When Muammar Gaddafi, the ‘Commander of Islam‘, Africa’s King of Kings and the Great Loon of Libya addressed the United Nations General Assembly at unusual length in 2009, he asked about the hanging of Saddam Hussein. “How is the member of a government and president of a country sentenced to hang? Who were these people in masks that did this? Did they have the right to do it?” If things go on as they are in Libya, he may find out. In the meantime as the King of Kings and Loon of Loons does his hideous best to engulf his country in terror and blood for the sake of extending his despicable and destructive rule, it is worth reflecting on the degree to which the “international community” (to use the oxymoronic phrase with which vapid politicians and bureaucrats seek to disguise the carnivorous nature of international life) flattered, cajoled and enabled this psychopath.
I do not blame the United States and Britain for making a deal to stop his nuclear program. I thank God we did that, and I thank God it worked. I do not blame either country for offering the delusional windbag a path back to normal relations; there is more rejoicing in Heaven over the sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine who never left the fold and it is not as if there were many other viable options to try.
It pains me, but I am also willing to overlook the military sales various western powers (including the United States) made to the regime in order to get its help against terror. In the world in which we actually live, as opposed to the beautiful utopia which so many clueless idealists imagine we inhabit, you sometimes have to deal with Beelzebub to keep Satan in check. FDR and Winston Churchill helped Stalin survive World War Two at the cost of extending his genocidal tyranny and watching him condemn two generations of central and east Europeans to life behind the Iron Curtain. Richard Nixon made a deal with the even more genocidal Mao Zedong and his late-phase psychotic Gang of Four associates to contain the Soviet Union and stabilize Asia as the US retreated from Vietnam. Selling weapons to Gaddafi to enlist his help against Al-Qaeda wasn’t pretty and may not have been wise — but ugly is not a synonym for indefensible.
History, however, will not forgive those who, either from greed or a shared interest in promoting tyranny, colluded with, bribed, defended and helped this grotesque parody of a national leader rape and ruin his own unhappy land while he strutted ludicrously across the tawdry stage of world politics for forty pathetic years.
To name and shame everyone who colluded with this nasty piece of work — and a few are still standing by him now — would take far too long. But this moment in world history should not pass without a shout out to the worst of the worst: the top ten Gaddafi enablers who gave gratuitous aid and comfort to this murderous nutjob.
The Gaddafi Toads
Gaddafi Toad Number One: The “Human Rights Commission” of the “United Nations”
Anybody can suck up to a bloodspattered, psychotic dictator for money. This is presumably what happened to the clueless (and in many cases poor) traditional tribal rulers and elders of Africa who, presumably in exchange for oil money stolen from the Libyan people, pretended to confer the meaningless title of Africa’s “King of Kings” on the Exalted Loon.
But it takes a special kind of ugly to betray human rights on the scale of the UN’s infamous “Human Rights Commission,” a body whose members not only refused to resign en masse rather than see Libya seated on it, they went on to elect (by secret ballot, to protect the abjectly depraved from the just contempt of the civilized world) a representative of Gaddafi’s Libya to the chairmanship of this self-parodying collection of imbeciles and lickspittles.
It was not enough to elevate a representative of one of the world’s most repressive regimes to this position of honor; the preposterously misnamed “Human Rights Commission” went on to ban an actual and authentic human rights group from its meetings (Reporters Without Borders) for daring to criticize this decision.
Said Reporters Without Borders about the Gaddafi henchwoman Najat al-Hajjajia selected to lead the UNHRC: “Censorship, arbitrary detention, jailings, disappearances, torture; at last the UN has appointed someone who knows what she’s talking about.”
To the everlasting shame of all concerned, there was no mass resignation of countries from this panel in protest of these monstrosities; a special dishonorable mention goes to the professional staff of this organization who held their noses and cashed their checks even as a human rights organization was set in the service of evil and oppression.
Two: Gordon Brown and His Government
The British Labor Party prides itself on its moral vision and its global concerns for high ideals. Sadly, it has repeatedly slimed itself where Libya is involved. The stench will not quickly fade.
But Gordon Brown’s government thoroughly disgraced itself. The most craven act of a British government since the Munich Accords was to give in to Gaddafi’s demands to free convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi — to drum up sordid business deals from Gaddafi’s cronies. In the United Kingdom, apparently, mass murderers go Scot free if you dangle enough cash in front of the right politicians.
Gaddafi Toad Number Three: Hugo Chavez
The Loon of Venezuela has long had a soft spot in his heart for his Libyan soul-mate and may yet end up offering asylum to his longtime political ally. In a way, you have to admire the guy. Unlike so many Gaddafi toads, who groveled and flattered until the money ran out, Chavez is as supportive in humiliation and ignominy as he was in the good old days. “A campaign of lies is being spun together regarding Libya. I’m not going to condemn him,” said Chavez as the blood rolled through Libya’s streets. “I’d be a coward to condemn someone who has been my friend.”
