Investigate, Interrogate, Prosecute and Punish
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  • WigWag

    “But what is infinitely more interesting and important to know will be to understand how the Loon built relations with major banks, PR firms, political consultancies and other hired guns in western establishments. This is not only important for helping us understand Libya; it’s important to create that name and shame culture to push rogue members of our establishment back towards some kind of minimally decent moral stance.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Speaking of the “Loon” building relationships with “hired guns” let’s not forget the relationships that the Gadaffi clan built with the pundit class in the United States. How many American professors, pundits and so-called journalists accepted free trips to Libya, paid for by the Gadaffi regime, and then came back and white washed Libya’s behavior? Some of these commentators disclosed that the Libyan Government had paid for their trips while others didn’t; either way, the behavior was shameful.

    Here’s what Steve Clemons who used to blog at the Washington Note and now blogs for the Atlantic had to say after accepting a free trip to Libya. The title of the blog post, (which is dated Mar 22, 2010, 10:54PM) was “Gaddafi’s Unique Role,”

    “I have only been in Libya a few hours but am intrigued with this place and the people here.

    Libyan Leader Muammar al Gaddafi’s pictures are everywhere — but at least they are creative and have some panache compared to what one finds in some other countries with dominant political bosses who have no style.

    Gaddafi is working overtime pulling major summits into Libya — particularly the Arab Summit which will take place here next week. Just last week, he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his takeover of the country’s government and giant celebratory posters and placards are all over the city.

    Tomorrow, I will be meeting one of Colonel Gaddafi’s sons, Seif, who has supported programs that purport to de-radicalize violent Islamists. I’ll know more about the program after some meetings tomorrow, but at least Libya figured out a way to seriously confront the reality of political Islam. The U.S., as of now, has no real strategy regarding political Islam — other than sticking its head in the sand…

    I also have a hunch and some hope that Gaddafi is going to use the Arab Summit to arm twist the Egyptians and Saudis to stop playing games with Fatah and Hamas and to remove the blocks each of them have had at various points in resecuring a unified Palestinian government, something Ban Ki-Moon also called for in more general terms on Sunday.”

    Then there was Steve Walt, who never bothered to inform anyone that he received a free trip to Libya before saying in a blog post (dated, January 19, 2010 – 2:51 PM) entitled, “The Shores of Tripoli,”

    “First, although Libya is far from a democracy, it also doesn’t feel like other police states that I have visited. I caught no whiff of an omnipresent security service — which is not to say that they aren’t there — and there were fewer police or military personnel on the streets than one saw in Franco’s Spain. The Libyans with whom I spoke were open and candid and gave no sign of being worried about being overheard or reported or anything like that. The TV in my hotel room featured 50+ channels, including all the normal news services (BBC World Service, CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, etc.) along with contemporary U.S. sitcoms like “2-1/2 Men,” shows like “Desperate Housewives,” assorted movies, and one of the various “CSI” clones. A colleague on the trip told me that many ordinary Libyans have satellite dishes and that the government doesn’t interfere with transmissions. I tried visiting various political websites from my hotel room and had no problems, although other human rights groups report that Libya does engage in selective filtering of some political websites critical of the regime. It is also a crime to criticize Qaddafi himself, the government’s past human rights record is disturbing at best, and the press in Libya is almost entirely government-controlled. Nonetheless, Libya appears to be more open than contemporary Iran or China and the overall atmosphere seemed far less oppressive than most places I visited in the old Warsaw Pact….My own view (even before I visited) is that the improvement of U.S.-Libyan relations as one of the few (only?) success stories in recent U.S. Middle East diplomacy. ”

    Walt’s blog post can be read in full, here,

    Walt wasn’t the only villain, Francis Fukuyama, Bernard Lewis, Joseph Nye, Robert Putnam, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Richard Perle all engaged in the same questionable behavior.

    David Corn and Siddhartha Mahanta wrote an interesting expose for “Mother Jones” about the ethical lapses these pundits were guilty of. If you haven’t seen it, it is worth taking a look at,

    Also worth taking another look at is Professor Mead’s fine post from March 3, 2011 in which he names the “Worlds Top Ten Gadaffi Toads.”

