Commentary: Libya is more than Gadhafi

Article I wrote for CNN, published Monday September 28, 2009

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On Wednesday, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi spoke before the U.N. General Assembly for the first time in his 40-year rule — apparently making up for lost time with a nearly 100-minute speech, which dramatically exceeded the allotted 15 minutes.

Gadhafi stuck to his usual enthusiastic manner of delivery, without relying on teleprompters. In some instances he became visibly overheated, ad-libbing and saying things he probably wouldn’t have said had he stuck to a speechwriter’s text.

Gadhafi’s advisors should have helped him prepare a speech that would have been more appealing to the American people. In it, he should have addressed Libya’s improving relationship with the U.S., including several business developments and diplomatic exchanges, as well as Libya’s changing economy and society.

Instead of saying that Obama should “rule forever,” Gadhafi should have praised the president for ushering in a new era and embracing the Arab world, which includes Libya. Gadhafi, who was warned by the U.S. not to gloat about the release of the Libyan convicted in the Lockerbie bombing, entirely avoided it and mentioned everything else in his eclectic, over-the-top speech. He called for a reinvestigation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, demanded Africa’s past colonizers pay $7.7 trillion in compensation, and even suggested swine flu was created in a military laboratory.

At one point he demanded to know who was behind the assassination of JFK, complained about being jet-lagged, and then chastised his audience for falling asleep.

Even critics acknowledged that he did make some coherent points.

Indeed, his statement about reforming the United Nations (by providing for more equality of representation and redistribution of the veto power) undoubtedly struck a nerve not only with Libyans, but with millions of Third World citizens around the world.

However, for the most part Gadhafi’s speech was dismissed as a typical series of rantings, another one of the “mad dog’s” tricks. Top diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, left before Gadhafi even took the podium. Outside, protesters who were relatives of the Lockerbie victims shouted “terrorist,” and earlier in the day, Libyan opposition groups faced off against Gadhafi supporters.

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