March 3, 2011

· Politics

One of the sideshows that has accompanied the continuing collapse of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya has been the parade of Western intellectuals and chattering-class heroes who, it turns out, were happy to take a nicely-reimbursed trip to Tripoli over the past few years, meet the Great Man, and then, in almost all cases, write a fawning article about the experience afterwards. Often these pieces appeared in quite high-profile locations such as The Guardian, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and so on. Thus, Anthony Giddens embarrassed himself pitching the notion that under the tender guidance of Gaddafi Libya might one day become the “Norway of North Africa”. Benjamin Barber, Joseph Nye, and several others did much the same. Robert Putnam took the bait but spat out the hook just in time, writing of his meeting with Gaddafi:

Was this a serious conversation or an elaborate farce? Naturally, I came away thinking—hoping—that I had managed to sway Col. Gadhafi in some small way, but my wife was skeptical. Two months later I was invited back to a public roundtable in Libya, but by then I had concluded that the whole exercise was a public-relations stunt, and I declined.

Putnam clearly married well. He was also one of the few who publicly acknowledged that his participation was brokered by the Monitor Group, a consulting firm with a large consulting contract with Libya. In a report, David Corn and Siddhartha Mahanta follow the money, showing how Monitor recruited a wide range of “thought leaders” to visit Libya and (in most cases) meet with Gaddafi. They link to an internal report, helpfully titled “Project to Enhance the Profile of Libya and Muammar Qadhafi” detailing the recruitment program and the supportive articles that subsequently emerged from it.

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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