USA Attempted to Rock the Thai Boat
While the Thai military government was on its roadmap to "genuine democracy," on January 25-26, the US sent its special envoy, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel to Bangkok "to rock the Thai boat." What did Russel do in Thailand and what were the motives behind this mission? How did Thais react to his hostile visit? These are the issues to be discussed in brief.
Roadmap to "Genuine Democracy"
The deposed Yingluck Shinawatra and her successor under the so-called "Thaksin regime" ruled the country by systematic corruption and thievery by the state or state-sanction corruption, which can be appropriately termed as "kleptocracy." They were not "democratically" or "legally" elected as misquoted by foreign observers either.
About 15 years prior to the coup on May 22, 2014, to make a long story short, under the Thaksin regime, Thailand's traditionally peaceful social fabrics, from top to bottom, were torn asunder. Extrajudicial killings and violent deaths were prevalent. The rule of the tyranny of the majority was fully demonstrated under the Yingluck government, when the Pheu-Thai-Party-dominated House of Representatives rushed through an amnesty bill and the constitution amendment in late 2014. As a result, the great majority of the people demanded for a drastic change, not through ballot boxes decided by money and extra-political influences uncontrollable by law enforcement agencies. The mass movement finally ended up with the military coup.
The seizure of political power by the military required no special talent, but the strategies employed to avoid bloodshed and disarmed the organized masses and their armed elements were praiseworthy. Despite the well-organized network of the Thaksin regime, peace and order over the past 8 months should be considered as a "miracle."
Within a short period of time the junta initiated a roadmap, which had a clear timetable as well as elaborate military, political, judicial and administrative machines to propel the country to "genuine democracy." The junta is determined to eradicate the Thaksin regime and its "kleptocracy" once and for all. The prerequisite for success was a peaceful atmosphere. That has required dictatorial power supported by martial law to head off political unrests.
The basic philosophy of the junta to meet the target of its roadmap seems to be based on the teachings of Confucius as seen in The Analects (Book III): "Master Kong said: raised up those you recognize. As for those you don't recognize, will the others let you do without them?" So, the country's new leaders are composed of capable men whom the junta chief knows and trusts. Their selection was not based on democratic principles. Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta chief, has never pretended to rule the interim government democratically. But he wants to rule by law, not by personal whims. He admitted from the beginning that political reform needed time. Here again, he has followed Master Kong's advice: "Don't seek quick result—If you seek quick results, you will not attain success."
Daniel Russel's Mission
Few specialists in Thai politics were initially optimistic about the prospect of maintaining peace in Thailand as a consequence of the coup. As a long-time friend and ally of Thailand, the US should be relieved and pleased to see peace and stability in the country over the past 8 months. On the contrary, Washington sent Daniel Russel to Bangkok to disturb the peace!
In his speech at the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University on January 26, Russel said: "I came to Thailand on behalf of my government to listen to the government, listen to the political leaders, civic society, and academics—but also to convey our views and our hope for Thailand—the US has a huge interest in Thailand's success."
This sounds alright diplomatically, but he must be well aware of how his action (in words and deeds) grossly contradicted his statement that "the United States does not take sides in Thai politics." His deeds and words were briefly as follows:
He had appointments to discuss matters of mutual interests with former prime minister Yingluck, former prime minister Abhisit, Foreign Minister Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn, and a group of social activists. Thereafter, he had two forums to disseminate his views critical of the Thai junta: one was at Chulalongkorn University, and the other was at a Thai PBS television program.
His criticisms against the Thai junta received wide coverage in every mass media, including satellite television programs friendly to the US and Thai social media. He urged the Thai government to lift martial law, hold general elections, introduce inclusive political reform, and lift restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. He also described Yingluck's impeachment by the junta-installed National Legislative Assembly as politically motivated.
These were the same key issues that leaders of the Thaksin regime raised to attack the junta. Thus, it appears as if Russel acted in concert with the Thaksin regime. His words and deeds certainly boosted the fighting morale of the Thaksin camp. A week later, two bombs exploded near Siam Paragon shopping mall in downtown Bangkok, slightly injuring two people, and a fabricated palace statement went viral on the social media.
Speaking on behalf of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Don Paramudvinai, Deputy Foreign Minister, commented on Russel's activities that he focused not on bilateral relations, but on the kingdom's internal politics, which was not useful, and tarnished its image.
General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister and concurrently junta chief was equally blunt: "It saddens me that the US does not understand the reason why I had to intervene and does not understand the way we work, even though we have been close allies for years." (The Nation, January 29, 2015, 1A). Prayut urged the US to listen to both political camps and take into account the differences between the two countries.
