Is the lack of retirement options for murderous dictators perhaps one of the world’s least talked about but most obvious and destructive problems?
Sure, extra-judicial killing of problem journalists and political opposition is firmly in the “not nice” category, but if these crimes then lead a dictator into believing he (for they are nearly always male – New Zealand and Queen’sland notwithstanding) has no feasible chance of retiring in peace with their ill-gotten billions, then they will feel forced to double down and continue on their murdering trajectory.
Let’s consider a few “sliding doors” thought experiments from the recent past:
Bashar Hafez al-Assad
If Assad had been offered a Learjet and a couple of military transport planes, escorted by NATO jets, to evacuate his family and trinkets to a well-defended tropical island in early 2011, perhaps the Syrian Civil War might have been avoided, or at least have been shorter in duration and with less devastating human cost?
He held a firm and stifling grip on Zimbabwe for decades longer than probably he or any of his original supporters would have wanted. But he stayed stubbornly in power, destroying the country’s society and once-thriving agricultural economy in the process.
In reality, he probably felt trapped in the job; stepping down and enjoying a long and quiet retirement would have seemed to have a low probability of success.
Far better, perhaps, for a deferential court official from The Hague to have sought a private counsel with him where he obsequiously offered a golden ticket on The Retired-Dictator Express to a luxury resort with courtesans, chilled Krug on free pour and a lifetime guarantee of immunity from prosecution.
One imagines Gaddafi would have grabbed that golden ticket if it were offered in late 2010 but, instead of playing squash on Tuesday evenings with Bashir al-Assad, 18 months later he ended up with a bayonet suppository and an uncomfortable final rideshare in an Uber Toyota Landcruiser.
A Chinese proverb tells us, “He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount“. Perhaps that’s what it’s like in the latter stages of the job of dictator? You had to make some tough decisions, you broke a few eggs to make the omelet, but now the popular support has atrophied and your once-secure position is feeling a little less permanent.
The problem is, your options are often limited to a long stretch in a cell in The Hague, extra-judicial execution Ceausescu style, cyanide pills with Eva Braun or doubling down and shooting anyone who looks even mildly disapproving of your decisions.
The relative cost to the world of housing these people with immunity from prosecution on a five star luxury island resort with a permanently-enforced 100km radius no fly/no sail zone would be trivial. The UN could diarise an annual diplomatic visit with a reminder of the open invitation to skip town before things got too hot.
Imagine the internet meme fun we could have sending fake invitations to Justin Trudeau, Jacinta Adern and Mark McGowan:
“Congratulations Justin! You’ve finally made it into the world’s most exclusive club. A military transport plane will be waiting for you at Ottawa international airport at 21.00, bring as much gold as you can carry. Please advise us of your ‘plus one’ as soon as possible so the appropriate immunity from prosecution paperwork can be quickly lodged“.
Of course, there is a risk that the prospect of an all expenses retirement might incentivise the opposite outcomes of those we desire. In much the same way there was a definite business model in the early 2000s of creating an Internet start-up without needing to turn a profit, but just get noticed by Google, or the way Australian microbreweries seem to only aim to become popular enough to be bought by one of the members of the brewing duopoly, perhaps we might find nascent dictators pop up with the express intention of getting that coveted invitation.
Regardless, the lack of retirement plans for dictators remains a global concern.
(Full disclosure; this not an original thought – I recall hearing Scott Adams mention the lack of retirement options for dictators being a problem)