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Joseph Nye Responds to Criticism of His TNR Article on Qaddafi

In view of the criticism by Martin Peretz of The New Republic and in Mother Jones magazine of my meeting in 2007 with Qaddafi and my subsequent article in TNR, 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 the December 10, 2007 issue of TNR.

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 New Republic if I had disclosed that Monitor had paid me as a consultant, TNR maintained that I had not.But this was mistaken. I dug out the first draft I sent to TNR, and it says clearly, “I was in Libya at the invitation of a former Harvard colleague who works for the 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.” The final sentence of this disclosure 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 U.S., 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 that, while it was difficult to know for sure, “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 a TNR Online column, 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.

The New Republic responds:

Joseph Nye is correct about the disclosure. While the published piece explained that he had visited Libya through Monitor and that Monitor was working for the Libyan government, the second sentence of the disclosure was edited out of the piece, which it should not have been. We regret the error, and have added a further correction to the bottom of the original article.