Muammar’s Man In New York
Back in 2009, when Donald Trump rented property to Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi, the real estate mogul proved what kind of businessman he really is.
Gadhafi, who came to power 40 years earlier and who would die two years later in the bloody toppling of his tyrannical regime, made his first appearance at the United Nations General Assembly in New York that year, and he had a bit of trouble finding suitable lodging. This was Gadhafi’s first visit to the States. To stay comfortably, the dictator required enough outdoor space to pitch a large, North African-style tent where he could slip into his usual dictatorial groove, which might involve raping his female body guards, but which would definitely include killing at least one sacrificial lamb.
The despot, who stood accused of breaking an encyclopedia of international laws, such as sponsoring terrorism and abusing human rights, was turned away from New York City’s Central Park as well as the city of Englewood, New Jersey, before his team was able to procure space and at Trump’s 213-acre estate in the Westchester town of Bedford, New York; because never mind the war crimes — according to The Washington Post, Gadhafi had recently begun privatizing Libyan industries, and a number of American businesses were trying to capitalize on the oil-rich nation. By the time Gadhafi started knocking on doors in and around New York, BuzzFeed News reports Trump had already taken Libya’s ambassador golfing in Florida.
This is all relevant now because Trump is running for president, and because the life-sized Chucky doll brought it up Sunday morning during an interview with John Dickerson on CBS’s Face The Nation.
When Dickerson questioned Trump about U.S.-Libya policy, Trump mentioned the rental agreement, noting that Gadhafi paid him a “fortune,” but “never got to stay there. And it became sort of a big joke.”
And this is true, only the joke was on Trump, who came up $50 thousand short.
But before going any further, it’s important to remember that Gadhafi sponsored the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which was shot down over Lockerbie, Scotland, while in flight from London to New York, killing 270 people including 189 Americans.
The perpetrator, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was released from prison and warmly welcomed home by Gadhafi in Libya one month before the dictator would travel to New York. This was one reason Gadhafi and his tent were largely unwelcome in America, where he was generally reviled for decades of embracing all things anti-Western, such as the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro and the Japanese Red Army.
His own people hated him, too. Gadhafi was known for stomping out dissidents. In 2011, opposition forces mounted enough support to lead a full-fledged revolt. Civil war ensued, and Gadhafi displayed his brutality: During the Battle of Misrata, The Guardian reports Gadhafi’s senior generals were ordered to bombard and starve the city’s population. NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said it was “unfortunately still the case that pro-Gadhafi forces continue to show shocking determination to harm the Libyan people.”
Gadhafi’s bloodthirstiness was not surprising. Two years earlier, when the oppressor spoke before the UN General Assembly — when he rented Trump’s backyard — Gadhafi disgraced what was meant to be a peaceful celebration aimed at global unity, shouting “Terrorism!” and tearing copies of the UN charter and the UN rule book during a 40-minute anti-Western diatribe. Meanwhile, at New York’s First Avenue, The Guardian reports relatives of the victims of Flight 103 held signs that read “Murderer.”
Gadhafi hadn’t slept well the night before. Despite Trump’s open arms, the City of Bedford put its foot down and sent the dictator packing.
Everything was all set before he arrived: the tent was pitched, the rugs were placed, the walls were lined with ornamental fabrics and the sacrificial lamb was ready to be killed — but it didn’t happen; the town said no, the circus had to go.
Gadhafi’s suburban occupancy brought a media swarm that tipped off citizenry, who simply wouldn’t have it. The locals were outraged. Residents included Martha Stewart, Ralph Lauren, George Soros and Richard Gere. Fast acting city officials found a legal reason to ban Gadhafi. Attorney Joel Sachs told The Guardian “There is no such thing as diplomatic immunity when it comes to complying with local laws and ordinances.”
Sachs said he believed the tent was in violation of “several codes and laws of the town of Bedford,” and, when construction workers on site demonstrated an inability to understand English, the property’s caretaker was served an order to stop work.
In a classic case of Donald Trump back-peddling, he publicly denied knowledge of the renter’s identity. The Trump Organization told The Guardian part of the property “was leased on a short-term basis to Middle Eastern partners, who may or may not have a relationship to Mr. Gaddafi. We are looking into the matter.”
Though, privately, before the dictator was banished, BuzzFeed News reports Trump had contacted Libya’s U.S. public relations agency, hoping for a way to “quiet it down,” but focusing on business.
Chris Herbert, who worked for Brown Lloyd James — the PR firm coordinating Gadhafi’s trip, described by Herbert as “less PR, more shadow embassy” — remembers Trump saying “Let’s not worry about the tent, I’m interested in having a meeting with Gadhafi.”
Trump wanted to “explore business ventures” concerning “the Mediterranean waterfront and construction.”
This is not surprising.
Trump began courting Gadhafi in 2008 or 2009, several years into the despot’s effort to improve his relationship with the West. He had hired U.S. lobbyists and public relations firms and abandoned Libya’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Gadhafi also worked with U.S. intelligence in the war against al-Quaeda. He opened Libyan industries to international investors. The U.S. gradually lifted sanctions and in 2006 took Libya off its list of state sponsors of terrorism. The investors came running, and so did American companies. The Washington Post reports Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Boeing, Caterpillar and Ponzi scheme financier Bernie Madoff were among the Libyan rush, so it makes sense that Trump would be too. But Trump never got a chance to meet with Gadhafi, who only paid our Republican presidential candidate $150,000 of the $200,000 tab.
Nonetheless, Trump apparently didn’t feel too bad about getting burned. Last summer, on CNN’s “State of the Untion” Trump said he believes the world would be “100 percent” better if ruthless dictators like Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi were still in power.
Hussein lost power and was eventually executed following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Gadhafi was killed in 2011 when NATO intervened in that country’s civil war.
“I mean, look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Iraq used to be no terrorists,” Trump said. “He (Hussein) would kill the terrorists immediately, which is like now it’s the Harvard of terrorism.”
“If you look at Iraq from years ago, I’m not saying he was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy, but it was a lot better than it is right now. Right now, Iraq is a training ground for terrorists. Right now Libya, nobody even knows Libya, frankly there is no Iraq and there is no Libya. It’s all broken up. They have no control. Nobody knows what’s going on.”
Photo: Muammar Qaddafi, the Libyan chief of state, attends the 12th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Feb. 2, 2009. Qaddafi was elected chairman of the organization. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released