Qaddafi and Soft Power: A Response by Joe Nye

By Joseph S. Nye

By Joseph S. Nye

In view of the criticism by Martin Peretz of The New Republic and in Mother Jones magazine of my meeting in 2007 with Muammar Qaddafi and my subsequent article in The New Republic, let me try to clarify what actually happened.

In February 2007, I was invited by a former student who was working for Monitor Group to go to Libya to give a speech on globalization, meet with government officials and probably meet with Qaddafi. My colleague Bob Putnam had recently done so and found it interesting. Monitor offered to pay a consulting fee plus expenses, and as someone who writes on international politics and leaders, I was curious to see what Qaddafi was like. Bad leaders are as interesting a topic for research as good leaders, and I later used some of the interview material in my book on leadership. I spent several hours with him, which I described as surreal, but as factually as possible in an article in December 10, 2007, issue of The New Republic.

It is important to emphasize that I disclosed my connection with the Monitor Group when I wrote the article. The article says “I was in Libya at the invitation of the Monitor Group, a consulting company that is helping Libya open itself to the global economy.”   The clear inference was that I was paid a fee for this activity.  When Mother Jones asked the editor of The New Republic if I had disclosed that Monitor had paid me as a consultant, he said he did not recollect that I had, and then added an addendum to the article on the internet.

But his recollection is mistaken. I dug out the first draft I sent to TNR, and it says clearly “…Monitor Group, a consulting company which has undertaken to help Libya open itself to the global economy. Part of that process is meeting with a variety of Western experts whom Monitor hires as consultants.”  But this sentence was dropped by the editors at TNR . I have sent the original to both TNR and Mother Jones and asked for a retraction of the false statement that I did not alert them.

As for the contents of the article, it is hardly a puff piece. Since this was a period when Qaddafi had given up his nuclear program, was inviting American government officials to Libya, and appeared to be changing his international strategy, I thought my impressions were worth reporting. I initiated the article and it was not at the behest of Monitor whose staff were somewhat skeptical of the idea. As anyone who reads  the article will see, I emphasized that Qaddafi seemed to be changing his foreign policy, but I also  referred to him as an autocrat with little respect for human rights and with a record of sponsoring terrorism. The article reports  that I told him that if he wanted improved relations with the US, he would have to improve his record on human rights. (TNR edited out the statement in my original draft  that reported I told Qaddafi he should release a group of Bulgarian nurses being held on false charges at that time.) I asked in the article if Qaddafi had really changed, and concluded it was difficult to know for sure, but “ One thing about Qaddafi, how­ever, has not changed: Even as he takes a softer approach to the exercise of power abroad, he remains a domi­neering figure at home.”

My second visit was in October 2008 when Monitor asked me to join a group to meet with Qaddafi to explain the world financial crisis. The meeting lasted a few hours.  I doubt we were very successful, and there seemed nothing worthy to report.

A separate issue, which involved no compensation, was a request by a friend to comment on the theoretical chapter of Seif Qaddafi’s LSE thesis that mentioned soft power. I frequently agree to such requests. I found the chapter intelligent, as were Seif’s responses to my criticisms. He thanks me in the preface, but David Held at LSE was his supervisor. I gather from the press that questions have been raised at LSE about Seif’s authorship of the thesis, but I do not know anything about that since I only commented on one chapter. Though Peretz criticizes me for this in his blog,  by his accounting, he has read more of the thesis than I have.

At no time have I supported the Qaddafi regime, and I am on record as hoping for its swift overthrow.


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About Joseph S. Nye

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is Dean Emeritus of the Kennedy School. He joined the Harvard Faculty in 1964. He developed the theory of neoliberalism, and the concepts of soft power and smart power. He served as chairman of the National Intelligence Council in 1993-94 and was assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs in the Clinton Administration. Full bio >
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3 Responses to Qaddafi and Soft Power: A Response by Joe Nye

  1. Libya people will find the right way, thanks for this article.

  2. Colin Gallagher says:

    The Monitor Group took Gaddafi’s money knowing full well that Qaddafi had ordered the murders of the 270 passengers aboard Pan Am Flight 103. If Qaddafi could have been rehabilitated after that atrocity, why should his having killed a few more of his own people cause you to disown him now Professor? Seif Qaddafi had also mocked the families of the Flight 103 victims as “greedy” and having traded in the blood of their relatives. Did you find those comments to be “intelligent” as well Professor?

  3. onKitz says:

    I see so many people talking about whether Gaddafi should still be in power, or if he should have been removed some time ago before all this broke out?

    Let’s face it, this is a very clever man we are talking about here – one that tries to convince the world that there is no fighting in Libya, whilst we listen to the sounds of rocket grenades and gunfire in the background – one that contacts the EU council demanding $6.5billion to help him fight illegal immigrants – and one that still thinks he can win this battle against his ownpeople, the allied air and naval defence plus a no fly zone???

    Send in a sniper and get this over and done with! Why risk the lives of innocent people, Libyan, English, Amaerican and French just because someone has completely lost the plot.

    Are we all just kidding ourselves, or has this guy seriously got a screw missing.

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