Hugo Chavez was so 2006. This year, expect Libyan president Col. Muammar Gaddafi to suck up media attention during the UN summit later this month.
This will be the first time that Gaddafi has attended the annual UN summit since taking over in a coup forty years ago. But before even setting foot in Turtle Bay, he’s already generated a ton of controversy.
Last month, he gave a hero’s welcome to a convicted Lockerbie bomber who was repatriated to Libya, something which Susan Rice said “offended virtually every American.” Then, he planned on pitching a Bedouin style tent on property owned by the Libyan government in Englewood, New Jersey. This was met with widespread condemnation from municipal leaders, who found a pretext to revoke a permit for the tent site.
There are also rumors afoot that Gaddafi will take his longstanding fued with Switzerland to the floor of the General Assembly and call for a nonsensical resolution to abolish the country. (Swiss authorities arrested his son and daughter in-law last year for apparently beating up two servants in a Geneva hotel. Tripoli retaliated in a number of ways, including preventing two Swiss businessmen from leaving Libya until the Swiss apologized.)
So what do to about this? Noted international relations scholar Ted Nugent thinks that the United States should simply bar Gaddafi from setting foot in the country. I’m not quite sure what good that would do. There is no real danger the United States in letting Gaddafi attend the UN summit. Also, revoking his visa would set an unfortunate precedent that attending a UN summit is a reward to be bestowed or revoked by one head of state to another.
There are, in fact, perfectly legitimate reasons for the Libyan head of state to attend the New York summit. Libya happens to be on the Security Council at the moment. This means that there is a good chance that Gaddafi will attend a Council meeting on non-proliferation chaired by President Obama. Before you scoff, consider that despite his other flaws, Gaddafi really is a de-proliferator. Libya once had a nuclear program, but gave it up in 2003 amidst international pressure. This kind of behavior should be encouraged if the international community is to coax Iran back from the nuclear brink.
While Gadafi’s antics in the run up to the summit may offend, it’s arguably more harmful to American interests to prevent him from attending the meeting than letting him inside the proverbial tent.