After his compound was breached, Moammar Gaddafi finally is what he always looked like: a strange, deranged, homeless man.
Perhaps this was all he wanted from life. Sure, he enjoyed the golden cocktail carts. But give some people unrestrained power, and suddenly the weird side emerges very prominently. There’s the despotism. But then there’s the sheer quirkiness — all-female security detail, the demands that we abolish Switzerland, the lengthy speeches calling for the creation of Istatine, a new Jewish-Palestinian state.
In normal circumstances, this sort of behavior would cause us to avert our eyes, grasp our children by the hands, and walk past a little faster. Some of us might offer him a quarter. The rest of us would be too worried that what he had was catching.
But the position of the world vis a vis this man has been essentially the one that we’d adopt towards a strange panhandler who muttered the same things, give or take a few invites to the G8 Summit. Perhaps he sensed it too. In all the pictures he looked like a wizard recovering from an evening of drinking who had wandered into the picture by mistake.
“I might have a weapon!” he said. “But I can get rid of them for you, if we reach an understanding!”
“Ah,” we said, in the same tone we’d have used had someone who resembled Gaddafi said this to us in an alleyway. “Perhaps we’d do better to give you some money. Please don’t waste it on stupid things, like teddy bears or outfits that make you resemble a white blood cell in a hat. Get your life together.”
So much for that.
An analyst of Gaddafi called him “strategically unpredictable.” There’s a fine line between “strategically unpredictable” and just plain crazy. I know many people with strategically unpredictable ex-wives.
Seldom has a man who looks as though his face has partially melted managed to achieve such power. In general, his outfits looked like he was trying to slipcover himself and had only partially succeeded. It looked like he’d shot a couch and was wearing it on his back as a trophy, after an intense struggle in which the couch nearly prevailed.
Absolute power may corrupt absolutely, but Lord Acton neglected to mention that it also brings out serious weirdness. Scratch a despot, and find a freak. There are the standard requests: palaces, security, suppression of dissent. And then there are the deer hunts and sexy nurses, in Kim Jong Il’s case, or the teddy bears and the Condi books, in Gaddafi’s. And it goes back through history. George III christened a pillow Prince Octavius. Caligula hosted orgies. Charles VI of Spain became convinced that he was made of glass. And I’m not feeling too well myself.
How do you deal with this on the world stage? Smile, nod, and urge to dismantle that chemical weapons program?
Sounds about right.
We spent years trying to figure out what made him tick — but what made him go cuckoo every half hour?
Back in the day, this was standard. But now, Gaddafi stands out like a sore thumb. World leaders still have their share of eccentricities — but he was the Lady Gaga of the UN. For a while, all this strategic unpredictability bought him a bemused tolerance.
Now, you could tell me he was hiding in my basement and I wouldn’t be at all surprised. “Gaddafi? That’s a crazy homeless guy?” I’d say.