My Adventures as a U.S. Diplomat and Family Man

First Stop: Tel Aviv, Israel (July 2012)!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My "wake-up call" from Gordon Gekko

The movie "Wall Street" remains one of my all-time favorites. If you don't recall, it was Oliver Stone's cinematic portrayal of 1980s excess and get-rich-quick schemes. The plot centered around a young stockbroker who becomes infatuated with power and money personified by a ruthless corporate raider named Gordon Gekko who cooly delivered the memorable "greed is good" line. Throw in some sex and, as a pre-pubescent at the time, I was very impressionable to the movie's themes. While I didn't aspire to become a business tycoon or even a guy who deals with money for a living, the movie did make me want to be close to the action and feel influential one day.  

Fast forward a quarter century and here I am working as a political officer in one of the most strategically important embassies in the world. I won't deny that this job bestows quite a sense of self-importance but it doesn't mean I haven't felt insecure. You see, for a while I wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to be doing. I've already described some of my growing pains in a previous blog. But now after a solid three months on the job, I am beginning to figure it out in part by relating my day-to-day work with the movie's main character, Bud Fox, who was played by a then relatively normal Charlie Sheen. 

Just as a Wall Street stockbroker obsessively watches the prices of stocks rise and fall, I've learned how to follow the ups and downs of political actors in Israel. I too identify and forecast trends, but in a political market, and the clients to whom I "sell" certain commodities are in the U.S. Embassy and State Department. What kind of commodities might you ask? According to Gordon Gekko, the most valuable commodity is information, which he means as inside information. Now it's getting juicy. 

In the movie, Bud Fox compromises his integrity to enrich himself and Gordon Gekko. He spies. He lies. He cheats. Spoiler alert: don't worry about where I'm going with this. I haven't sold U.S. national security for a shekel. I merely mention it because the information Bud Fox and I seek doesn't show up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or Jerusalem Post. The information is often an informed perspective, a candid opinion or an illuminating remark. But the difference is we have to go get it. 

Fortunately, shmoozing at cocktail parties isn't the main part of the job for an introvert like me. Instead, I've learned the more delicate art of building connections with people in the know, carefully cultivating a relationship with them and asking them targeted questions when appropriate. The first step almost always involves patient persistence in getting my foot in the door. That's why I like the scene when Bud Fox's lands his first financial transaction with Gekko and shouts triumphantly "I just bagged the elephant!" In recent weeks, I have felt the same surge of adrenaline after getting a meeting or quote from a desirable source. 

My newfound trade craft will certainly be utilized with Israeli elections coming up in January and shifting electoral alliances in full bloom. Who will be the winners and losers? What does will it mean for U.S. interests? These are the questions that literally keep me up at night. 

One of my other favorite scenes from the movie is the phone call Bud Fox receives from Gordon Gekko. "Money never sleeps, pal," Gekko begins while standing on the beach with an obscenely large mobile phone. "You know how the game works now," Gekko continues and then admonishes "This your wake-up call. Time to go to work." The haunting music then comes in as Gekko hangs up to watch the sunrise.

Israeli politics never sleep either. Indeed, time for me to go to work. (I just won't sell my soul doing it.)

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