6/25 Flashback: Retirement plan

6/25 Flashback: Retirement plan June 25, 2022

From June 25, 2012, “An island paradise for former dictators“:

Let’s revisit another of my Bad Ideas — this is my grand scheme for a smoother way to end dictatorships and transition to democracy in formerly autocratic nations.

Part of the problem with being a dictator is that it’s hard to stop. It’s a classic tiger-by-the-tail scenario. If a dictator wants to ease up on the oppression and repression enforced by his secret police, the odds are that things will quickly get out of hand and come to an ugly, violent end.

You may have seen the horrific video of Moammar Gadhafi’s brutal death. Dictators realize that this is a likely scenario for them if they don’t die in office. This is part of why so many of them, when confronted with mass-movements calling for reform, double down with ever-more violent suppression and oppression.

We’re seeing this dynamic at work right now in Syria, where Assad is just straight-up murdering his own people in an effort to keep his dictatorship intact. There has been some talk of providing him with another option — some kind of “safe passage” into exile.

My grand scheme would enhance the attractiveness of this option for all such dictators.

The precise location of the island would, for security reasons, need to be kept secret, but it would be someplace beautiful — the kind of island rightly described as a “paradise.” Somewhere in the South Pacific, maybe, or the Indian Ocean or Caribbean. Sparkling blue water, perfect weather, lush surroundings.

And this island paradise would have all the amenities to which a kleptocratic dictator would have grown accustomed — all provided by an international all-star team. A household staff overseen by a top-notch British butler. A four-star kitchen run by a distinguished French chef. Golf courses designed by the legends of the game. Concierge medicine from the best doctors money can buy. Other, less licit, indulgences are also readily available to cater to any given predilection.

The island, in other words, would promise a life of decadent luxury and uninterrupted indulgence.

And that island paradise, that earthly heaven, would await any dictator willing to step aside. Just say the word and Bashar al-Assad and his family would be whisked away from the cares of the world and resettled in a spectacular mansion on the island. His new home would be far enough from the other island estates that he wouldn’t need to worry about Robert Mugabe or Omar al-Bashir spying over his manicured hedges. But it would still be close enough that he could get together with Islam Karimov and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for drinks or tennis whenever he liked.

The nations formerly ground under those former-dictators’ boots, meanwhile, would now be free to determine their futures without fear of repression.

This proposal has a few downsides. It’s morally repugnant, for one thing. The bottom line would be that some of the worst criminals on the planet would be escaping justice, effectively being rewarded for their decades of cruelty and oppression.

I try to address this objection in Phase B of the plan (see below), but also bear in mind that, while hard to swallow, such largesse to monsters might ultimately entail less injustice and less harm than either leaving them in power or attempting to dislodge them by force. The idea of Bashar al-Assad living out the rest of his days in lavish luxury is an ugly thought, but it might not be too high a price if it means ending the current injustice and violence in his country.

There’s also the problem of moral hazard. This island paradise for former dictators could, in effect, become an incentive to others to become horrifically brutal dictators in the hopes of one day being offered such a retirement package in exchange for stepping down.

To mitigate against that, the existence of the island and the splendor of its many amenities would need to be kept a secret.

I imagine it working like this. The special liaison from UNCETSD would arrive at the palace of a given dictator. The special liaison would eventually arrive at every such palace. That is his job as special liaison for the United Nations Commission for Expediting the Transition to Self-Determination. His job is to visit every dictator and invite them to retire — invite them to see that doing so, voluntarily, is in their own best interests.

The special liaison is a nondescript man who travels with no entourage, no trappings of authority. He carries only his UNCETSD credentials, a draft contract, and a DVD. The DVD offers a guided tour of the island, highlighting all the splendors it has to offer to any dictator who agrees to leave power. It looks a bit like the promotional DVD for any other all-included retirement community, except this community is far more fabulously luxurious and this video is narrated by Tony Blair. It also includes enthusiastic testimonials from former dictators now enjoying life on the island — once feared and notorious men who later, one day, mysteriously vanished and were never heard from again.

The special liaison meets with the dictator in person and they watch the DVD. “You have a month to consider this offer,” he says. He is a firm man with a no-nonsense manner of speaking, but he can also be quite charming, even when dealing with some of the most reprehensible men on earth. Surprisingly, he’s also particularly good with young children — thrilling them with descriptions of the island’s Disney-imagineered amusement park rides and water slides. Sometimes, he has found, the surest way to a heartless dictator’s heart is through his grandchildren.

Would this work? I don’t know.

I’d like to dream that it could, because I’d love to see some more effective method of encouraging repressive strongmen to just walk away, allowing their people a better chance at the freedom and dignity that every person deserves.

And I’d like to see it work because Phase B might prove both educational and entertaining.

This kicks in after several years have passed and the former dictators have grown accustomed to life in their island paradise.

The evacuation occurs swiftly and silently, in the dead of night. The former dictators awake to find all the servants gone. The butlers and household servants, chefs, masseuses, groundskeepers and golf pros, farriers and falconers, all simply gone. So too are the grandchildren and any other members of their families under the age of 18.

It may take them a day or two to fully realize what this means. The supply ships and supply planes are not coming back. They are now, in effect, shipwrecked and marooned. And they will have to struggle to survive.

As they desperately take stock of their situation, perhaps they will notice one or two of the cameras, artfully hidden everywhere they turn. But even if they find a handful of these hidden cameras, they won’t find enough of them to interfere with the live webfeeds and edited broadcast versions of the reality show: Lords of the Flies: Chaos in Paradise. That’s Phase B.


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