I picked up a few fleeting glimpses of insecurity, but then everyone has insecurity. So they should: it keeps them sharp.

I earnestly commend both the speech and the brief Q&A. They are both depressing and encouraging. The scenario is depressing, the prognosis reveals pinpoints of daylight. Chief amongst the latter is that he is at the POTUS elbow.

Yoweri Museveni is great fun

4 July, 2016 marked the fortieth anniversary of perhaps the most audacious and brilliant military operation that I remember occurring in my lifetime. I refer to Operation Entebbe, in which a crack squad of Israeli Special Forces somehow landed at night at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, rescued 102 heavily guarded hostages (Israeli passengers from an Air France airliner hijacked by Palestinians), and spirited them away. The operation took one week to plan and 90 minutes to execute. The hijackers, 3 hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed. Five of the Israeli rescue unit were injured and one was killed.

The reason that Ugandan soldiers were involved was that Idi Amin, the brutal buffoon that was that country’s dictator, supported the Palestinian terrorist hijackers. Uganda’s current President, Yoweri Museveni, was part of the movement that overthrew Amin.

He invited Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to Entebbe as part of the celebrations to mark this anniversary. That was an appropriate diplomatic gesture; and it had a poignant added layer. His elder brother, Lt Col Jonathan Netanyahu, was the rescue unit’s commander and the single Israeli killed.

President Museveni made a speech.

There is a short version of edited excerpts from this speech. They are compiled from Museveni’s attempts at a précis of Jewish history, and are posted on YouTube against the adjective ‘hilarious’. In truth it is very funny and no surprise that it has been viewed nearly 180,000 times. Nevertheless, wearing my rhetor hat, I want to examine this speech as a whole, in the context in which it was delivered.

He begins with a Hierarchical Hello. On occasions such as this these are de rigeur. For many reasons they are ghastly to do, and I have witnessed too many speakers racing to get the bloody things over and done with. That is a mistake, for both protocol and practical reasons. Protocol is obvious; but practically, you merely highlight your own uneasiness with this OBN catalogue. Museveni does exactly the opposite: he sticks huge pauses in there, and I salute him for it.

He goes on to stick huge pauses everywhere, and I am on his side here too. The subliminal message that accompanies many long pauses is one of supreme confidence. Even if you proceed to commit a series of gaffes (which he does) the conveying of an air of nonchalance over that, combined with a readiness to indulge in self-deprecating laughter (which he also does) is very appealing. He is not here to help anyone with their PhD in Holy Land history, and he will laugh as loud and as long as anyone at his own remarks like –

“Herod was a bad gentleman, or something like that.”

When he gets away from that subject matter he knows better whereof he speaks, and it shows. How many politicians at a high profile event such as this would take on the knotty distinction between freedom-fighting and terrorism? All terrorists would self-identify as freedom fighters, but Museveni has a succinct way of separating them out, and makes a reasonable case.

Then he goes back into the history of Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu enjoys it, and I venture that he is laughing with Museveni, not at him. Camera shots of other people in the audience display a certain tight-lippage, but who cares about them? Museveni doesn’t: he and his mate Benjamin are enjoying their own jokey party.

There’s a long, rambling, hugely enjoyable story about a conversation he had had with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, concerning the whereabouts these days of the ‘Medians’. After a while I worked out that he spoke of the Medes – as in Medes-and-Persians. In that part of the old testament it’s one of those indivisible pairings, like gin and tonic. Where are the ‘Medians’ now? he asked Ahmadinejad. He had no answer, so an ancient professor from the university had to be summoned. Ultimately Museveni concludes that there exists a lot of ignorance, and so the speech meanders on in largely enjoyable fashion. Most particularly it concludes very well.

Let us consider the purpose of this speech. Museveni is a host, welcoming an honoured guest to his table and putting him at his ease. As an instrument for delivering that, this speech is first class. If you don’t believe me, look at how much the honoured guest is enjoying it. Rectally challenged students of diplomacy can ‘tut’ all they like about imagined faux pas, but who cares? In its way, and for what it is setting out to do this is a triumph.

It is not an easy act to follow, and guess who is following? I intend next to look at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reply.