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Tilting at Windmills

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September 19, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

THE COUP IN THAILAND....Earlier this year, Joshua Kurlantzick wrote a piece for us about Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecomunications mogul who became prime minister of Thailand in 2001. After 9/11, Thaksin responded to the terrorist threat there by passing an emergency powers law, dismantling local councils in the Muslim south, and dispatching thousands of soldiers to the south, officially turning southern Thailand into a war zone. This won him reelection in 2005, but since then the mood has soured:

As the situation in the south worsened, Thaksin chose not to respond by restoring rights and freedoms. Strengthened by his personal convictions and by the idea that as a democratic leader he would enjoy public support for anything he did, he took the opposite approach, muscling the press more and consolidating power. His notion of democracy only strengthened his resolve. Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years, one Thai expert told me.

....For their part, Thais have begun to wake up from Thaksin's spell. This summer, the prime minister's popularity ratings fell below 50 percent, and confidence in his government has remained low ever since. The Thai media, like its counterparts in the United States and other democracies where initial rally-around-the-flag sentiment has waned, has become more aggressive. Thai journalists have probed procurement scandals in Thaksin's government, and they united to help defeat an effort by one of the prime minister's allies to buy into the most respected Thai-language newspaper, Matichon. Even in parliament, where Thaksin controls the majority of the seats, MPs have become so disgusted with Thaksin's style, as well as the continued violence in the south, that some of the prime minister's own party members have begun to speak out against him.

Read the whole thing. This is the background against which today's coup in Thailand took place.

Kevin Drum 7:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (55)

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Comments

Sounds eerily familiar...

Posted by: KT on September 19, 2006 at 7:44 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds eerily familiar...

Yep. Sounds like Venezuela.

Posted by: Al on September 19, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Remind me again. Venezuela had a leader who was elected. Then he did some illiberal things. And then there was a coup.

Which side are we supposed to be on in Venezuela's case? Which side are we supposed to be on in Thailand's case?

Posted by: Al on September 19, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like they need a balance of powers between legislative, executive, and judicial. And a military that respects civilian command.

Posted by: Red State Mike on September 19, 2006 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

"Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years."

Something akin to that sentence is probably nailed on the wall behind Bush's desk. If not Bush, then definitely Cheney.

Al, if you remember, in Venezuela's case the people actually supported the popularly leader. Just because the U.S. doesn't like him doesn't mean that a coup is okay. That's the kind of attitude that pisses off the rest of the world, remember?

"Democracy" doesn't mean you can only elect U.S.-approved leaders.

Posted by: MN Politics Guru on September 19, 2006 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years,

I'm wondering if GWB is feeling a little better about the UN being on USAmerican soil?

Posted by: Disputo on September 19, 2006 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Al, if you remember, in Venezuela's case the people actually supported the popularly leader.

So, if the leader's poll numbers go below 50%, a coup is OK? Good plan!

Posted by: Al on September 19, 2006 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years, one Thai expert told me.

Snap!

Posted by: craigie on September 19, 2006 at 8:01 PM | PERMALINK

Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years, one Thai expert told me.

Of course, this is nothing like Bush. Bush's idea of democracy is "if you vote for or against him, shut up again for four more years."

Posted by: Stefan on September 19, 2006 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

I thought America was the can-do country. But it's been even longer here, and we still haven't had a coup. Well, another one. I wonder if the Thai army is busy later this year?

Posted by: craigie on September 19, 2006 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, MN Politics Guru, what is the evidence that in Venezuela "the people actually supported the popularly [sic] leader"???

Posted by: Al on September 19, 2006 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

Stefan, welcome back. It hasn't been the same without you.

And now, I must get in the car and go home... so much for reunions.

Posted by: craigie on September 19, 2006 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

I went to Thailand last year so starting reading the news about it before and since. Just a couple days before I went there was a story that made it to cnn about how he had had a red light and buzzer installed on his podium for press conferences. When a reporter asked a question he did not like he would activate the buzzer then go to the next question.

The political power of the military was fairly aparrent to the naked eye. Thier buildings (along with the palace and the main temples) were among the best maintained in the city. All shiney new paint and manicured lawns.

Posted by: jefff on September 19, 2006 at 8:11 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, craigie. I've been out of the country on vacation, among other things, and I must say, it does the mind good to be away for a while from the crazies in this country....

