Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi’s speech yesterday at the U.N. was admittedly good for laughs, and it’s no surprise that it was the butt of many mocking posts around the Web yesterday. Nevertheless, and I’ll probably get in trouble for pointing this out, in his own inimitable style, Gadhafi said many of the same things as U.S. President Barack Obama.
I don’t want to belabor the point, but there’s actually a real freedom that comes from having lost all credibility, as Gadhafi has. And Obama, in his own address, expressed what that is:
Gadhafi is able to really do so, in a way that Obama tries to cultivate in his “global sermons” but is actually hemmed in from actually carrying out. I’d put Silvio Berlusconi in this same category — at the London G-20 Summit, for instance, when he did what was on everyone else’s mind, or more recently, in his remarks about Ireland and the EU. (No surprise, then, that Gadhafi sent a shout out Berlusconi’s way from the podium in NY yesterday.)
The thing is, as much as parts of Gadhafi’s speech offend us, we do ourselves no favor by pretending that they don’t also represent the beliefs of a substantial part of the world’s population. And as my little exercise above demonstrates, to the extent you agree with Obama’s diagnosis of the problems confronting the world’s deliberative architecture — and I largely do — you also agree with at least part of Gadhafi’s.
The questions raised about global governance, and the balance between great power leadership versus inclusive legitimacy, are far from easy to resolve. David Shorr does some thinking aloud about them in the context of the G-XX summits here and here. And even if we do manage to find a way to rationalize the G-Summits, the proliferation of regional integration organizations (UNASUR, ASEAN, the EU, SCO, GCC) and exclusive multilateral organizations (BRIC, IBSA, G-8) still complicates things.
One thing that’s certain, though, but that is often left out, is that the global constituency whose views Gadhafi articulates (whether or not they embrace him) has to be considered in any solution to the problem. Some of them are not reachable, and will represent an “eternal opposition.” But some of them — in India, Brazil, South Africa — are.
In order to bring them on board, we’ve got to make room for them. That’s part of what Obama’s speech envisions, while simultaneously calling on the “rising rest” to take more ownership of the world’s problems. But as Obama acknowledges, it will take more than a speech to turn that vision into a reality. There will be very real, and very hard, concessions required. And if Obama were to be brutally honest, he would acknowledge that the U.S. will be as resistant to conceding its privileges as the rest of the world will be toward taking ownership of the problems.