Ric Locke argues that taking a hard line with the world’s tyrants is ultimately counterproductive:
There are many more tyrants in the World, some of them worse than Mubarak on his worst day. Our goal should be to get rid of all of them. The task is made immeasurably more difficult if the tyrants know that, if they lose their grip on power, they will end up being nibbled to death by ducks. Tyrants have the machineries of State under their fingertips, and can (and demonstrably do) take whatever measures they think they might need for self-protection. The net effect is tighter tyrannies that are more difficult to dislodge, everywhere.
Emphasis in the original. An example for consideration:
Which would you prefer: Hosni Mubarak living a life of ease in the Gulf States and hobnobbing with Saudi Princes on a basis of near-parity, thus inspiring Muammar Qaddafi to expect the same soft landing — or a frail old man subjected to a show trial for Crimes Against Humanity while Mugabe and the Iranian Mullahs hire more “security” thugs, and the Chinese Politburo rounds up dissidents?
Normally I’d be scornful of this particular flavor of Realpolitik, and there’s nothing emotionally satisfying in seeing persons of this ilk not being Ceauşescued into oblivion; but suppose Locke’s called this one right?
It’s not at all clear how many tyrants would be willing to let go if offered a soft landing. It is totally clear that if the soft landing isn’t possible, such retirements will not occur. What will happen, guaranteed, is more firing squads, broken heads, jail cells, and Internet clampdowns, as the remaining tyrants move to reinforce their power base.
Which leads to a question I suspect must be inevitable: is there enough presumably-filthy lucre available to buy out the lot of them?