The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
The Tears of a Loon

If you have ever wondered how people who take money from evil dictators rationalize their behavior and deceive themselves about what they are doing, you should go read a recent Atlantic article by Jacqueline Frazier describing her experiences with one of the Great Loon’s sons, Saadi Qaddafi.

Frazier helped out on one of Saadi’s projects—a free-trade zone in Libya. She quit as the civil war escalated, but stayed in touch with Saadi as a friend. News of Muammar Qaddafi’s death emerged just as Frazier was visiting Saadi in Niger to persuade him to cooperate with an Interpol arrest warrant.

Before I could figure out how to break the news to Saadi, though, the job was done for me. I heard footsteps outside, and walked to the window in time to see a group of Nigerien guards go over to him, their heads hung low, to deliver their condolences. He nodded a thank-you, then returned to sitting exactly as he had been before, staring straight ahead. A few of the Libyan boys who were staying at the compound had by now gathered at his feet. The wind rustled the trees and sprinkled the mattresses with dead leaves, but no one moved.

Saadi spent the rest of the day like this, sitting motionless, as people came and went, paying respects. Outside the compound, the world cheered the death of a tyrant. But here, in a small walled compound in Niamey, Niger, the man who had died was a father.

For all its naive sympathy (“I hurried downstairs and across the grounds to where Saadi was sitting. I didn’t want to tell him that his father had died, but I had to make sure he didn’t see these pictures”), it’s a creepy article and never quite seems to engage with the horrors and evils in which Frazier collaborated as she took money to help the Loon family degrade, torture and oppress their country a little bit more effectively.

Dancing with dictators is weird. On the one hand they appear to be regular human beings. But dark shadows loom in the background. Saadi Qaddafi is no doubt a complicated man with a range of virtues and vices. Like Carmella Soprano or Albert Speer, he didn’t simply embrace the evil he served. He struggled, he made excuses, he lied to himself, he hoped for the best.

And of course he worked to charm, beguile and bribe various people to collaborate with him as they all pretended they didn’t know about the secret police, the corruption, the brutal oppression taking place just out of sight. It would all be so different once the free trade zone was finished!

Whether it’s poor writing, poor editing or a simple lack of character and intelligence, Frazier’s account makes her look both brainless and complicit—more Eva Braun than Leni Riefenstahl. Kinder editors would have killed it, but perhaps kindness to Qaddafi enablers isn’t high on the priorities of the Atlantic staff.

Published on April 26, 2012 9:10 am
  • WigWag

    Perhaps the person at the Atlantic responsible for editing Frazier’s story was a person Professor Mead knows pretty well, Steve Clemons. After all, like the author of the Atlantic article Professor Mead is alluding to, Steve accepted free first class airfare and luxury hotel accommodations to travel to Tripoli and then came back and wrote extraordinarily banal posts at his blog at the Washington Note telling his readers how the “great loon” wasn’t all that bad. Steve Walt did exactly the same thing; he accepted the “loons” largess and then came back and authored a blog post at his FP site raving about how he could get CNN in his Tripoli Hotel room but couldn’t get it in China. Walt assured his audience that despite the “loons” reputation the people he met in Tripoli seemed to be satisfied with their leader.

    Clemons and Walt were joined by many others who accepted gifts from “the loon” and then came back and wrote nice things about Libya and the Libyan leader without fully disclosing that they received gifts of free travel and airfare from the Libyan Government or affiliated organizations.

    Other offenders in the case of Libya include; Richard Pearl, Joseph Nye and a coterie of pundits and academics of all political persuasions who were only too happy to take “the loons” money without disclosing that they had been paid and then came back to the United States and penned articles and essays that they hoped would pass the smell test whitewashing “the loons” behavior. Professor Mead himself wrote a post excoriating this behavior at Via Meadia (before his blog was called Via Meadia).

    The real problem is that these bloggers felt free to write about Libya without informing their readers that Libya had paid for their trips. When confronted about this they all feigned outrage that anyone might think that they were bought and paid for. These are all smart people; surely they knew in their heart of hearts that their lack of full disclosure gave rise to at least the appearance of impropriety.

    This is an issue that the so called “new media” stubbornly refuses to confront but it has major ethical implications especially as Americans come to rely more and more on new media sources.

    It should be pointed out that Via Meadia is not exempt from this questionable approach to punditry. Professor Mead is as stubborn as the apologists for “the loon” who he once excoriated in his refusal to disclose to his readers who pays for his trips to nations that he writes about. He tends to get as angry as the rest of his colleagues in the pundit class that anyone would question his integrity or the idea that who pays for his trip might impact either consciously or unconsciously what he writes.

    Like his fellow new media pundits, Professor Mead just can’t seem to understand that it’s not up to him as a writer to determine whether there might be a conflict of interest if he writes about a place he’s been paid to visit, it’s up to his readers to decide.

  • vanderleun

    Let’s not overlook the real benefit of articles like this and, more importantly, videos of the final minutes of “The Loon’s” life…. that would be to underscore in the minds of surviving despots like Assad what is in store for them if they don’t continue to kill any of their people that oppose them. The fate of ‘The Loon’ at the hands of “his” people has done a lot to seal the fate of Syrians.

  • Fred

    The death of the Loon was at the hands of “his” people with the aid of NATO. If NATO doesn’t decide to aid “Assad’s” people, he will survive and flourish. What’s in Libya now is no improvement over the Loon, nor is what comes in the future likely to be. No matter who we do business with in that part of the world, we will be doing business with a brutal tyrant. Ergo, I have a very hard time working up much outrage about this story.

  • Fred

    Correction: No matter who we do business with in that part of the world we will be doing business with a brutal tyrant or a would-be brutal tyrant.

  • http://Thepencilofnature.net Lorenz Gude

    I think the sad truth is that most of what we see in the MSM and the new media is largely propaganda. There is the influence of money and also self censorship and cultural framing that badly distorts. Some observers are better. I’d include WRM and MSM figures like John Burns, and independent bloggers like Michael J Totten. We all have ideological and cultural predispositions, but for me to take them seriously they have to demonstrate a decent regard for truth. For example my background is liberal East Cost Intellectual Establishment so on first reading I almost always tend to agree with anything Tom Froedman writes. He gives perfect expression to the semi conscious ideological and cultural frames through which I tend to see the world. He makes me feel like Dr Pangloss – that everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. WRM on the ther hand works very hard to see through the Blue Haze and help his readers clense the doors of self-deception.