Affairs

Government

The options open to a retired leader— Global

Preface

When Nicolas Sarkozy lost his May reelection bid in dramatic fashion, he announced his retirement plans to the world.

George Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, Power

9 August 2012

When Nicolas Sarkozy lost his May reelection bid in dramatic fashion, he announced his retirement plans to the world. “I hope to live a normal life,” he told reporters; to “quit operations”, be “left alone” and simply “enjoy a bit of quiet.”

Thus begins the well-trodden, slightly bitter transition to a post-presidential life. But despite dreams of afternoon golf, memoir writing and jet-setting with his wife Carla, the restlessness of retirement was clearly too much to handle. The French press reported recently that Sarkozy spent the better part of an hour chatting on the phone with a Syrian rebel leader. An odd call for a retired man.

As a private citizen, Sarkozy can of course call whoever he wants. Perhaps he missed the thrill of action with the missile codes just now out of reach. But meddling in active diplomacy is a delicate operation, fraught with potential breaches of decorum. I wonder if François Hollande gave him a go-ahead. I doubt it.

So what should a head of state do when he or she retires? It’s a predicament that few of us will ever face. Surely, though, there’s a killing to be made here by the ambitious entrepreneur. Riches await the organiser of anonymous support groups (first name basis only, of course – Nicolas, meet Tony) or the publisher of self-help manuals – The Idiot’s Guide to Gracefully Giving up Power. Just imagine the potential for consultants. They probably already exist.

Boiled down, there are three clear paths for the newly powerless.

  1. Stay quiet This is the “Dubya” model, also known as self-imposed exile. The roundly criticized Republican flew straight from Andrews Air Force Base to Texas following Barack Obama’s inauguration. He’s still there, living in a quiet neighbourhood of Dallas. He wrote a book and clears brush at his ranch. For the reviled in office, choose this option. Stay quiet and a few of your sins may be forgiven over time (and maybe even forgotten).

  2. Stay active A Clinton or Carter. Start a foundation. Open a centre. Make far too much money giving leadership lessons to seas of grey suits at corporate events.

  3. Jump back in Think Berlusconi. It’s only been nine months since the former Italian prime minister has been out of office but the comic succession of scandals, blunders, and law breaking isn’t enough to allow the 75-year-old to fade away. He recently announced his intention to get back into the ring. Second (or third or fourth) acts are indeed possible.

So what should Sarko do? It’s a tough call. He’s a man who clearly loved being president. Despite the humiliation of his final months, I say he’s gunning for option two, maybe three. And Godspeed to him.

Then again, in a fantasy world, it’s certainly possible that the Syria call was Carla’s idea. One imagines the busy singer and philanthropist arriving home one day, her husband sulking on the couch, the living room covered in crisps and highlighted newspaper clippings.

“Nicolas, we need to talk.”

Monocle 24

× Section D

Loading

0:00:00 0:01:00

Drag me