Time to stand up to Libya's madman
By David Ignatius
BEIRUT -- Watching Moammar Gaddafi's televised rant today -- in which he threatened, in effect, to turn himself into a suicide bomb and take his country down with him -- a reasonable person would conclude that the Libyan leader is a dangerous nut.
I can offer a shred of personal experience to support this view of the Libyan leader as an unstable and menacing person. In the early 1980s, I traveled to Tripoli with several other journalists hoping to interview Gaddafi. When the appointed date arrived, we were taken to a large hall, frisked several times and then made to wait for the "mercurial" leader, the euphemism reporters used in those days to describe the Libyan strongman.
First, Gaddafi's bodyguard blew into the room brandishing his automatic weapon. He was barefoot and had a wild, unkempt beard and was genuinely scary-looking, even by Middle East-bodyguard standards.
Then came Gaddafi. He marched straight toward me (was it the fact that I worked in those days for the Wall Street Journal?), stopped about a foot from my face and stared at me with bulging, bloodshot eyes. Then he shouted something in Arabic to his aides and bolted from the room, never to return. Sorry, no interview, his terrified aides told us.
It was one of the oddest encounters I've had as a journalist. Honestly, I thought at the time that Gaddafi was high on drugs. Those eyes were popping with unnatural intensity. And he had a self-dramatizing manner that was unusual, even for a Third World dictator.
Gaddafi's trademark vanity was evident in the "die as a martyr" speech that was broadcast yesterday -- with him wearing a dashing cape and headscarf as if standing on the ramparts of history.
Dressed up in his coats and caps and band-leader braided uniforms, Gaddafi always looks to me as if he's playing himself in the movies. He created a bizarre personal philosophy that every Libyan was supposed to learn. (I still have a copy of this "Green Book," as it was known, gathering dust in my basement.) He even created a weird Arabic neologism for his country, calling it a "jamahiriya," unique among nations.
It's for the Libyan people to dump Gaddafi, and they are struggling to do so with extraordinary courage -- reportedly even standing up to fighter jets. As I write, the Obama administration is still dithering about applying sanctions and otherwise pulling the plug on a man that Ronald Reagan called a "mad dog."
Shame on President Obama. This is a clear case of right and wrong, and the United States and its allies should show they mean it when they describe Gaddafi's behavior as "unacceptable."
SHOOT: What amazes me is that populations can allow their own leaders to treat them like shit. Rise up and get rid of these idiots.