Posted by: Stefan on September 19, 2006 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks, craigie. I've been out of the country on vacation, among other things, and I must say, it does the mind good to be away for a while from the crazies in this country....

So how is mecca this time of year? I hear it's hot there...

Heh

Posted by: Red State Mike on September 19, 2006 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't answer if it were just Al, but since others sometimes raise this question: Chavez has repeatedly won democratic elections by large margins, and international observers have found these elections to be fair. The effort by the coup plotters to overthrow him again in a recall also failed.

I'm sure that the opposition's next move will be to boycott the elections (despite the OAS, EU, and Jimmy Carter all blessing the elections as fair) to avoid the shame of having their butts kicked.

Now, I fully agree that Chavez has demagogic tendencies and has passed some illiberal laws.
But unlike actual dictatorships, the opposition controls a lot of media (including most private TV stations) and has no trouble getting their message out.

Posted by: Joe Buck on September 19, 2006 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK

Thaksin's idea of democracy is he does what he wants, every four years you decide whether he's right, and then if you vote for him, shut up again for four more years,

That sounds eerily familliar somehow. . . .

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on September 19, 2006 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

When a reporter asked a question he did not like he would activate the buzzer then go to the next question.

Sounds like all this guy needed to do was get a few gay prostitutes some clearances and press-passes. He clearly wasn't paying attention to how Bush gets things done.

Also, he probably should have classified his family's stock transactions with the national telecom company as top secret, so as to avoid that embarrassing stench of nepotism.

So - what's the military commander's name? Does it sound like "Mushtarraf"?

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on September 19, 2006 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Is this going to put a damper on my next sex tour?

Posted by: Rush Limbaugh's Cyst on September 19, 2006 at 8:34 PM | PERMALINK

Let's do this here in the US...

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

So is wiretapping US citizens...

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

If he was becoming unpopular, they would eventually have beat him electorally. He maintained his popular support by providing cheap healthcare and money for civic works. I certainly don't approve of his corruption or his megalomaniacal style, but to pretend this is antyhing but a disaster for democracy in Thailand is shameful. The only reason this coup happened is that despite the widespread hatred from some circles, he was still set to win the next election.

Posted by: Boronx on September 19, 2006 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

What Thailand needs to do is reform its totally corrupt police and military.

Posted by: Boronx on September 19, 2006 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

No, Al, coups are not acceptable if a leader's popularity drops below 50%. Overthrowing democratically elected leaders is not okay in general.

Chavez is popular in that he keeps on winning elections. Also, remember that the attempted coup in Venezuela was a failure; if he were not popular, it would have succeeded. Since he is not committing genocide, supporting terrorists, or accumulating WMDs, the leader of Venezuela should not be a concern of the U.S.

Posted by: MN Politics Guru on September 19, 2006 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Umm.. yes it is... let me be more clear... you need a warrant.. dumbass... warrantless wiretapping of US citizens is illegal... clearer for you? blow me thomas - next?

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 8:51 PM | PERMALINK

what the us needs to do is reform our corrupt politicians in power and corrupt political system..

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

A coup in the US would save democracy...

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

no thanks tomcat... I can make up my own mind, I don't need no explaining.. I know though how you neocons think you know more than everyone else... its laughable... and yeah bush sucks

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, I get it. It's an ANALOGY! See, the leader of Thailand is JUST LIKE BUSH! And if he had been enlightened and just appeased al Qaeda and asked them how he could meet them half way, and not increased security measures, Thailand would be at peace with them now.

Remember, there is no enemy that cannot be defeated if you kiss their ass hard enough.

Posted by: mufasa on September 19, 2006 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

Just let me get this straight. Our trolls are against coups now?

What about Pakistan, Venezuela, Haiti, and Ukraine? Wait...Let me guess. Thais like to stick it to da terrists in da wah on terrah? Or is the just the ping pong ball shows? I'm confused.

Posted by: enozinho on September 19, 2006 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

"Overthrowing democratically elected leaders is not okay in general"

C'mon Thomas. You need to insert the word "violently" in there somewhere. Otherwise impeaching the Clenis was "not okay".

It did keep him catching Bin Laden after all right?

Posted by: enozinho on September 19, 2006 at 9:07 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas you can believe whatever the fuck you want... Here are some other things that aren't OK in general... going to war on a lie... killing children based on a lie... torturing... spying... meshing religion with politics... profiting from war... just to name a few... and let's face it, bush wasn't elected democratically...

