Libya's Gaddafi Calmly Takes On the Foreign Policy Elite
Friday, September 25, 2009
NEW YORK, Sept. 24 -- The King of Kings of Africa was taking questions on Thursday.
A day after delivering a rambling, 95-minute speech before the U.N. General Assembly -- during which he spewed invective and seemed to revel in his own histrionics -- Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi had arrived before the Council on Foreign Relations, the Manhattan bastion of America's foreign policy and business elite.
For Gaddafi, it was a coming-out party of sorts. He was visiting the United States for the first time since he took power four decades ago. And he was offering an hour of his time for unscripted questions. His answers, spoken through an interpreter, seemed unscripted as well.
He scolded a questioner from Human Rights Watch for not understanding his Third Universal Theory of society. He called accusations that his country once supported terrorism a "fallacy." And he denied involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Near the end, when Theodore Sorensen, once an aide to President John F. Kennedy, asked Gaddafi whether the council's president, Richard Haass, who is Jewish, would be as welcome in Libya for such an open forum, Gaddafi turned the question on its head: "I'm really surprised that such a question is raised," the Libyan leader said, denying there was any religious discrimination in his country. "Does this mean that in America you make distinctions among people based on religion?"
On the question of why Libya decided to renounce its nuclear and chemical weapons programs six years ago, Gaddafi replied: "The world was in a different situation than exists now."
"All nations took pride in their ability to produce" weapons of mass destruction, Gaddafi said. "It was like a tradition -- something to be proud of." He added: "We were a young people. We were revolutionary. We were excited, and we were part of that time. We took that path."
"The cost of those weapons was very, very high, and we made a strategic assessment of who were the potential targets," Gaddafi said. "We realized it was more cost than benefit to Libya."
Gaddafi also spoke of his support for "liberation movements" in the Middle East and Africa, including for the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who, Gaddafi said, "was once considered a terrorist" but later "was received at the White House and got red-carpet treatment."
For the hour, Gaddafi spoke calmly, almost in a professorial tone. He only once appeared defensive, when asked why -- if Libya did not support terrorism in the past -- did he agree to accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and pay compensation to the families of the victims. "Libya was never indicted as the culprit or the one responsible," Gaddafi said. "We never acknowledged any guilt." He said Libya accepted that one of its citizens was involved, but "that does not mean the state is responsible for those actions."
When Minky Worden, the media director of Human Rights Watch, asked Gaddafi for an update on planned reforms to Libya's penal code and constitution, he chastised her for not understanding the system in his country, where, he said, there is no government, but rather all decisions are made by the people through "people's congresses."
"You may not believe that," Gaddafi said, like a teacher lecturing a skeptical pupil. "You may not have read the Green Book and the philosophy behind the Third Way theory. . . . We have annulled the government once and forever."