Russel should have realized that the Thaksin camp still threatens Thai security: their leaders and supporters are still openly criticizing the junta through the mass and social media, and are clearly questioning the legitimacy of the junta government. They still did not see the illegitimacy of the deposed Yingluck government and claim the right to overthrow the "illegitimate" junta. (See, for example, Pravit Rojanaphruk's article in The Nation, February 4, 2015, 2A). That was, and still is, the reason for the junta to retain martial law, because "the state of war" is prevailing, and that is why the junta and its supporters have condemned Russel's criticisms against the government as an attempt to "rock the Thai boat." That is, Russel acted as if he were a mouthpiece of Yingluck's camp. It is difficult not to see his action as taking side in Thai politics.
Honestly, I cannot understand the objectives of Russel's mission. But his deeds have convinced me that he and his government have opted for playing the "Thaksin card" in Thailand's power struggle. There are relevant sources of information, mostly speculative, gathered from printed and electronic media, to support this conclusion.
First, a question has been raised in Bangkok about the close connection between the Bush and Thaksin dynasties. Did they share some family interests and engineered Russel's trip to Bangkok to stir up a mess in Thailand by working through a US intelligence unit at George Bush Center for Intelligence at Fairfax, Virginia?
Second, the CIA, with an operation headquarters in a Bangkok hotel and which has close connection with the red-shirt network in the North East, has worked out a strategy to subvert Thailand. It is convinced that the Thaksin's camp would certainly win the next general elections again. Washington could reap maximum gains by sending Russel to Bangkok to give the Thaksin regime a timely support.
Third, and this might or might not be related to the above hypotheses, decision-makers in Washington have been sleepless since the Thai coup: they could not agree among themselves how to deter the growing Chinese influence in Thailand. One faction of the policy-making machine might have connections with the Thaksin network and concluded that they would aid the Thaksin camp's return to power in exchange for the latter's promise to align Bangkok more closely with Washington against the rise of China.
The military junta and its supporters claimed to know the country's political problems better than foreigners. "Our problems are unique, and we alone can solve our own problems – by using the Thai way."
They angrily reacted to Russel's interference in Thai internal affairs. Thanong Khanthong, a renowned columnist of The Nation entitled his opinion article "The Ugly American is alive AND KICKING." Anti-American rhetoric went viral on the social media. Many of them condemned Americans who were too "stupid" to differentiate Yingluck's fake democracy from a genuine one.
Many people said that the military coup was a coup de grâce, for it "saved democracy" and "stopped repeated killings." Under the Thaksin regime the rule of law existed only on paper," as people were indiscriminately murdered on a daily basis. This dreary state ended when "the military came to put a stop to it."
Many people wanted to forget the nightmare they had suffered under the Thaksin regime and vehemently criticized Russel's remarks in favor of the deposed regime. Martial law has helped keep peace and stability. It has little or no effect on the common people's everyday life. It requires the authorities to strictly observe the law. Common people are no longer afraid of extrajudicial killings, which had been carried out in broad daylight for over 10 years under the so-called "democratically elected" governments. So, the West grossly misinterpreted martial law in Thailand. In practice, it has ensured peace for all law-abiding people, but restricted the freedom of the few who are prone to disturb public peace.
Some Westerners joined the throng of Thais criticizing Russel's intervention in the country's internal affairs. As Mike Pirsch expressed his view in The Nation (January 30, 2015, 9A): "America had a sordid record of instigating and plotting more than 80 coups since 1953. It has no moral credibility to condemn any coup." Or as Michael Yon, an American journalist whose Facebook article was widely shared on the social media, put it: "We need to mind our own business. Thailand must do things the Thai way, and American needs to learn when to shut up."
It is a difficult time for the Thais who have endured such a long bitter experience. Moral support from foreign friends is certainly appreciated. We hope the Thai dream to realize a genuine democracy will succeed. And hope that Americans will not support their government to rock the Thai boat—sailing from kleptocracy to democracy.
- 1."Remarks at the Institute of Security and International Studies," US Department of State, www.state.gov
- 2."Prayut rebuts US snub," The Nation, January 28, 2015, 1A.
- 3."Protest lodged with US," The Nation, January 29. 2015. 1A
- 4.Pornpimol Kanchanaluck," To Secretary Daniel Russel: Please open your mind and be fair," The Nation, January 29, 215, 10A.
NB:Edited version of this and other articles, see www.thaiworld.org