Belfast Telegraph

Robert McNeill: How I'd love to have put the wind up Gaddafi in that big tent of his

By Robert McNeill

My respect for American ambassadors has risen this week with the Wikileaks revelations. The serious import of the revelations, at least thus far, has been limited. It's all been a bit underwhelming.

But the colourful remarks and honest assessments have been a revelation.

If only politics and international relations could be like this all the time, instead of cloaked in subterfuge and weasel words. True, there'd probably be even more wars, but at least they'd be for admirably trivial reasons.

Somehow, what we've read this week has all been so human, funny and true.

I loved the description of North Korea's Kim Jong-il, one of the world's leading nutters, as a "flabby old chap" who'd suffered "physical and psychological trauma". Spot, as it were, on.

I'd never heard of Russia's Dmitry Medvedev before. But after reading an ambassador's description of him as a "pale, hesitant" figure who "plays Robin to Putin's Batman", I think I've got a pretty good picture.

Then there's the juice on what some world leaders get up to. Italy's premier Silvio Berlusconi - a leader that only Italy could want - was a man whose "frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard mean he does not get sufficient rest". Yup, he's got his priorities right: rumpy-pumpy first, running the country second.

And what about Libya's chief loonocrat Muammar Gaddafi? Turns out he goes everywhere in the company of a "voluptuous blonde" Ukrainian nurse, of whom he's said to be awfully fond.

That rings true. No kidding, a mate of mine once interviewed Gaddafi in his tent in the desert and, all the way through proceedings, the great leader's bottom kept blowing raspberries.

I heard too that, in a BBC interview, they'd to keep editing out these eruptions. If I'd been the interviewer, I'd have challenged him to a competition.

Prince Andrew doesn't come out well in the ambassadorial notes, which record him shooting his mouth off at a working brunch with thicko British businessmen in Kyrgyzstanshire.

Acting the pub bore, with loony opinions on everything (regular column reader's voice: "Yes, that sounds familiar from somewhere"), he indulged in what the US ambassador called a feast of "almost neuralgic patriotism", berating the Yanks for their famous lack of geographical knowledge and declaring: "In the UK, we have the best geography teachers in the world!"

Gosh, what a claim. I don't know what to say. I'd never thought about it before.

We were back in the days of Lawrence of Arabia when King Abdullah O'Blenkinsop of Saudi talked of cutting off the Iranian snake at its head.

His further suggestion that Guantanamo Bay inmates be implanted with electronic chips containing information about them, and allowing their movements to be tracked with Bluetooth, was also pretty good.

He noted that "this was done with horses and falcons". Just check my watch here. Yup, unless I'm fast, we're in the 21st century all right.

Still, at least our suspicions were allayed about corruption in the Afghan government.

One ambassadorial cable reveals that, when Vice-President Zia Massoud was stopped during a visit to the United Arab Emirates, he was allegedly carrying $52m in cash. Must have fancied a little bit of shopping.

Marvelous stuff. It's petty but well-informed, and I look forward to more trenchant and comical observations.

As long as they don't spark any wars.


From Belfast Telegraph