Hillary Clinton claims that Moammar Qaddafi may be exploring exit options. Count me as skeptical. The problem is that we don’t have a whole lot to offer a dictator in exile.
Once upon a time, an autocrat could step down and live out his days securely in the south of France or some other plush locale. That option still exists for some; for instance Tunisia’s deposed strongman, Ben Ali, is now in Saudi Arabia. Maybe he’s even taken over Idi Amin’s old villa.
But Qaddafi is a special case because he has committed war crimes such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. He knows that if he leaves power he could wind up in the dock at the International Criminal Court.
The ability of the international coalition or the Libyan opposition to make a deal for his abdication has been complicated by the Charles Taylor precedent. Taylor was the former president of Liberia who left office in 2003 as part of an agreement that allowed him to escape into exile in Nigeria. But Interpol promptly issued an arrest warrant for him and in 2006 Nigeria handed him over to the UN’s Special Court for Sierre Leone. Eventually he wound up in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Hague where his trial continues to drag on.
I have generally been supportive of the ICC as a tool for holding war criminals to account but incidents such as this are clearly an example of proceduralism run amok: in return for getting Taylor into court, we are making it more difficult to depose other dictators. Qaddafi has every incentive to fight to the death and take a lot of people down with him.
There should be a procedure whereby the UN Security Council could grant immunity for prosecution to someone like Qaddafi as part of a deal for him to leave power. I am all for justice being done but I think the prime imperative in this case is to oust a brutal dictator; he will be held to account in any case by his Maker.