Something that’s Greek to me, but comes out loud and clear (1)

I met Stefan three decades ago as a fellow grad student at an American western university. An outspoken, Zorba-like, Greek, his contribution to the classes we shared always brought debate, but with a colorful flair. With studies completed, we went our separate ways and lost track of each other.

Three years ago, as luck would have it, saw us reunite at an unlikely restaurant in Athens , and within the time that took for a quick re-introduction and a little post-meal socializing, we had returned to the camaraderie of dissent we had left behind way back when.

After a brief stint in academe, he decided to follow the money-making path in his field of economics, advising business concerns and multiple institutions in the then forming European Union. Yes, he told me, Athens was his home, but so were Brussels , Berlin , Paris and other European capitals.

That get-together in Athens became the start of a true friendship, not just a rekindling of nostalgic memories. Now, three years and scores of e-mails later, he shows up this week at my doorstep, unannounced, bearing a large box and a smile. The box, he proclaims to be a gift that I should not open until his departure later in the week. And, as I raised my brow, he was quick to dispel any fear that the box might turn into a Trojan horse. Same old Stef: argumentative, gregarious, and always one-up in any game he wants you to play.

It would not be fair to characterize my friend as argumentative without a brief qualifier. During our collegial days, Stef was dubbed by peers and faculty alike as someone just beyond the obstinate stage, and his outbursts of inflexibility almost landed him a dismissal from the doctoral program. But at the end, any trace of pigheadedness was washed away by perseverance, and he was able to muster a dissertation committee that squeezed him a Ph.D.

Although Stef and I share a common interest in many subjects, on the fourth day since his arrival we seem to stay mono-topically focused. What I call “the unfolding of the Bush Doctrine,” he refers to, irreverently, as “Alexander’s Ragtime March,” with the American president representing a Pied Piper’s version of the great Macedonian general in his quest to build an empire.

Stef’s take on the Iraq conflict may not be particularly unique or visionary, but you can rest assured that the conclusions he reaches are not drawn out willy-nilly, and for all the passion in him, there is clear thinking and thoroughness in the way he articulates his distaste for what is happening with American foreign policy and those he considers as its principal architects.

America has been hijacked, Stef contends, by a group of men mouthing the words to today’s Charlie McCarthy: George W., a man appropriately chosen with an evangelical Christian background to fight “the other” religious fundamentalists.

A serious student of American history, and culture, Stef sees “the American dream” not just as an economic platitude for the poor immigrant, but a state of hope that evokes much more than that. Opportunity , yes, but with all the right pillars upon which to rest, such as basic freedoms, chance to receive redress, and lack of an abusive government.

The American dream is not, as Stef sees it, just an opportunity to attain wealth and power, but one in which to reach one’s potential, social and economic. And to do so in an environment of trust for the institutions that rule America . “If the most important institution, government, fails you by lying or deceit,” says Stef, “the dream ceases to exist and makes room for a possible nightmare.” To Stef, Bush’s America cannot engender that American dream. What’s more, Americans’ willingness to accept such ill-founded leadership under the disguise of patriotism is, to him, surrendering consent.

My friend’s views of American foreign policy, and its efficacy, echo those of most people that I know outside of the United States . In fact, most is a benign way of saying “just about all.” Where Stef differs markedly from the others, is in the way they each characterize the president.

To most non-Americans with whom I constantly exchange observations; Bush’s image comes close to that of an inarticulate rube with little sense of purpose, and no sense of history. They view him as a sad commentary to who can be elected to such a high office in America . When they hear of Bush being referred to as “the leader of the free world,” they cannot help but smirk and have a good laugh. At best, they place him in the last quartile (in knowledge, political composure and intellect) among the heads of state that comprise our approximate 200-nation world.

Stef does not quite see Bush the same way. His concern has less to do with any lack of attributes and more with what he sees behind the president’s jovial, backslapping ways. And what he sees is a somewhat fanatical, mean-spirited person towards those who won’t let him get his way. Too harsh an assessment, I do believe, and I tell him that.

Right now I am staring at the unopened box that my Greek friend has brought me, and wander what may be in there. I will know in two more days!