Donald Trump’s Gaddafi problem

He has admiration for dictators and a desire to leverage privileged access to them.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida
Trump loves dictators precisely because they can provide privileged access to sycophants and insiders, writes Pack [Reuters]

The United States presidential hopeful Donald Trump has never met an absolute dictator on whom he failed to develop a man crush. And when said strongmen spurn him or his crush fades, he lashes out uncontrollably, but all too predictably.

Trump’s long-standing proposal to abandon the US’ NATO commitments is not a product of his failure to grasp deterrence theory.

His peculiar comments about Ukraine, which implicitly recognised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s conquest of the Crimea, are not borne out of an ignorance of world affairs.

Although the mainstream media prefer to mock Trump as a buffoon surrounded by comic villain advisers such as Paul Manafort, in reality, he has formulated a comprehensive worldview.

One of its components is admiration for dictators and a desire to leverage privileged access to them. Another is his zero-sum mindset which leads to his wanting to “screw” our enemies, stiff our allies, and be a “winner” at all costs, even if it involves turning on former friends.

A bromance made in heaven: Trump and Gaddafi

It was more than their iconic hairdos that brought Trump and Muammar Gaddafi together.

Trump long tried to court Gaddafi, apparently to license a Trump mega resort on Libya’s Mediterranean coast, and to potentially strike a deal with Libya’s burgeoning sovereign wealth fund. On many Fridays, the Libyan Ambassador to Washington at the time, Ali Aujali, left DC early for rounds of golf with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida.

When Gaddafi came to New York to address the United Nations, he wanted to pitch his tent on Central Park. Mayor Michael Bloomberg forbade him.

He was then barred from using a luxurious Eastside penthouse because courageous real estate agent Jason Haber required him to send convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi back to Scotland in lieu of rent.

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When it looked like Gaddafi might have to stay at a youth hostel, Trump stepped in to offer his Westchester palace. When the local community reacted badly, Trump collected his fee and then refused to let Gaddafi pitch his tent.

The story of their failed courtship is about more than Trump’s attempts to make a buck.

It reveals how Trump views favours, kickbacks, and striking up friendships with government insiders so as to benefit from regulatory capture.

The next time Trump so much as mentions the word Libya in a stump speech or debate, Clinton should hammer him with his own Libyan connections.


In fact, the strategies he attempted with Gaddafi are eerily reminiscent of his approach to making money in Atlantic City by leveraging political connections.

Trump loves dictators precisely because they can provide privileged access to sycophants and insiders.

This mirrors his desired domestic economic system – one in which privileged groups (white men and the wealthy) benefit from a government sanctioned leg up, while outsiders (minorities, immigrants, etc) are denied access.

In the case of the Libyans, he sought to woo and impress to obtain such privileged access, hoping to later take advantage of their naivety.

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Next, the sordid postscript to Trump’s fling with Gaddafi demonstrates how quickly he is willing to ditch his former friend when he perceives it as politically expedient. For Trump, they have proved even easier to dump than wives – no complex prenup required.

In February 2011, as the Arab Spring was in full swing, Trump advocated an aerial campaign to decapitate the regime of his erstwhile friend.

However, unwilling to help the Libyans remove their dictator altruistically, he offered a mercenary bombs-for-oil scheme.

Now in 2016, as he has staked out an anti-intervention, America-first stance on international affairs, he has attempted to backtrack from his previous statements so that he can attack Hillary Clinton as responsible for the mess in Libya, and tied to the failed doctrine of humanitarian intervention.

Doubling down on Benghazi

Notwithstanding Trump’s baggage on Libya, the Republicans remain committed to keeping “Benghazi” in the news cycle.

When the Benghazi Committee’s final report was released on June 28, Representative Trey Gowdy, the Republicans’ inquisitor-in-chief – otherwise known as the committee’s chairman – tacked on to it an accusatory addendum, hoping to obscure that the report had otherwise largely exonerated Clinton.

Building on this blatant disregard for the truth, the Republicans stooped to new lows, inviting a mother of a fallen serviceman to speak at the Repulican National Convention to accuse Clinton of personal responsibility for the attack.

The crowd responded with raucous chants of “lock her up”, revealing that Republicans are both figuratively, and genetically, descended from witch burners.


Reading off the Republican hymnal, Trump will continue treating the committee’s report as a dodgy dossier to be doctored up and trotted out. In the debates, he will certainly blame Clinton for Libya’s implosion and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant menace there.

Rather than directly refute the Republican myths and uncover their hypocrisy vis-a-vis Libya, Clinton has foolishly chosen to play defence.

She didn’t defend her record on Libya at the Democratic National Convention. Her passivity has let the media miss that it is Trump not Clinton who has a Gaddafi problem, which stems from his big picture infatuation with dictators, privileged access and revenge.

In fact, the next time Trump so much as mentions the word Libya in a stump speech or debate, Clinton should hammer him with his own Libyan connections.

Jason Pack is the founder of and a researcher of world history at Cambridge University.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.