« | Home | »

Washington Keeps Quiet

Tags: |

The anti-government protests in Bangkok, which have drawn at least 100,000 red-shirted protestors from across rural Thailand, have attracted a lot of attention from the global media. This is in large part down to the gore: demonstrators have been donating litres of their blood to be poured on government buildings. The United States government, however, Thailand’s longtime foreign patron and ally, has said almost nothing about the red demonstrations. During a brief visit to the country shortly before the current protests, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell issued a bland statement:

We are urging restraint, and we want very much for issues that are passionate, and important political matters, to be dealt with in an appropriate way through the electoral process and through other democratic institutions.

American silence makes good sense. Four years ago, Washington was less hands-off – and paid for it. In 2006, protestors dressed in yellow and drawn mostly from the Bangkok elites gathered in the same streets where the red shirts now mass, pushing to oust Thaksin Shinawatra, the then prime minister. They got their wish: in September 2006, a military coup toppled Thaksin, who fled into exile, and many yellow shirts welcomed the army troops with flowers and smiles.

The US miscalculated badly. Washington issued a pro forma denunciation of the coup, but tacitly condoned the military takeover by its actions. The US did not suspend planned joint military exercises with the Thai armed forces, and privately sent signals to the army that the US would work closely with the military-appointed prime minister.

In private, many senior American officials argued that the US should tolerate the coup, because Thaksin, though elected, had autocratic tendencies, and because Thailand had weathered some 17 coups in the past, and the US historically had stood behind the traditional elites – the army, monarchy and Bangkok businesspeople.

That was a mistake. In the past, the US could back Thai elites because the majority of the population had no voice. Now, with the rural poor mobilised, the elites America has always worked with can’t keep the situation under control: if an election were called today, a proxy party for Thaksin would almost certainly win. Travelling through northern Thailand, Thaksin’s home base, last month, I found near-unanimous support for the red shirts, and polite but bitter disdain for the US, which perceived as always favouring Bangkok’s rulers.

To make matters worse, Bangkok’s elites have shown they can no longer even manage the country effectively. Shortly after the coup, the military-installed government so bungled its handling of the economy that investors fled the stock market in droves. In recent months, the current government, which has also not actually won an election, has been embarrassed by revelations that it paid a British company $21 million for useless bomb-detection equipment to use in Thailand’s war-torn southern provinces. No wonder Washington is keeping quiet.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • martyn94 on Money for nothing?: i suspect that I'm possibly the only person here who has actually tried to do the sums for UBI in anything approaching the real world. The late Ralph ...
    • IPFreely on Lesvos Burning: Al Jazeera seems to be the only TV programme that regularly reports on the situation and also gives reports on the numbers of refugees crossing by boa...
    • bevin on Cameron Quits Again: "Taking the state on a joy ride and crashing it,.." The EU was doomed from the beginning. It is very difficult to trick people into believing that ne...
    • Vance Maverick on Missionaries in a Lift: Well, your eternal salvation is pretty undeniably more important than your vote for the next President. Or it would be, if there were agreement on how...
    • Bob Beck on Up the Commonwealth: Boris Johnson's use of "piccaninnies" -- otherwise a tolerably obscure word these days, I'd have thought -- suggests that he shares Farage's adulation...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement