What to do with Moammar Gadhafi? Like so many dictators and merely nervous absolute monarchs, the current head of Libya must realize that his time is up. But, also like others, Col. Gadhafi seems intent on taking as many of his own people with him as possible.
What, after all, are his options? No other country wants him, although the African Union, goaded by Italy, is trying to find him a suitable home - perhaps in Uganda. If exile isn’t found or if he doesn’t accept it, he and his sons appear ready to fight to a bloody end.
How much better it would be for the Libyans if there were an Old Dictators Home to which the Gadhafis of the world could retire. It need not be fancy. Applicants would have to surrender their Swiss bank accounts and London town houses in order to find sanctuary there. But the quarters would be presentable - J. W. Marriott’s Renaissance, if not quite the Ritz-Carlton. Importantly, security would be reliable, to keep them in as well as to keep others out. Once an exit deal was struck, the International Criminal Court would have to agree not to pursue them.
A cornered dictator, as is, can’t even escape without notice. His people are attuned to broadcast media and social media. As soon as Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the modern sultan of Tunisia, was overthrown recently, he fled the premises. But the new interim government of Tunisia was right behind him. He was blocked in Malta, France, Canada and then Dubai. Understandably, his pursuers believed he had hidden money away, and they wanted it back. They also wanted him back and put in the dock. In truth, however, it usually is not safe to let a dictator come back. Think of the demagogue Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who just returned from exile to Haiti, as did his predecessor, the ruthless strongman Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
At least in Mr. Ben Ali’s case, when he finally was admitted to Saudi Arabia, he removed all embarrassment to his hosts by dying.
Meanwhile, Hosni Mubarak, sequestered at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, also is said to be ailing. Among the burdens he must bear is justifiable worry about the sustainability of his immediate environment. For now, his former military pals are protecting him, but what about later? If he could get out - if he had somewhere to go - he surely would be safer. So, too, would the Egyptian military and a lot of other people. Think of a gated community on a sunny little island far, far away.
Take St. Helena, for example. There in the Mediterranean is where the European allies sent Napoleon when they defeated him in 1814. Unfortunately, the food wasn’t satisfactory and Nappy escaped back to the mainland before meeting his Waterloo in 1815. Even then he was allowed to live, but this time on Elba, a relatively bad address well outside the usual Atlantic yachting lanes.
Today’s Western allies are inexperienced with such arrangements. Our representative democracy has made it easier for the people to express their will. A nuisance can be removed at the next election, while the ejected officeholder at least gets a pension. But it is hard to get rid of an unelected tyrant and hard also for us to help those oppressed by one. Transitions are unpleasant, too, for the hapless tyrant. Once a despot starts decelerating, he slides off all polite invitation lists. Little avail then are the chest full of medals and the seat on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (normally a veritable club for abusers of human rights).
If you are Fernando Marcos of the Philippines, who may have rigged one too many elections and was ousted in the 1980s, you can hope to find a home in Hawaii, but you also will find that the law and the lawyers come right behind you.
Or consider the end of the sanguinary Idi Amin, who in the ‘60s and ‘70s self-promoted himself from assistant cook in the Ugandan militia to “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular,” a title he may have obtained from an intense reading of the works of Evelyn Waugh. Eventually, his excellency was defeated and deposed. He found respite at first with his colleague Moammar Gadhafi, the “Brother Leader and Guide of Libya.” Eventually he ended his days in the quiet confines of Saudi Arabia, unmissed and unremarked.
But remember that for a while, Idi Amin had been acceptable company at places like the U.N. So, too, these days, is Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, his chum in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and their Syrian confrere, Bashar Assad. In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh might appreciate a plush escape route out of Sanaa about now, and one has to presume the same for the unelected but not-leaving Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast.
In Libya, of course, the patron of “popular democracy,” the man of many official costumes, Moammar Gadhafi, might be more willing to leave, too, if he had somewhere to go. Instead, he is going to kill a lot of people and waste a lot of U.S. and European ordnance.
Where might a home for retired dictators - call it “Lost Horizons Estates” - fit in? South Florida certainly could use the luxury-housing purchases and tourism stimulus. After a visit to Disney World, people would be eager to see if they could run into Mr. Mubarak at Starbucks in Mizner Park in Boca Raton and catch a glimpse of Bashar Assad coming off the 18th hole at Royal Palm.
Better yet would be somewhere that doesn’t care about bad publicity and can ignore persistent attorneys. A nice island in the Caribbean, like Cuba.
But then, where will the Castros go when their time is up?