Deep in the disjointed ramblings of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi at the UN General Assembly in New York last night lingered germs of good sense. He posited that it would be better held elsewhere than clogged New York and that the permanent members of the Security Council have too much power. Fair points both.
Yet, unless the struggling interpreters were mistaken, he seemed also to suggest variously that swine flu was manufactured in a secret laboratory as a military weapon or by pharmaceutical companies and that everyone would be better off if Barack Obama were allowed to be American President for ever. For Mr Obama, he said, "was a glimpse in the dark of eight years" – a reference, of course, to George Bush.
A large black Africa broach pinned to his flowing brown robes, the Libyan strongman monopolised the microphone for more than an hour. If he had a prepared speech with him, you would never have known it.
For the first 20 minutes, he dipped in and out of a copy of the UN Charter while railing against the Security Council and its alleged disregard for the rights of small countries. He finally tossed the little white book aside.
If he expected an audience of fellow heads of state he will have been disappointed. The high-level delegations that were seated earlier to hear President Obama speak had filed out in droves, delaying by several minutes Col Gaddafi actually taking the podium.
Those low-level bureaucrats who remained – for Britain, Ambassador John Sawers gamely stayed – seemed at times to have lost the thread of his address.
Another British official was clearly stumped when the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, turned to him while they navigated a long UN corridor and asked what exactly Col Gaddafi had been talking about. The official paused, shrugged and replied: "Just about everything."
Greeted with hostility in New York, not least because of his difficulties in finding a patch of ground to take his tent or a hotel to offer him a bed, Col Gaddafi did not entirely enjoy giving the speech either. When, after the first 40 minutes or so, discreet chatting broke out, he begged for quiet. "All of you are tired and asleep and it's clear that all of you are lacking energy," he said a little crossly.
He then compared the sway that the Security Council has over world affairs – it might be renamed the "Terror Council", he suggested – with the relevant ineffectualness of the General Assembly itself.
And this is where he was actually on to something. "We are like Hyde Hark," he said. "We just speak and nobody takes notice. You just make a speech and you disappear. This is who you are right now."
Some might have been wishing that it was Col Gaddafi himself who would disappear. Leaders in New York are asked to restrict themselves to a maximum of 15 minutes at the microphone. Perhaps Col Gaddafi felt he had to make up for all those years of absence. He spoke for 96 minutes.
If he wants reform at the UN, how about installing an orchestra pit in the Assembly hall? As at the Oscars, it could strike up a tune when a leader speaks extemporaneously and forgets that every speech, even theirs, must eventually have an end.Reuse content