It is a remarkable, yet oddly fitting irony that Mikhail Sergeivich Gorbachev would end his political career on the day that much of the world observed as the birthday of the Prince of Peace.
From the outset we have viewed Gorbachev not just as the Man of the Decade, (as Time magazine anointed him) or even the Man of the Century (as Richard Nixon called him) but rather as a Man of the Ages. To find someone who has so significantly changed history one must look to such towering figures as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, William the Conqueror and Peter the Great. In some respects Gorbachev surpasses even these figures, because he achieved his goal, albeit dimly perceived at times, with less bloodshed than occurs on an average Saturday night in New York City.
Through "intellect, vision and courage," as President Bush so aptly put it last night, he lifted from the world the specter of nuclear holocaust and created the framework for dismantling the last colonial empire. He became the first modern leader to truly grasp what Albert Einstein meant when he said that the dropping of the atomic bomb "changed everything except the way we think." And he became the first modern ruler to reject Bismarck's cynical dictum that "in the end, all issues are settled by blood and iron."
To be sure, Gorbachev still has his puny critics -- mostly unregenerate cold warriors like columnist William Safire, who, just two weeks ago was calling Gorbachev a "tyrant," or or the cadre of "Sovietologists" who secretly resent him because he destroyed the basis of their expertise.
But to the vast majority of a grateful world, there is but one word that sums up the respect for what this estimable man of charactor has done over the past six years: reverence.