Even moderately intelligent laymen can assess the competence and probity of politicians in poorer countries. Given their incompetence and corruption, most would be out of work if they were ordinary citizens and declared bankrupt if they were businesses. Politicians who live in luxury while half their population are unemployed and most are impoverished are easy to judge.
The high standards of living, mass education, technical sophistication and pretence of culture, however, often mask the idiocy of leaders in "affluent" societies. Capacity to give "aid" and loudly pontificate on the ills of poor countries give the impression that presidents and prime ministers in rich countries are supermen with brains of quality.
A look at politicians' handling of the Libyan crisis, however, shows that idiocy is a necessary quality of the breed, and that stupidity is a matter of degree. Gaddafi was a young colonel with fine ideals and limited intelligence who believed that he had the ability to improve the state of his country and continent. In his mind he thought his Green Book was superior to The Bible and Koran.
Compared to some of his fellow Arabs, his thinking was superlative. While two-thirds of Arabs live in Africa, many of these people share the European idea that North Africa is somewhat alien to the continent. Like right-wing Europeans, they think that sub-Saharan Africa is part of the "Dark Continent" where it is legitimate to hunt slaves and exploit "natives".
Revolutionary Arabs such as Nasser recognised Africa as essential to Arab identity and he and revolutionary Africans such as Nkrumah recognised the necessity to promote Pan-Africanism throughout the continent. One reason for Western hostility to the two leaders was their refusal to think of Africa as fragmented, backward and alien.
One of Gaddafi's positive achievements was his identification with Africa, his willingness to invest his country's oil wealth in African industry and to welcome other Africans into his nation as workers and experts. To overcome the schismatic tendencies in his own people, he also recruited foreigners into his armed forces, principally Tuaregs from Mauretania, Mali and Niger.
Of course, his fantasies exceeded his intelligence and he thought he should be Leader of all Africa. His misguided support for the leader of Burkina Faso also led him to finance and arm psychopathic mass murderers and thieves in Liberia and Sierra Leone. While Gaddafi was an enemy of the West he was secure, because he knew how to deal with the power drunk.
When he "normalised" relations with them, however, and became their "friend", he became vulnerable because he let his guard down. When Libyan "revolutionaries", backed by pre-feudal Saudi Arabia and Qatar began to demand "democracy" through the overthrow of Gaddafi, they gained the support of leaders in Europe and America who blamed the "tyrant" for killing his own people.
The Western powers sponsored Security Council Resolution 1973 to "protect the Libyan people", and the Russians and Chinese abstained, believing they could be trusted because of repeated lectures on "human rights". The former Russian president refused to believe his security operatives who warned him that submarines from the NATO powers were already poised to flatten Libyan cities.
Although Gaddafi did not have well-organised armed forces, his capacity for violence was enough to resist indefinitely the disorganised rabble equipped with right-wing Arab weapons, Western special forces and inane slogans about "democracy" and the "rights of people to express themselves". The Libyan leader, however, had no capacity to resist the West in open warfare.
With their mandate to "protect civilians", the NATO airforces, navies and special forces degraded Gaddafi's armed forces to the point where they helped his enemies to capture and kill him. Having learnt their lesson from Libya, and Russia having changed presidents, the Chinese and Russians will not allow themselves to be suckered into regime change in Syria through sentiment.
While Sarkozy, Cameron, Hague and Clinton no longer crow about their "liberation" of the Libyan people, their critics are largely silent about the disaster that the destruction of the Gaddafi regime has inflicted on the country. The whole world is condemned to live with the consequences of replacing an unpleasant regime with an absolutely disgusting one.
Libya has ceased to exist as a nation and state. While Gaddafi lived, the fractious rabble of his people were united in fear, hatred or love for their leader. Now, the country exists as a collection of micro nations under the control of criminals, megalomaniacs and religious fundamentalists. No state exists, where state is defined in Weber's sense of monopoly of force in a given territory.
As in Afghanistan where fanatics were instructed by Americans in techniques of mass murder to drive out the Russians, Western-supported killers are now attacking convoys of their Western supporters with explosives, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Western purveyors of international justice are being detained in Zintan for speaking with Gaddafi's son.
It's just a matter of time before Al-Qaeda in Benghazi begins to threaten New York and London.
Patrick Wilmot, who is based in London, is a writer and commentator on African affairs for the BBC, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and CNN.