Chavez has apparently offered to “mediate” the political situation in Libya, and the Great Loon has accepted.
It’s the greatest thug bromance since Hitler met Mussolini.
I do have a couple of questions: how do ardent Chavez apologists like Sean Penn defend this latest (but utterly characteristic) example of Hugo Chavez’ deep love of democracy and human rights? And when Gaddafi finally goes to the Great Loonery in the Sky, will the Libyans rename the soccer stadium Gaddafi had named for his Venezuelan admirer?
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 Five: Tony Blair
Unfortunately, Gordon Brown is not the only recent leader of the Labor Party whose moral fiber could not withstand the strange attraction of Muammar Gaddafi. As mentioned above, I do not blame either the Labor government or Prime Minister Blair for working to end Gaddafi’s nuclear program or getting him ‘onside’ in the fight against terror. Winston Churchill was willing to make a favorable reference to the Devil on the floor of House of Commons if Hitler invaded Hell, and the precedent gives Blair some cover for his Libya policy.
But Blair went a lot farther than that; Baroness Symons, his special representative to the Middle East, made the gratuitously disgusting comment that Libya’s people “recognised and valued” Gaddafi’s regime. She should wash her mouth out with soap. The ex-prime minister has apparently visited Tripoli to drum up business for his various paymasters since. This is going too far: Churchill might have shaken Stalin’s hand, but he never kissed him on the lips, and he would have considered himself permanently dishonored if he had tried to capitalize on his Stalin ties as a way to make money.
Gaddafi Toad Number Six: Louis Farrakhan
Like the ever-faithful Hugo Chavez, Louis Farrakhan is a Gaddafi loyalist who loves true and loves long. Bitterly disappointed when the Clinton administration blocked the transfer of $1 billion of money looted from the hapless Libyan populace to the Nation of Islam back in 1996 (and, worse, blocked the $250,000 honorarium promised to Minister Farrakhan), Farrakhan is still calling Gaddafi a friend, and predicting that America is on the verge of a Libya style uprising. Sure, Gaddafi has his critics, says Farrakhan, but what leader can count on 100% support?
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!
Eight: Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro is one of the few world leaders with a longer record of service than Muammar Gaddafi; he characteristically rushed to the defense of his fellow democracy-activist and peace builder. In solidarity with the deeply democratic government of Nicaragua, Castro denounced what he said was Washington’s plan to use NATO to seize Libya’s oil — and cautioned the world not to be too quick to believe stories about violence and death in democratic Libya.
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.
Ten: Delusional American College Professors
There has been no tyrant so bloody, no dictator so unscrupulous in the last 100 dismal years of world history that he hasn’t found a plethora of American intellectuals to serve as unpaid flacks. Walter Duranty and the New York Times got a Pulitzer Prize for whitewashing Stalin’s crimes; plenty of American journalists and professors have praised despots ranging from Mussolini to Franco to Mao.
Gaddafi too has found his clueless American defenders. Inviting a series of American intellectuals and scholars to Libya as part of a typical PR offensive, the kind of tactic they teach in the Techniques of Tyranny 101 intro course, Gaddafi gave them the kind of snow job that Hitler and Stalin used to give visiting foreigners — and too many of them fell for it. Read this column in the Washington Post from Benjamin Barber and weep:
“Written off not long ago as an implacable despot, Gaddafi is a complex and adaptive thinker as well as an efficient, if laid-back, autocrat. Unlike almost any other Arab ruler, he has exhibited an extraordinary capacity to rethink his country’s role in a changed and changing world.“
And there is this chatty travelogue from Steve Walt, the self-styled “realist” who claims to have penetrated the dark and evil secrets of the Israel lobby. Walt was struck by how open and friendly everybody in Libya seemed during his stay. Well informed, charming, no problems with the regime — the Libyans Walt met had no problems with Gaddafi, and this seems to have convinced him that Gaddafi was not exactly a Boy Scout but not an unusually bad type as these perplexing foreign types go. No deranged loons here, folks, just a bunch of evolving new allies. Walt cheerily ends the account of his visit by hoping for more political change in Libya, and “more dramatic” political change in the US as well.
These men were not alone, and they never went totally off the deep end; there were a lot of Americans whose ties to reality were so loose that they assumed that anybody Ronald Reagan wanted to bomb (and Fidel Castro liked) must be a freedom fighter. But it’s a sad reflection on the state of American politics that such a bad man operating such a destructive regime could have fooled some of our most eminent thinkers with such hackneyed and unoriginal methods.
UPDATE: Since the original post went up earlier today, I’ve seen this from an article by David Corn and Siddhartha Mahanta in Mother 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.