Qaddafi syndrome: Western politicians love rich dictators' families

Money, even foreign money (and particularly that Saudi money), has always been able to buy access to Western statesmen. But in the last decade or so, the proportions have subtly shifted. The democratic West has become relatively poorer, while a clutch of undemocratic “emerging” markets have become richer. To put it more bluntly, Western politicians, ex-politicians, and even aristocrats have become much, much poorer than the very, very rich businessmen emerging from the oil-and-gas states of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Twenty years ago, no retired British or German statesman would have looked outside his country for employment. Nowadays, Blair advises the governments of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, among others; Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, collects a paycheck from Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth.

True, there is a legitimate argument for maintaining contacts with dictators: Blair helped persuade Col. Qaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, and in the last 10 days he has twice called the dictator and asked him to stop shooting his people. It hasn’t helped, of course, but it can’t hurt to try.

But there is no justification for taking dictators’ money or befriending their offspring, especially not while simultaneously playing politics with their parents.