But Libya's 679,362 square miles and 6.4 million people have rarely seemed enough for Gadhafi, who in 2008
gathered a group of African tribal leaders and had them grant him the
lofty title, "King of Kings."
It was part of his campaign for a unified Africa -- a single federation with a million-man army at its disposal -- a nation that he, naturally, would serve as president. The Libyan stage is not enough of a playhouse for Gadhafi. It never has been.
Gadhafi's "King of Kings" ploy was only another in a string of efforts by the
mercurial leader to secure a larger-than-life place for himself on the
world stage, efforts that have frequently landed him and his citizens in
the harsh glare of an angry international community.
Gadhafi's growing anger over the rejection of Arab and African leaders and his own growing anti-Western sentiment led him to turn to terrorism in the 1970s and 1980s. It led to the infamous bombing of a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which 270 people died.
Terrorism was a cheap way to get even with the West.
Gadhafi, who will turn 69 in March, seized control of Libya in the very place
where the current tumult seems strongest, the city of Benghazi. As
an Army captain, he led a bloodless coup against King Idris on
September 1, 1969, establishing the Libyan Arab Republic in just two
hours. He established a putative system of direct
democracy called Jamahiriya that supposedly allowed the nation's
citizens direct input into their government. In reality,
the country was sliding into a dictatorship led by Gadhafi.
In taking control of the country, he became one of a number of young
revolutionaries in the region carrying a strong message of Arab
nationalism in the mold of Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser. Although U.S. leaders initially tried working
with Gadhafi, it quickly became clear he was an Arab nationalist and
relations with the West quickly deteriorated.
By 1972, he was urging Muslims to fight Western powers, including the
United States and Great Britain, and backing black militants in the
United States as he pursued a leadership position in the Arab world,
seeking to succeed his political idol, Nasser, who had died in 1972. But
Arab leaders shunned his responses, seeing him more as
a "buffoon" and a "clown" than a potential pan-Arab leader. This
rejection, his own growing anti-Western sentiment and a lack of
criticism within the tightly controlled Libyan political environment led
Gadhafi to turn to terrorism.
I think it was frustration more than anything else.
In 1986, Libya was implicated in the fatal bombing at a West Berlin
nightclub that left one American service member dead, prompting U.S.
President Ronald Reagan to dub the Libyan leader the "mad dog of the
The United States bombed targets in Libya in response and imposed economic sanctions.
Two years later, Libya was implicated in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland.
In 1999, seeking rapprochement with the West, Gadhafi succumbed to Western
demands to turn over suspects in the Lockerbie bombing, and in 2003 the
country agreed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction.
The moves helped the country regain diplomatic relations with the United
States in 2006, but that wasn't the end of Gadhafi's touchy relations
with foreign nations.
In 2008, Swiss officials jailed one of Gadhafi's sons, prompting the furious leader to cut off the country's
oil supplies, withdraw the country's money from Swiss banks and threaten
to cut off diplomatic relations.
And in 2009, Libya and Gadhafi again became the subject of international ire in 2009 when the
government granted a hero's welcome to Abdel Basset al-Megrahi, who had
been convicted in the Lockerbie bombing but was released by Scottish
authorities for health reasons.
While his politics have brought the attention of international leaders, it may be Gadhafi's personal style that has brought him the most awareness around the world.
Gadhafi is known for appearing in public in outrageous, sometimes outlandish, garb.
Images of the Libyan leaders available on the Internet show him dressed in everything from lavishly decorated military uniforms to animal prints.
Gadhafi famously travels with a traditional Bedouin tent, whose appearance in
2009 frustrated officials in Bedford, New York, when he came to New York
to address the United Nations.
He also travels with a retinue of female bodyguards.
While Gadhafi has a substantial number of enemies within Libya, his use of
the county's enormous oil revenues to provide subsidized health care,
education and housing to citizens, as well as his willingness to stand
up to the West, granted him a reserve of good will that he still draws
This was a young nationalist who stood up to the West, who nationalized the oil
companies, who stood up to Great Britain and the United States. It was highly symbolic and there are a number of
people there who still grudgingly respect him for that but for me,.Gadhafi is a villain.