Mohamed Eljahmi at The Corner:
Later today, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi will address the United Nations General Assembly, shortly after Pres. Barack Obama has spoken. Qaddafi’s U.N. appearance will cap a long line of official accolades. In recent years, Libya has chaired the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. General Assembly. Qaddafi has been rewarded handsomely ever since he surrendered his WMD program in December 2003. Libya has been touted by U.S. and British diplomats as a model for rogue states such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria. Qaddafi’s rapprochement with the West has enabled him to achieve international legitimacy and solidify his rule at home.
Sadly, however, there is little to show for nearly six years of engagement with Libya. The so-called Libyan example has failed to convince any other rogue state to end its WMD programs; Iran has actually accelerated its nuclear program in recent years. Worse still, human-rights abuses continue unabated in Libya. Qaddafi’s security and revolutionary committees operate with impunity. His regime is guilty of arresting, kidnapping, and even murdering its political opponents.
The legitimacy accorded to Qaddafi is particularly heartbreaking for the victims and their families. My late brother Fathi Eljahmi was recently murdered by Qaddafi’s regime. Fathi was killed through slow, long torment because he publicly called for political reform in Libya. My brother also said that Qaddafi should accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and the wars that Libya fueled in Chad and West Africa — wars that claimed thousands of victims.
Peter Catapano in NYT:
You had to laugh.
A day after Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi did everything but wave a rubber chicken in the face of the U.N. General Assembly, it’s hard to see him as anything but rich fodder for the absurdist late-night dictator skits that are sure to follow — what with the tent, the actual requests to pitch it, the ill-fated deal with the Donald and the theatrical speech that stretched the Libyan leader’s allotted 15 minutes of fame into 90 minutes of shock and — I guess we can say it — awe, as jaws did surely drop throughout the West. You half expect to see him on the next episode of “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Richard Just at TNR:
That was what happened today with Qaddafi. Conservatives will probably offer his 90-minute-long rant as more evidence for the pointlessness of the U.N. But I would argue that it proves the opposite. It’s been all too easy to forget in recent years that Qaddafi is an unadulterated lunatic. He agreed to disband his nuclear program back in 2003. He got published on the op-ed page of The New York Times. (Then his son did.) He became head of the African Union, and other African leaders seemed perfectly willing to ratify the veneer of respectability he was acquiring.
An anecdote that illustrates this: In June, as part of a group of journalists traveling with the International Reporting Project, I met Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, at his home in Nairobi. I asked Odinga whether he thought the African Union–given that it was now headed by Qaddafi, a notorious human rights abuser, and given how many other dictators were part of the organization–could possibly play a constructive role in promoting human rights. In response, he offered a persuasive critique of the A.U., pointing out that some African leaders were hesitant to criticize each other on human rights because of their own records. For instance, he said, “people like Robert Mugabe will be treated with kid gloves” at the A.U. “Why? Because a number of the heads of state going there are carrying the same baggage, like Mr. Mugabe. You’ll find one of them, President Bongo of Gabon, will say that, ‘Oh, Mr. Mugabe, he conducted elections–one election–therefore he’s the president.’ You see? Because that is what he does in his own country.” A good answer, I thought. But while Odinga had called out Mugabe and Bongo, he had not mentioned Qaddafi, the one leader about whom I had specifically asked. So I followed up: “Are you frustrated that the organization is led by Qaddafi?” At which point, Odinga smiled, and said simply, “I don’t want to comment on the head of a state which has got a diplomatic relationship with Kenya.”
So there you have it: For the number-two official in Kenya–a country that is one of the key players in African politics and a democracy–Mugabe and Bongo (who, it so happens, died the next day) were far enough outside the realm of respectability that they could be safely criticized. Qaddafi, apparently, was not–even though he is every bit the brutal dictator that Mugabe is and Bongo was (Libya is actually less free than Zimbabwe or Gabon, according to Freedom House), and even though he himself has not extended much courtesy to his fellow African leaders over the years (for instance, during his decades-long bid to conquer Chad).
Which brings me back to the United Nations. Qaddafi’s rant today was so embarrassing (introduced as the “King of Kings of Africa,” he held forth on topics like the JFK assassination and the origins of swine flu) that it should help to remind the world just how crazy he is, and just how little he deserves the aura of quasi-respectability he has somehow acquired. And if that happens, then hasn’t the United Nations arguably done a valuable service–simply by giving a nutty dictator the stage and letting him tell us what is on his mind?
The troubling part: “…the Libyan diplomat who now holds the rotating presidency of the General Assembly.” It’s hard to believe, actually.
I didn’t watch but Twitter was aflame with rolling updates about his intro as the “king of kings,” his musings about jetlag and why the UN should be moved to Beijing, and, oh yes, his hope that The One shall remain president forevermore. And that’s just for starters: I’m giving you two clips, one of CNN covering the kookier lowlights and another of a lowlight they forgot to mention — his pensees about the JFK and MLK assassinations. I can’t tell if the interpreter is (mostly) unintelligible because he simply doesn’t speak English well or because Qaddafi is that incoherent, but the garbled syntax only adds to the whole vibe.
And now I’m going to make a painful confession. As loathsome as he is, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny — tiny — bit of sympathy at watching someone who quite clearly lacks the mental capacity to realize he’s making a spectacle of himself. Ever seen a homeless guy ranting at no one in particular, and quite convinced that he’s winning the “argument”? Dude. Exit question: First Joe Wilson, now Qaddafi. How many “important” Obama speeches are going to be overshadowed by a bizarre outburst?
Qaddafi really did make me chuckle when he said that the UN should be moved out of New York because of his jet lag — and that he thanked President Obama for hosting him for his first ever UN General Assembly visit, commenting that President Obama should be President for life.
As much as Colonel Qaddafi can frustrate folks as the UN’s court jester this week, we need to remember that in the realm of serious nuclear non-proliferation matters, Libya is a success story. Iran is not. I would be happy to tolerate all sorts of lesser problems with Libya in part exchange for getting off the rogue nation track. People need to keep that in mind as they ridicule Libya’s leader. I found that he made this week here much more dynamic and interesting – and he added some creative drama.
Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy:
Well that was something. Largely holding off on contemporary issues until the end, the colonel launched an epic, rambling, tirade against the U.N. institution itself, paricularly the Security Council, which he likened to Al Qaeda. He also rattled off a series of historical grievances dating back to the Suez crisis and the Patrice Lumumba assassination and indulged in some conspiracy mongering over the origins of swine flu and the Kennedy assassination.
As Blake noted, this makes it very hard to argue that Qaddafi is trying to reintegrate his country into the international community. I wouldn’t expect any more visits from John McCain to Tripoli in the near future. I would imagine this also largely undermines Ali Treki’s credibility as General Assembly president, after a fairly tame opening statement. Gordon Bown, who speaks later today, must have been squirming in his seat as well.
It should be interesting to see how Obama handles him at the “terror council” meeting tomorrow.