When Muammar al-Qaddafi assumed power in Libya in 1969 by means of a military coup d'état, he seemed intent on cultivating the status of international pariah: He banned all political opposition, loudly advocated sweeping Islamist ideologies that demanded the reordering of the international system, picked territorial fights with neighbors, and supported terrorists from the Irish Republican Army to the Palestine Liberation Organization. If his goal was to isolate himself and his country, Qaddafi was largely successful in his first three decades as head of state, even earning comprehensive U.N. economic sanctions.
But if Qaddafi never admitted the error of his ways, he eventually learned how to minimize the effect his erratic personality and repressive political inclinations had on his regime's pursuit of stable relations with the rest of the world. By the time Qaddafi renounced the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction in 2004, the international community was eager to begin patching up relations. Qaddafi made up for his years of solitude with a number of high-profile trips to Europe, as well as to the U.N. -- though the lingering effects of isolation expressed themselves in his sometimes bizarre behavior and statements. Once interpreted as signs of pathology, Qaddafi's eccentricities were redefined as mere personality quirks.
But now that Qaddafi's brutality has returned full force -- with his giving orders in recent days for indiscriminate attacks on protesters throughout Libya -- there are more than a few in the West who may wish they can forget these past several years' worth of photo ops.