Monday, February 21, 2011

Where to from Libya?

Not so much in the political sense, but in the limited sense of 'where would you go if you were a dictator fleeing the country?'.

So things in Libya are looking very dicey at the moment for the Gaddafi regime. Apparently protesters now control the city of Benghazi, which is remarkable since the armed forces are doing nearly everything they can (including Air Force bombing raids) to blast the hell out the protesters and it's still not enough to hold the cities.

Who knows if this is true, but there have been reports that Gaddafi may have fled the country already.

Now, in the past, Saudi Arabia was usually the ex-dictator's destination of choice. Repressive and fairly stable regime, hear-no-evil-see-no-evil approach to other people's human rights abuses, lots of luxury stores to spend your stolen billions on - what's not to love?

What I liked the most about the story (even if it's not true) is the way it implies that even crazy dictators understand conditional probability.

In other words, conditioning on the fact that Gaddafi and the army couldn't hold Libya after the fall of Tunisia and Egypt, it becomes an open question as to whether Saudi Arabia will be next. Saudi Arabia is a great place to go when regime collapses are independent events. But at the moment, we're observing correlated regime collapses. The first two were nasty, vaguely pro-American regimes with less willingness to shoot their own people. If you're Gaddafi and it's gotten to the point that you need to flee, it shows that being anti-American and happy to shoot your own people may still not be enough. In which case, Saudi Arabia looks much less appealing than in the past.

Hence the draw of Venezuela, which is where the story claims he was fleeing to. A long way from the Middle East, leadership (I use the term loosely) with visceral hatred of America and willingness to accomodate anyone else in the same category. Hell, it's certainly where I'd be fleeing to if I were Gaddafi.

Put it this way, the fact that they chose Venezuela raises my probability estimate that the story is true (although that's still not a high number necessarily), or at least a well constructed hoax or piece of misinformation.

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