The World’s Top Ten Gaddafi Toads

I missed this, by Walter Russell Mead, yesterday.

The Mead List: World’s Top Ten Gaddafi Toads

Gaddafi Toad Number Four: Nicholas Sarkozy

After a meeting with French President Nicholas Sarkozy in 2007, the Great Loon explained that no difficult subjects came up.  “President Sarkozy and I did not discuss [human rights].  We are quite close friends.  We cooperate.”

True enough; France has a long history of self-abasement before self-important African dictators who slaughter their citizens while bribing important French political families and giving sweetheart deals to French companies.  This is, I am told, somehow connected to French glory and prestige — although the precise connection eludes me.  As recently as January 20 of this year, Libya was boasting about $27 billion of French corporate activity in the country; clearly, as long as Gaddafi’s goon squads could intimidate the domestic opposition, Sarkozy would have continued to flatter Gaddafi, sweeping all unpleasant subjects under the rug.

Gaddafi Toad Number Seven: Silvio Berlusconi

The embattled Italian prime minister is a truly rare bird among the Gaddafi suck-ups. Most of Gaddafi’s hangers-on at least got paid; Berlusconi and Italian taxpayers are paying for the privilege of stroking the Loon. In 2008 Berlusconi pledged $5 billion in “reparations” for Italy’s sins while it kept Libya under colonial rule for much of the 20th century; the next year he sent the Italian air force to put on a special show for Gaddafi’s birthday. Bunga! Bunga! Bunga!

Nine: The London School of Economics

Lots of universities take money from lots of unsavory donors; as a university professor, I sympathize. The emperor Vespasian levied a tax on the urine collected from Rome’s main sewer (and used as a source of chemicals for bleaching and other processes). His son complained about the disgusting and stinky revenue source: his father held up a gold coin and said “Pecunia non olet,” the money doesn’t stink. There are plenty of Non Olet chairs for professors of this and that around the world today, and there are worse uses for money than to keep academics out of the cold.

But there are limits, and the London School of Economics went well beyond these when it accepted a gift of $2.4 million from distinguished alum (and mad-dog son of Gaddafi) Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi to establish a program on “civil society issues” in North Africa. Next up at LSE: the Herman Goering Chair in Judaic Studies.

UPDATE Since the original post went up earlier today, I’ve seenthis from an article by David Corn and Siddhartha Mahanta inMother Jones, thanks to the diligence of crack research associate Peter Mellgard.  According to Corn and Mahanta, Walt, Barber and a number of other well known Americans were sent to Libya as part of a PR offensive by a company hired by Libya to clean up Gaddafi’s sordid image.  The story is worth reading; some of the figures mentioned in it, like Robert Putnam, come away looking good.  Others do not.

I’ll post another time about the ethics of intellectuals and dictators; I’ve been to places like North Korea, Cuba and the Soviet Union back when it was still the Evil Empire, and it’s not always easy to know what to do.  But it does seem that if you are paid a consulting fee by a for-profit PR firm hired by the dictator’s government, that is something you should disclose when and if you write about what you saw.

I wish I believed there were some lessons from all this that we could learn and move on. The reality is that nothing much is likely to change. Gaddafi will, one hopes, fall — and soon. But power doesn’t just corrupt those who hold it. It corrupts those who behold it: there will always be people around who are ready and willing to praise the emperor’s new clothes.


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