Today marks a signature moment in the history of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's relationship with the West, as he arrived in New York City, his first visit to the United States, for the United Nations General Assembly, which he will address on Wednesday. This once reviled dictator is now welcomed, if somewhat reluctantly, by the nation that once bombed his house in an failed assassination attempt.
Former President Reagan called Qaddafi the "mad dog" of the Middle East, and ordered the Navy strike on his residence, in retaliation for terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel in Germany, of which Qaddafi was accused. But, it was under the most unlikely of presidencies, that of George W. Bush, in which diplomatic relations were officially re-established between the two countries in 2004, when Qaddafi willingly gave up his nuclear program and agreed to pay reparations for the 1988 Pan-Am Lockerbie bombing, of which a Libyan national was accused and convicted. (But we should add, the accused was recently released by the UK, in anticipation of an appeal, for which some have argued that it is likely he would have been acquitted.)
Shortly before diplomatic relations were normalized, however, there were certain unofficial diplomatic moves made by Qaddafi and a young U.S. citizen that laid the groundwork for the eventual, official thawing of relations.
Between the extremes of one President trying to kill the man to another President happily shaking his hand (as did Obama earlier this summer in L'Aquila Italy), if one were to identify a moment that tipped the momentum of this diplomatic trend towards its current apex, we would place it in November of 2002, when Qaddafi hosted the Miss Net World beauty contest in Tripoli. On this occasion, he befriended the American contestant, a statuesque beauty of Jamaican & Irish heritage, Tecca Zendik. There is a scene which has been documented in the film, Beauty Will Save the World, where Tecca was brought to tears when Muammar described the bombing of his house, in which one of his adopted children was killed. Recognizing that his anger was only for the government of the United States, and not its people, and in particular not for the lovely U.S. person in his presence, he consoled Tecca, and told her of his wish for friendship.
Eventually, he granted her Libyan citizenship and made her an honorary consul to the United States, before the U.S. government would recognize such a thing...
And the rest is history.
As it happens, Tecca is an acquaintance, and we do recall seeing her in October 2002, if memory serves correct, at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky, for a concert of the rock band Death Beam. She told us she was going to Libya for a beauty contest, and somewhat disbelieving, knowing the diplomatic situation at the time, we said, tongue-in-cheek, "well say hey to ol' Muammar!' Little did we know what would ensue...
Update: Sept. 23
Qaddafi's entire 96 minute speech can be downloaded from the U.N. website.
Update: Nov. 28, 2010
WikiLeaks: 09TRIPOLI771, A GLIMPSE INTO LIBYAN LEADER QADHAFI'S ECCENTRICITIES