He's our bad guy: A Paul Manafort story
© Greg Nash

"It is the middle of the night, July 27, 1989, and I am aboard an ancient Kenya Airways 707 that was retired long ago from the US fleet. Its stained fuselage riddled with rust spots around the nose and cargo area give away its age and condition. I am flying from Nairobi, Kenya, to Mogadishu, Somalia, and I am feeling decidedly queasy."

"My complexion matches the faded green hue of the plane seats. As if this ancient aircraft were not enough to worry about, I am traveling to Mogadishu to meet with a murderous dictator. His name is Siad Barre, but he goes by the nick-name of ‘Mighty Mouth.’ I am bleary-eyed from the long and bumpy ride on this decomposing airliner and I can thank my boss, Paul John Manafort, for my exhaustion.”


That's an excerpt from Chapter One of my book: "Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa's First Woman President" (Kiwai Media, June 2016).

The chapter is aptly titled, "He's Our Bad Guy."

When I anticipated the book’s release earlier this year, I thought to myself, “How timely!” I will be invited to field questions about what lessons the first female African Head of State might be able to share with the eventual Democratic nominee for the U.S. presidency, widely anticipated to be Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNAACP seeks to boost Black voter turnout in six states California Dems back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden picks Harris as running mate MORE.

Nope. Not many people seem to be interested in that knowledge-share. Right now, it’s all about Paul J. Manafort.

So back to Paul ...

"Over six feet tall with large brown eyes, a stocky build and dark Italian features, Manafort isn’t good looking, precisely, but he does have a commanding presence that compels you to notice him when he walks into a room."

"He is one of those rare individuals who can cut through the noise, unerringly get to the heart of a problem and hit on a solution. Inside the firm, we joke that working at BMS&K is like playing one big game of Stratego: building armies and scheming to take over the world. That is exactly what it feels like working with Manafort. In fact, at times, that is exactly what was going on.”

Having worked a decade with Paul from 1985 to 1995, in the midst of great global transition, during an era of Freedom Fighters, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, and being Paul’s designated Third World traveler of choice, I can offer a few observations.

Paul Manafort was a smart pick by Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district MORE for campaign Chairman. They both play to win, at all costs. They both encourage a cult of personality and demand absolute loyalty.

And they are masters at what they do, Trump knowing intuitively how to punch the gut of the American electorate, to capitalize on the mood of anger and frustration, and Paul, understanding how to use that skill to power a national campaign. When Paul sets his mind to something, get out of the way, or he will mow you down.

No surprise, Paul is not the hero of Choosing the Hero, The book celebrates the rise of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, and the first woman to be elected president of an African nation.

But it is fair to say that without the skill set I learned from Paul, and the challenging missions he sent me on, often to areas of armed conflict, I might not have been able to do what I did for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and for the people of Liberia.

So the moral of my professional story with Paul Manafort is, “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

K. Riva Levinson is President and CEO of KRL International LLC a DC-based consultancy that works in the world emerging markets. She is the author of Choosing the Hero: My Improbable Journey and the Rise of Africa’s First Woman President (Kiwai Media, June 2016).

The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.