Opinion

Obama, Beyonce and Gaddafi: Too close for comfort

In December 2008, American superstar Mariah Carey was en route to the luxurious island paradise St. Barths to meet members of the Gaddafi family, known supporters of terrorism. She was paid by Muammar al-Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, who laid down $1 million for the singer to perform at his New Year’s Eve Party. Less than 20 days later, Carey would take a Washington, D.C., stage to serenade President Barack Obama with her hit “Hero” as the new U.S. president stood before the world with his wife at the Presidential Inauguration.

Two weeks ago, it happened all over again.

This time, some of Obama’s largest celebrity campaign boosters–Usher, Bon Jovi, Jay-Z and Beyonce, met at the Gaddafi New Year’s bash to ring in 2010. The elite VIP affair, which included former BET CEO Bob Johnson and actress Lindsay Lohan, was reported to have been sponsored by Hannibal Gaddafi, a terror sympathizer with a long history of violence against women. Beyonce was paid $2 million by the Gaddafis to perform. Like Mariah Carey, Beyonce took a high-profile role at Obama’s inaugural, performing “At Last” as the president and first lady elegantly danced in front of papparazi and admiring crowds.

The 2010 Gaddafi guest list of Usher, Jay-Z and Jon Bon Jovi, read like an Obama campaign diary as all of these performers strategically energized key constituencies during the campaign. Jay-Z campaigned repeatedly for Obama by integrating the candidate’s message into the theatrics of his concerts. In turn, Obama included Jay-Z on his “iPod list” that received an avalanche of internet coverage on youth-oriented websites. Usher was a regular at key Obama campaign stops–his appearances with the candidate in 2007 drew adoring crowds, helping transform Barack Obama into a rock star of American politics. “I support Barack Obama because he puts our interests above special interests,” Usher would yell to the screaming throngs gathered in places like Orangeburg, S.C., and Atlanta, Ga. These appearances aided in putting the once-underdog Illinois Senator over the top in many key primary states. Bon Jovi made a splash publicly slamming Sarah Palin for playing one of his songs at a campaign rally. The rocker also raised $3 million for Obama’s campaign in a single night at his home in Middletown, N.J. One might ask: How did these high-profile artists-turned-political activists become mixed up with associates of international terrorism?

Muammar al-Gaddafi was a major sponsor of international terrorism in the 80’s, including attacking U.S. Marines and blowing up Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 243 passengers and 16 crew members—plus 11 people on the ground—190 Americans died, including many children. Earlier last year, the Gaddafi family engineered the release of Libyan Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, better known as the Lockerbie terrorist bomber. They expedited al-Megrahi home to Libya on their private jet and orchestrated a hero’s welcome.

For his part, Obama made a controversial connection with Gaddafi when he became the first U.S. president to shake hands with the notorious Libyan dictator at the Group of Eight summit in Italy. Last September, making his first appearance at the 64th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, Gaddafi called Obama “our son” and “our Obama,” proclaiming, “We are content and happy if Obama can stay forever as the president.” At this same meeting, Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya was sworn in as President of the UN General Assembly.

The tight association Obama enjoyed with Usher, Bon Jovi and Beyonce among others is indicative of the pitfalls politicians can experience when mixing celebrity and politics. These particular performers’ association with a family who are known supporters of terror acts might strike some as ironic given their comments just after Barack Obama’s election. Usher told MTV during Obama’s inauguration, “[Obama] encouraged us to continue to use our music as a vessel of greatness.” “I’ve never been so patriotic!” Beyonce giggled during the inauguration. Jay-Z even penned a rap, “Red, white and blue flag, wave for me baby, I was hot before Barack, so imagine what I’m gonna do … / No more white lies, my president is black.”

So where do they go from here? Beyonce has just finished work recording a version of “Proud To Be An American.”

Jason Killian Meath is a political media strategist and author of the book Hollywood on the Potomac (Arcadia 2009). He recently directed and co-wrote the documentary film “The Surge: The Untold Story” and has created, written, directed and produced television programs appearing on The Discovery Channel, USA Networks, and ABC Family.