Posted by: dee on September 19, 2006 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

I have as many doubts about this narrative of Thaksin's offenses as I did about Chavez's in the run-up to the 2002 coup attempt. I don't know how much TV he controls, but when I was there, it was clear he didn't control the newspapers (at least, the ones in English) because they were unanimously against him, and spinning some silly story about insulting the King way out of its miniscule proportion. The basic truth is that a) he is supported by a large majority of voters, and b) despite their best efforts, the evidence that he's engaged in embezzlement or the like has failed to support legal proceedings against him. Maybe he doesn't treat his opponents well (I have no idea, but again, I doubt the reports coming, as with Venezuela, predominantly from the upper-class news sources), but that's not even remotely a justification for a coup. The fact that so many journalists and commentators seem to just take this coup (condescendingly) in stride is disgusting. There's a huge difference between deposing a dictator and deposing a duly elected representative with large public support. Relative to that, Thaksin's attitude towards MPs, journalists, or any other policy is, frankly, irrelevant.

Posted by: Jake on September 19, 2006 at 9:31 PM | PERMALINK

There goes the notion that educated people are less tolerant of erosion of a democracy than the uneducated ones. Not that the military takeover in Thailand is a good thing, but the loss of popular and media support for the Thai Prime Minister constrasts sharply with the blind worship of the political leaders that goes unabated elsewhere.

Posted by: gregor on September 19, 2006 at 10:22 PM | PERMALINK

All self-righteous fascists are cut from the same cloth - Ahmadinejad, Bush, Thaksin - the list goes on and on.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 19, 2006 at 10:32 PM | PERMALINK

I am not familiar with Thai politics or its constitutional restraints/remedies, but I wish Thaksin could have been dealt with in a constitutional/parliamentary way rather than having generals and a king make a change based upon military superiorty.

Posted by: Hostile on September 19, 2006 at 10:36 PM | PERMALINK

A bit of history: Thailand has a long tradition of military coups, and interestingly, this tradition is one of keeping the country on a relatively even keel, in support of a constitutional monarchy. Throughout the turmoil of WWII and the post-war Vietnam era, Thailand had a number of changes of government instituted by military coups, but always in support of what seemed to be a very sensitive military awareness of public opinion and the overall well-being of the country.

Obviously, it's hard to accept this notion in a country where the role of the military is one of strict subservience to the people's democracy, but you can't help wondering how the 1930's and '40's would have played out if the German military had been less concerned about their subservience to the elected leadership and more concerned about the welfare of Germany.

Posted by: Stephen Spear on September 19, 2006 at 10:41 PM | PERMALINK

ARRRGH...Must have been Pirates!

Posted by: Talk Like A Pirate Day on September 19, 2006 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like a terrible precedent regardless of your opinion of Thaksin.

Did someone just use a Hitler analogy?

Posted by: B on September 19, 2006 at 11:15 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, Avast Ye, Al, lest Chavez force you to dance the hempen jig.

Posted by: B on September 19, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

This a classic case of terror-centrism. My brother lives in Thailand and watches the Thai media everyday. Thaksin's unpopularity is due to entirely different, internal reasons, and has very little to do with his crackdown on the Muslim south - in fact, that's one of his most popular policies.

Posted by: Xeynon on September 19, 2006 at 11:44 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds eerily familiar...

does this mean we're headed for a coup?

Posted by: wollyjon on September 19, 2006 at 11:48 PM | PERMALINK

Brilliant, Kevin. So the thug in Thailand is just like Bush and the military in the USA should stage a coup.

What's next, you going to join the other Hysterical Loons on the left and list all the similarities between Bush and Hitler?

Posted by: Frequency Kenneth on September 20, 2006 at 12:08 AM | PERMALINK

I will simply agree with MN Politics Guru that "Overthrowing democratically elected leaders is not okay in general" and leave it at that.

Cool, Charlie, so you're onboard as being against that other 9-11 event, the US assisted overthrow of Allende.

...and you agree that the Bush government was lax in being the only western government to not condemn the coup against Chavez while it was happening.

... and that the 1953 overthrow of Dr. Mosaddeq in Iran was a huge wrong...

as was the coup against Sukarno...

and the coup against Aristide...

and the coup against Panayotis Canellopoulos...

and the coup against...

Jeez, perhaps there's hope for all of us after all.

