Billy Carter, whose attendance at Libyan social functions has gained him a significant measure of renown, absolutely did not surface at last night's 11th anniversary celebration of Muammar Qaddafi's coup. But his ghost was there, like a thick cloud over Benghazi.
"He asked for a loan and he got a loan," said a very cool Ali Houderi, spokesman for his country's bureau in Washington. "If I were an American, I would think this is some kind of an overreaction. It's not worth all this."
Still, the special Senate subcommittee investigating Billy Carter's Libyan connections thinks so, and last night, Houderi confirmed that he's been approached by the pannel to testify. "They were investigating the possibility," he said, "but we haven't agreed. And to tell you the truth, there's nothing to add."
Which was, not astoundingly, the consensus among many of those who came to the Washington Hilton to mark another year in the regin of Qaddafi, an eccentric Bedouin soldier who led the bloodless Libyan revolution when he was 27. Last night, smiling posters of him were displayed on easels under the ballroom's chandelliers.
Party favors included bumper stickers that said "In Need Freedom Is Latent" as well as "Forming Parties Splits Societies." You could also pick up free copies of Qaddafi's Green Book, the revolution's manual, which comes in two parts. Part Two is called "The Solution of the Economic Problem," and could fit nicely into your breast pocket.
Most of the several hundred guest were Arabs, Arab-Americans or Americans who do lots of business with a county that supplies 10 percent of U.S. oil imports. Almost everyone wore business suits and cocktail dresses, and ate food that was largely of the American hotel reception variety; stuffed mushrooms, shrimp and hot sause.
And most everyone, despite what you can find regularly in American newspapers about Qaddafi's chaos at, home, seemed very high on the leader they call "Brother Colonel."
"Don't believe what you read," said Richard Shadyac, the Washington, lawyer who represnets the Libyans' bureau here. "Things are wonderful. Why don't you go to Libya and see what Qaddafi has done for Libya? Ask the Libyans how they feel about Qaddfi. Don't believe all the bull--- about him."
Among the guests was Clovis Marsoud of Arab League, who didn't seem especially delighted when the subject of Billy Carter was brought up. "I think it has been blown out of proportion," he said. "Billy Carter is, ah, is, ah, he's really not the mainstream of American, ah. . . ."
The party, probably because it was held in a classically sterile hotel ballroom with baby-blue flocked wallpaper, felt about as Libyan as a Fourth of July celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli would feel American. They used to have them there until it was burned down.