    Mead outlines in fine fashion how low some of our leading academic experts and pundits have fallen.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Wigwag: the individuals you name did all behave in the same way. In my view — as someone who has met several times with Fidel Castro, traveled to North Korea and met Arafat in Gaza, meeting with someone is not necessarily the same thing as making propaganda for them. And in our system in which people out of government as well as in it make important contributions to policy and pubic discussion, it’s important to have non-governmental types meet some of these people. It’s not always easy to know how to walk the line. Some of the people you mention managed it well; others less so. If someone meets a Qaddafi or an Assad and subsequently gives their honest opinion about the person and the regime, they are not, I think, doing anything other than what they are supposed to do. The two Steves you refer to may have been undiscerning, but I don’t think either one consciously acted against their sense of the best interests of the United States or said anything they did not believe. There was a time when it was US policy to try to build bridges with Qaddafi after he ended the nuclear program; traveling there during a thaw of that kind is often something that our government encourages. The pundit stuff is murky, and being seduced by a dictator is bad, but not bad in the same way as being bribed by one.

      There are other complicated questions and not everything that people call ‘lobbying’ is bad. The US congress has a legitimate need to know, for example, how a given piece of legislation might affect Lukoil and as long as Lukoil is operating in this country legally it is has the right to make its views known. Is an oil lobbyist for Lukoil responsible for Russian misbehavior in the Caucasus?

      The old American establishment had its venalities and blind spots, but there was something of a sense of what was and was not acceptable. That sense is more attenuated today, and as a result, many people are negotiating some tricky territory without a strong inner compass. Not a good idea.

  • Donna Robinson Divine

    One element is lost in all the discussions of Qadhafi in light of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. While Qadhafi was eccentric and behaved in outlandish ways, he also deployed tactics shared by the autocrats ruling across the Middle East. He crushed dissent; he did not allow for the development of civil society organizations. He had a ruthless secret police and was not hesitant to torture. His policies divided one tribe or geographic sector from another. He kept control of resources and distributed them as favors to people loyal to him. He often triggered regional conflicts that he would be called upon to contain. Much the same could be said of the Asad’s or Saddam Husayn. There is, in the Middle East, a disposition to set up regimes and not functioning states with institutions that can operate outside of the country’s rulers. So, while Qadhafi often made seemingly outlandish statements, he sometimes also revealed something about the exercise of power in the region. And it must be said, he deployed that power in many of the same ways as his fellow dictators in the region.

  • Richard F. Miller

    Walter, as generalities, much of what you say is true. But where the rubber meets the road, i.e., when Libyan money buys Western, and especially, academic allegiances, your defense begins to break down.

    Consider the case of Monitor Group, a Harvard-professoriate connected consulting outfit whose disclosures about Libyan relations eventually caused the firm to apologize. Monitor took Great Loon Big Bucks and fashioned a PR campaign on his behalf, while failing to register as a lobbyist (since corrected.)

    Between ’06 and ’08 they were paid $250,000 a month. None other than Joseph Nye (who defended his Libyan trip) nonetheless conceded that it may have strengthened Loon’s “confidence and determination to remain in power.”

    You think?

    Frankly, if Nye and his ilk want junkets to Libya, let them apply for a grant through recognized university or private foundations, as opposed to taking bucks from silver-plated shills for the Libyans. And by the way, Monitor was also implicated in “helping” Gadaffi’s son write his Ph.D thesis.

    You have often and correctly criticized Western elites for not being up to the tasks of leadership. This kind of thing needs to be self-regulated by academia, because academic “freedom” should not confer a license to its non-regulated tenured superstars to exploit their employer’s brand (in this case, Harvard’s) for private gain.

    In the canon of judicial ethics, there is a prohibition on acts that are improper or lend the appearance of impropriety. Talk about moral compasses all you wish (and sound advice you give) the actions of these professors (and many others with other odious regimes) fall into one or the other category–and either is unacceptable.

  • Kris

    As a counterexample to WigWag’s list, there’s Michael Totten, who while idiosyncratic seems scrupulously honest. It was one of his articles that helped me realize that while Qaddafi might be a colorful and entertaining loon (cf Idi Amin), he was a particularly brutal and perhaps even totalitarian dictator. (Emphasis on “particularly”.)

