In 2009, on his one and only trip to the United States, he harangued diplomats at the United Nations with an incoherent 95-minute speech.
But to the 6.5 million people who live in Libya, Gadhafi -- in power since 1969 -- has never been a laughing matter. In the wake of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is now ablaze with protests that have spread through major cities. In Benghazi, Libya's second largest city, security forces have opened fire on demonstrators and killed more than two dozen people, according to witness accounts.
The United Nations imposed tough economic sanctions after Libya was accused in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. But Libya got out of the international doghouse after it turned over two suspects for trial -- one of whom was convicted by an international tribunal -- and paid compensation to victims' families. Then, in 2003, in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Gadhafi gave up a fledgling nuclear weapons program. The U.S. rewarded him by lifting economic sanctions and restoring full diplomatic relations.
Unfortunately, little has changed for the Libyan people even as foreign oil companies have returned to the shores of Tripoli. Gadhafi rules according to an idiosyncratic "Green Book," a mishmash of ideologies that makes almost no sense. A sample of the book: "Democracy means people's rule, not people's expression."
Surrounded by security forces from his tribe, the Qaddafadam, Gadhafi periodically reshuffles top officials and reportedly seeks to pass power to one of three sons. Average Libyans have zero say in the way they are governed. One Libyan told me on a visit there a decade ago that when it comes to internal politics, people are "like mice in a bag" -- forever shaken and kept off balance by repression and Gadhafi's whims.
The State Department's latest human rights report says Libya's record remains "poor" and that Libyans face "reported disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest; lengthy pretrial and sometimes incommunicado detention; official impunity; and poor prison conditions." Libya also restricts media freedom and freedom of speech, and discriminates against women, minorities and foreign workers, the report goes on to say.
International media are being stretched trying to cover the cascade of uprisings in the Middle East, stretching from Algeria to Iran. But more attention must be paid to Libya.
The Obama administration should condemn the vicious crackdown on Libyans as vociferously as it has criticized other Middle Eastern regimes. After 41 years of Gadhafi, Libyans have a right to new and decent leadership.