Posted by: snicker-snack on September 20, 2006 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

I will simply agree with MN Politics Guru that "Overthrowing democratically elected leaders is not okay in general" and leave it at that.
Posted by: Thomas1 on September 19, 2006 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

No WONDER Iran is pissed at us!

hey, that was fun, let's try it again. . .

No WONDER Haiti is pissed at us!

awesome!

Okay, let me do another -

No WONDER Pakistan is pissed at us! (did WE do that? who knows. We sure suck up to Mushtarraf a lot. And by "we", I mean Bush).

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on September 20, 2006 at 12:53 AM | PERMALINK


Since (judging from our actions and claims) democracy in a country of 26 million is worth at least $300 billion to us, and since Thailand has a pop of about 65 million, we're $750 billion worse off.
I must be in shock, because right now I don't feel a thing.

Posted by: gcochran on September 20, 2006 at 2:07 AM | PERMALINK

Thomas1 writes:

Advocating the violent overthrow of our government is against the law.

I'm not sure which law you're refering to, but with a name like "Thomas1," you should know better. Violent overthrow of our government is *always* an option. Our great nation was founded on the violent overthrow of a previous government. Although I'm strongly against Bush, we're not at a point where we need to revolt, but let's be clear - the people of this country always reserves the right to overthrow the government, violently or otherwise. The government serves the people. To disagree with that concept is unAmerican. But perhaps you're not an American.

"..Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.."

Posted by: Andy on September 20, 2006 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK

Hecht's Law states that bloodless revolutions are rarely, if ever, bad for the country and that bloody revolutions are rarely, if ever, good for the country.

It appears that the coup in Thailand was bloodless so I am willing to bet big bucks that Thailand will be better off in the near future.

Posted by: neil hecht on September 20, 2006 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

FREQUENCY KENNETH: What's next, you going to join the other Hysterical Loons on the left and list all the similarities between Bush and Hitler?


hitler is way different than bush. for example adolf was a decorated war hero...

- bill maher

Posted by: mr irony on September 20, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

it does the mind good to be away for a while from the crazies in this country....

Al, rdw, Jay, AmericanChickadee...Stefan's looking at you.

Posted by: ckelly on September 20, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

I was in Thailand during their 2004 elections and did not see a single poster for an opposition party candidate. Not one. Meanwhile, thousands of posters for Thai Rak Thai. Widespread allegations of literal vote-buying. Not the kind of vote-buying where the candidate's so rich he dominates the airwaves (though there's obviously that too). No, the kind where people line up to get their cash in hand in exchange for their vote. Aside from all the financial corruption, Thaksin had essentially suspended democracy in Thailand: he dissolved the government, called elections, the elections were boycotted by the opposition and thrown out by the courts, and he just continued to govern with vague promises of elections sometime. A case could be made that he was governing by coup against the constitution to begin with. He may have been hoping to essentially overthrow the royal family upon the death of the current king (it's true that few are looking forward to the prospect of the next in line). I don't know about y'all, but I think it's a lot more complicated than a military coup against a democratically elected government.

Posted by: rabbit on September 20, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

p.s. by "thousands of posters for Thai Rak Thai" I mean just the ones I actually laid eyes on in my two weeks there.

Posted by: rabbit on September 20, 2006 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Wow, Al actually responded with more than one post, meaning his other posts where he would say something and then "cut and run" before the criticism impaired his fractured thinking meant he didn't have a leg to stand on, much less courage. Thanks, Al, I understand you better now!

Posted by: Boorring on September 20, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

the leader of Venezuela should not be a concern of the U.S.

But..but..he called "Dear Leader" the devil!!

Posted by: ckelly on September 20, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas wrote that "the government actually wiretapping of enemy calls with US citizens during wartime is not illegal." Well, it may depend. If the government is tapping or otherwise monitoring the phones of AQ affiliates abroad, and said AQ affiliates call telephones located in the US, the government surely doesn't have to hang up just because a US citizen takes the call. This is true whether or not the government has a warrant. Signals intelligence over enemy communications during wartime is so clearly within the government's Art. II powers that I cannot fathom how anyone might think otherwise. So far as I can tell, this is the only kind of "warrantless spying" that the NSA is engaged in that involves US telephones.

It wouuld be a tougher question if the government were monitoring phones in the US but only listening in when a call is placed to a suspect phone number abroad. I haven't made up my mind yet about this hypothetical case and since there's no evidence that the Government is actually doing this, I don't see any reason to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Posted by: DBL on September 20, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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