  • WigWag

    “The two Steves you refer to may have been undiscerning, but I don’t think either one consciously acted against their sense of the best interests of the United States or said anything they did not believe.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Come on, Professor Mead; have you actually read what they wrote? Neither of them praised the regime effusively; that wouldn’t have passed the smell test. They “thanked” the regime for their free trip by uttering banalities to their readers. Steve Clemons waxed eloquent about the “panache” of the posters of Gadaffi found all over Tripoli. He cited with approval how Gadaffi was doing a favor to the U.N. Secretary General by encouraging a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah. He lauded the Libyan regime for having a far better policy on deprogramming Jihadists than the United States did.

    Walt was even worse; after his trip to Libya the only thing he could think to write about was how he could watch “Two and a Half Men” in his hotel room and how positively Libya compared to Warsaw Pact nations he had visited.

    I am sure that you are right; they believed everything they said. Where I think you’re off base, Professor Mead, is that the problem is not with what they said; the problem is with what they refrained from saying.

    As they were sitting in front of their computer screens pondering how they could compliment the Gadaffi regime in a way that would pass the smell test, do you think that they stopped for a minute to ponder what it must have been like to be seated in a disintegrating jetliner as it plunged from 30,000 feet with the realization hitting home between shrieks of terror what it would be like to never see their loved ones again? Yet all Clemons could think to talk about was how Gadaffi had a “unique role.” All Walt decided his readers needed to know after his free trip was the television programs he could watch in his Tripoli hotel room.

    I assume that Steve Clemons is a reader of this blog. Yesterday, when I wrote my earlier post on this thread I went to the archive section of the Washington Note and re-read the comment section from his March 22, 2010 thread. When I went back to it this evening, the comment section from that post had been largely deleted with just a small number of non-relevant comments remaining. Rather bush league; don’t you think?

    The other issue pertinent to this discussion is why the various pundits in question decided to withhold from their readers the fact that they had accepted free trips to Libya underwritten by the Libyan Government or organizations affiliated with the Libyan Government. I think you are right, Professor Mead, it is not necessarily inappropriate for pundits to accept free trips. But it seems to me that it is inappropriate to accept a free trip and then come back and tell your readers what you found without disclosing who had paid for your trip. Steve Clemons appeared on television and talked about his visit to Libya. When doing so, he revealed who had underwritten his trip. He also wrote two blog posts at the Washington Note about his visit to Libya; he never informed his loyal readers that his trip had been a gift of the Libyan Government. Steve Walt never bothered to inform the readers of his blog about who paid for his trip to Libya. The other pundits didn’t either, as far as I know. The best thing that can be said about this is that it is a serious ethical lapse.

    Of course, Clemons, Walt and the rest all claim that a free trip could never influence them to say anything that they didn’t believe. What do we expect them to claim; that upon returning home they wrote nice things about their host to thank them for their generosity in providing first class airfare and accommodations?

    The Walt and Clemons claim is lame. First of all, the problem is not what they said; their comments were little more than trivial; the problem is what they didn’t say. Regardless, shouldn’t they be disclosing who pays for their foreign travel before they write about what they witnessed and let their readers decide whether or not to discount their commentary because it was bought and paid for?

    A few months back, Professor Mead, you wrote a stunningly good article for Foreign Affairs on the influence of the “Tea Party” on American foreign policy. One of the issues the article dealt with is why Americans don’t trust the foreign policy Mandarins on issues pertaining to the Middle East or anything else.

    The pundits who accepted free trips to Libya and then came back and said nice things about the regime are a varied group. Bernard Lewis and Richard Pearle are on the right end of the political spectrum. Anne Marie Slaughter and Steve Clemons are both on the left of the political spectrum although one is a liberal internationalist and the other describes himself as a progressive realist. Walt is also on the left and Fukuyama is hard to pin down. What all of these elite foreign policy gurus have in common is that they took Gadaffi’s money; they returned home and treated the dictator with kid gloves in their commentary and they mostly refrained from telling their readers who paid for their travel.

    Is it any wonder that Americans don’t trust this ethically challenged group of experts?

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