I dread UN week. I can barely face it anymore.
Endless hours of self-important, flatulent, self-congratulatory orations, all delivered in front of that ugly, green marble backdrop.
Hell for a TV reporter: Ugly visuals, boring audio. And so it was again this week, mostly.
But when Libyan Leader Moammar Gadhafi — self-styled "dean of the Arab rulers, king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims" — made his way to the the podium, I sat up straight.
I just can't help admiring the guy's performances. I know he's been a vicious, dangerous SOB, whose agents have tortured, terrorized and slaughtered civilians.
But then, as Gadhafi would say — as he did again this week — so have the Americans. Go ahead and argue with that.
Elvis is in the house
In all of his 40 years as Libya's president, Gadhafi has never addressed the UN. Most of the time, he's a recluse, living in a tent somewhere, dreaming up projects such as a Libyan-designed rocket car and a staggeringly expensive effort to roll back the Sahara desert.
So, clearly, he was pent up by the time he started talking this week. He went 90 minutes with a speech that was instantly declared a "diatribe" and "delusional rambling" by the herds of independent thinkers on U.S. cable networks.
Granted, some of it was pretty weird. Ruminations about JFK's assassin, about the swine flu as a military weapon and how the Taliban are a peaceful bunch. And so on.
But there was much that was serious, aimed at the Third World, which Gadhafi regards as his constituency.
Those portions should inspire at least some serious debate, and likely would have, had they not been delivered by a guy who drags his tent around the world and sometimes shows up at meetings in gold Elvis-style sunglasses, smoking cigars.
First, he went after the Security Council, or, as Gadhafi called it, the "political feudalism" of the UN. He takes particular issue with the five permanent members, each of which has the power to veto the collective wishes of the rest of the world.
His point is not really arguable: These are five countries — the U.S., Britain, France, China and Russia — that effectively enjoy immunity from UN sanction or condemnation, simply because they can veto any such move.
They can accuse others of war crimes without ever having to worry about facing a similar charge themselves.
In his address, Gadhafi made the unrealistic, but to many people extremely appealing, suggestion that the Security Council should be a tool of the general membership, rather than the other way around.
Looking out at the General Assembly, Gadhafi mocked the sea of serious faces looking back at him.
"We are just décor," he said. "You are like Hyde Park. I mean, without any real substance, like the speakers of the Hyde Park corner. No more, no less. You make a speech and disappear."
On a roll
He then turned his attention to the International Criminal Court, which is empowered by the UN to pursue and try national leaders for crimes against humanity (at least those national leaders who don't have Security Council vetoes or friends with vetoes).
"Yes," said Gadhafi, "Make it easy for (Sudanese President Omar) Bashir to be tried or (former Liberian president) Charles Taylor to be tried. Or (former Panamanian leader Manuel) Noriega. That is an easy job to be done."
(For the record, Noriega was grabbed by American forces in 1989, brought to the U.S. and imprisoned. Nothing to do with the ICC, and Noriega was never in the same fiendish bracket as Taylor or Bashir. But Gadhafi was on a roll.)
"We want to take this file and we want to [charge] those who have committed the general mass murder against the Iraqi people."
By this he meant the people in Washington who ordered an invasion and bombing campaign six years ago, one that killed untold thousands of innocents, based on what turned out to be a false pretence, the fictitious weapons of mass destruction. You could hear crickets this time. Not even any nervous laughter.
A nose for hypocrisy
Now, granted, this was all coming from the man whose agents were found responsible for bombing a disco in Berlin and an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.
I'm not saying Gadhafi isn't a hypocrite. What I'm saying is that he is, in fact, such a hypocrite that he's developed an exquisite talent for identifying and exposing it elsewhere.
On nuclear non-proliferation, which he now applauds: "Do you [the UN inspectors] inspect the nuclear supplies of all? Do you supervise the increase of this nuclear storage?"
On the unwelcome flood of illegal African emigration to Europe: "Let [Africans] have the wealth that was looted and taken from us." Africa deserves trillions of dollars in compensation, he argued.
"If you don't give us this amount, the Africans will go to where you have taken these trillions. They have the right."
And to those American conservatives who constantly rag and complain about the cost and trouble and ineffectiveness of the UN, Gadhafi proposed a solution: Move it somewhere else.
It must be a terrorist target anyway, he declared, citing the extreme security of a UN week and the difficulties some foreign leaders have in obtaining the necessary U.S. visas for their support staff to travel with them to New York. (He himself had a retinue of more than 130.)
"I want to relieve America from the hardship. We want to relieve America from this worry. Now, after 50 years, it should be taken to another part of the hemisphere." Maybe Delhi, he suggested. Or Beijing.
Not many Arab friends either
Gadhafi might look eccentric, but this he knows: The one thing that would anger American conservatives even more than their usual complaints would be for the UN to pick another country as its headquarters.
But Americans shouldn't take his needling personally.
He drives other Arab leaders crazy, too, and that's how I came to appreciate him, after covering Arab League meetings from which Gadhafi regularly stormed out, usually after voicing a few choice truths.
"We hate each other, we wish ill of each other and our intelligence services conspire against each other," he told his Arab brothers last year. "We are our own enemy."
In 2005, he called the Palestinians "stupid," for failing to embrace the one-state-for-two-peoples solution that he promotes.
Other serious people have made the same suggestion, but Gadhafi wants to call it "Israstine," which he has to know won't fly with anyone. (He floated the notion again this week.)
He acknowledges the Holocaust, something almost every other Arab leader avoids or negates. But he always observes that it was carried out by Christians, while at least some Muslim states offered Jews sanctuary. He used that line this week, too.
This is an Arab leader whose speeches are often cut off by Arab networks, which know the sort of embarrassment he's capable of inflicting.
As when he calls other Arab leaders "tools" for striking self-interested deals with the West.
I remember him at one Arab League meeting, I think in Jordan, several years ago. He denounced the proceedings as ridiculous, as usual, and went out into the country to sit with the Bedouins.
It made him a bit of a hero on Jordanian streets, at least for the day.
Too bad he cancelled the Newfoundland trip. I'd have liked to see him try that sort of stunt there.