Gaddafi: Obsessed By a Ruthless, Messianic Vision

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Although Gaddafi's Green Book describes the U.S. and the Soviet Union as equally egregious imperialists, Gaddafi has made Libya into a Soviet military client, albeit one that even the Kremlin has trouble controlling. The Soviets are his principal supplier of weaponry, and he had purchased more than $12 billion worth of Soviet hardware by the early 1980s. The U.S., he says, is the "devil," the Soviets are a "friend."

The main reason for his embrace of the Soviets is U.S. support for Israel. Gaddafi is obsessed with wiping Israel off the map, and he is convinced that only America stands in his way. "Gaddafi believes that without the U.S., Israel could not continue to exist," says one Western diplomat. "He believes that the U.S. is being very unfair to the Arabs and that it is his duty as standard-bearer of the Arab cause to continually challenge Washington." Like the Ayatullah Khomeini, he sees Washington as the focus of evil on the planet and regards the U.S., not Israel, as the ultimate enemy.

Over the years, Gaddafi has become his own best public relations agent, a master at dropping homey personal details to Western reporters, making himself appear as a humble man of the desert. But there is a pride in his modesty and a kind of repressed cupidity in his abstinence. He regularly parades himself and primps before the female Western reporters based in Tripoli. Married to the same woman for 16 years, he has seven children, six of them boys. He has written that Islamic women are not to be kept in servitude; as if to demonstrate the point, his retinue has been known to include female bodygards toting submachine guns. He lives in a small boxcar of a house, no different / from the spartan homes of the other military men at the well-fortified Bab el- Azizia barracks. He keeps a tent outside, and it is underneath its cloth top that he appears to feel truly at home. He has a piece of bread and a glass of camel's milk for breakfast, a regimen he has kept since he was a boy. He says he likes Western classical music, especially Beethoven, and that his favorite book is Uncle Tom's Cabin. With a kind of adolescent romanticism, he thinks of himself as a Bedouin Byron. "I am a poet," he told a German interviewer. "From time to time, I weep, but only when I am alone."

Despite his animosity toward the U.S., he admires George Washington and the man he calls Ibrahim Lincoln. Gaddafi's only personal excess and sign of indulgence seems to be his revolutionary wardrobe. He is a desert dandy, with a gold-embroidered and tasseled uniform for every conceivable occasion and all manner of robes, capes and turbans. Although he claims, "I seldom look at myself in the mirror," his vanity, his posturing narcissism, is reminiscent of an actor whose only role is himself.

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