Let’s revisit another one of my bad ideas – this is my grand scheme for a softer way to end dictatorships and move to democracy in formerly autocratic nations.
Part of the problem with being a dictator is that it’s hard to quit. It’s a classic tiger by the tail scenario. If a dictator wants to ease the oppression and repression imposed by his secret police, chances are things will quickly spiral out of control and end in ugly and violent ways.
You may have seen the horrific video of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal death. Dictators realize this is a likely scenario for them if they don’t die in office. This is partly why so many of them, when confronted with mass movements calling for reform, redouble their efforts for ever more violent repression and oppression.
We see this dynamic at work right now in Syria, where Assad is simply murdering his own people in order to keep his dictatorship intact. There was talk of offering him another option – a kind of “safe passage” to exile.
My grand plan would make this option more attractive to all those dictators.
The exact location of the island should, for security reasons, remain secret, but it would be a beautiful place – the kind of island aptly described as a “paradise”. Somewhere in the South Pacific, maybe, or the Indian Ocean or the Caribbean. Sparkling blue water, perfect weather, lush surroundings.
And this island paradise would have all the amenities a kleptocratic dictator would have grown accustomed to – all provided by an international team of stars. House staff supervised by a top notch British butler. Four-star cuisine led by a great French chef. Golf courses designed by legends of the game. Concierge medicine from the best doctors money can buy. Other, less lawful indulgences are also readily available to suit any given predilection.
The island, in other words, promised a life of decadent luxury and uninterrupted indulgence.
And this paradise island, this earthly paradise, would await any dictator willing to step down. Just say a word and Bashar al-Assad and his family would be removed from the cares of the world and resettled in a spectacular mansion on the island. His new home would be far enough from other island properties that he wouldn’t have to worry about Robert Mugabe or Omar al-Bashir spying over his manicured hedges. But it would still be close enough that he could meet up with Islam Karimov and Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for a drink or a game of tennis whenever he wanted.
In the meantime, the nations that once found themselves under the boots of these former dictators would now be free to determine their future without fear of repression.
This proposal has some drawbacks. It’s morally repugnant, on the one hand. Ultimately, some of the worst criminals on the planet would escape justice, being effectively reward for their decades of cruelty and oppression.
I’m trying to address this objection in Phase B of the plan (see below), but also keep in mind that, while hard to swallow, such generosity towards monsters could ultimately result in less injustice and less harm than leaving them in power or trying to dislodge them by force. The idea of Bashar al-Assad spending the rest of his life in lavish luxury is an ugly idea, but it may not be too high a price if it means ending the current injustice and violence. in his country.
There is also the problem of moral hazard. This paradise island of former dictators could indeed become a motivation to others for become horribly brutal dictators in the hope of one day being offered such a retirement package in return for their resignation.
To mitigate this, the existence of the island and the splendor of its many amenities should be kept a secret.
I imagine it works like that. The UNCETSD Special Liaison would arrive at a given dictator’s palace. The special liaison would eventually arrive at all such palace. This is her job as a special liaison for the United Nations Commission to Accelerate 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 officer is an ordinary man who travels without entourage, without the trappings of authority. All he has on him are his UNCETSD references, 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’s a bit like the promotional DVD of any other all-inclusive retirement community, except this community is much more fabulously luxurious and this video is narrated by Tony Blair. It also includes glowing 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 the dictator in person and they watch the DVD. “You have a month to consider this offer,” he said. He’s a firm man with a no-nonsense way of speaking, but he can also be quite charming, even when dealing with some of the most objectionable men on earth. Surprisingly, he’s also particularly good with young children – thrilling them with descriptions of Disney-imagined rides and water slides. Sometimes, he discovered, the surest way to reach the heart of a heartless dictator is through his grandchildren.
Would that work? I do not know.
I would like to dream that he could, because I would like to see some more effective method of encouraging repressive strongmen to leave, giving their people a better chance to enjoy the freedom and dignity that every person deserves.
And I wish it worked because Phase B could prove to be both educational and entertaining.
It begins after several years and the former dictators have become accustomed to life in their paradise island.
The evacuation is done quickly and silently, in the middle of the night. The old dictators wake up to find all the minions gone. Butlers and servants, cooks, masseuses, gardeners and golf pros, farriers and falconers, quite simply faded away. The same applies to grandchildren and any other family members under the age of 18.
It may take them a day or two to fully realize what this means. Supply ships and supply planes do not return. They are now, indeed, shipwrecked and abandoned. And they will have to fight to survive.
As they desperately take stock of their situation, perhaps they’ll notice one or two of the cameras, cleverly hidden everywhere they turn. But even if they find a handful of these hidden cameras, they won’t find enough to interfere with live web streams and edited broadcast versions of the reality show: Lords of the Flies: Chaos in Paradise. This is phase B.