Almost two months after U.S. planes bombed Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya's two most important cities, the nation's leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, has not recovered from the shock. And his subjects are increasingly aware of it.
That, at least, is the conclusion being drawn here today by foreign diplomats in the wake of Gadhafi's appearance on television last night marking the anniversary of the day in 1970 when the United States turned over its Wheelus Air Base outside of the Libyan capital to Gadhafi, who had come to power in a coup only a little more than eight months earlier.
"One can make all sorts of speculations about that speech," said one foreign diplomat here who spoke only on condition that he not be named, "but what seems clear is that he was not himself and that people who watched him know it."
Gadhafi, whose aides had only days before promised a public speech for the occasion, spoke instead from an isolated television studio at a secret location. Unlike other staged television appearances or speeches from isolated villages since the U.S. air raids April 15, Gadhafi spoke without an audience to cheer him on.
The 44-year-old colonel looked tired, sickly or, as some who watched the appearance thought, drugged. He had bags under his eyes. He spoke from an easy chair and his voice was low, hoarse, sometimes incoherent and rambling. Normally a spellbinding orator who speak extemporaneously, this time he often used notes, lost his place, took long pauses, and once put his head on his hands as if overcome or lost.
Did his demeanor mean that he was still suffering from the deep depression that a CIA analysis just after the bombing claimed he had suffered? Was he otherwise sick? Had he lost spirit because his once unchallenged leadership of this nation of 3.5 million has been reshaped by his fellow Army officers of the Revolutionary Command? Or was he suffering from paranoia over possible suspected plots against his life?
The dwindling number of diplomats here are convinced Gadhafi's dispirited state is linked to the April bombings.
As usual, Gadhafi spoke against what he has called the demons of the West -- the United States, Israel, "aircraft carrier Britain," and neighboring Mediterranean states that harbor NATO bases, such as Italy, Spain, France and Turkey.
He also spoke defiantly of Libya's determination to fight the United States and win. He spoke of standing up even to U.S. nuclear weapons and missiles with 1 million fighters lining the Mediterranean shore.
Speaking angrily, he asked Libyans to give up imported goods and food from Europe and Japan, and talked about his refusal to sell Libyan oil, an important foreign exchange earner, to the West.
The message, as another Western diplomat said, was typical and unchanged, but the spirit in which it was delivered lacked heart, conviction and, most importantly, an audience.
To an observer who, over the years, has watched Libyan crowds dance and praise their once-charismatic leader, Gadhafi's demeanor on television screens this week seemed to mirror the lack of interest his appearance generated here.
There was little enthusiasm as his speech was broadcast on loudspeakers mounted around the capital's Green Square -- scene of so much public acclaim in the past. Only about 2,000 supporters gathered to hear the speech, and life seemed to go on as usual in the city. Traffic continued at a regular pace, and many young men, the pillars of his support, played soccer, while others fished along the harbor corniche and listened to tape cassettes playing Arabic music, not Gadhafi's speeches.
As one diplomat said today: "The first two Libyans I asked about the speech today said they had not heard it, they were playing tennis at the time."
Gadhafi seems lost and confused in his rare, controlled appearances these days, and his once-enthusiastic audience appeared to be bored with his unchanging message.
"He has become out of touch with the majority of the people," said another European diplomat here. "What he has to say to them does not seem to relate to what they want to hear any more."