Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thai cameo

hilzoy was so impressed with an extended comment regarding Thailand that she made it into a post. So was I.

There was a coup in Thailand this week.
Publius was on top of it and seems to have it figured out.
The story was picked up at Obsidian Wings.
hilzoy caught the post comments by dr ngo and posted them.

If you read all these links and the comments that accompany them you will know more about Thailand and Thai politics than anyone in your peer group.
I did and I do.

I also left a comment and was pleased to have it recognized and left without elaboration by the erudite dr ngo, whoever he or she may be.

This comment by someone else caught my eye:

I was in Bangkok in 1992 during the last coup. A fair number of people were killed (there were accusations afterwards that many more simply disappeared) by the army as they protested and rioted. Some government buildings were torched as well. It was somewhat surreal to walk down an Khao San Road (the centre of Bangkok's backpacker district), be allowed to pass by a military "checkpoint" where the soldiers ignored foreigners entirely and then walk the block or so the the main square where several hundred Thais, led by monks, were marching and chanting under the guns of hundreds of troops positioned behind coils of razor wire.

As Dr. Ngo mentioned, the king summoned the two main political opponenents, a very recently retired top general and his populist opponent, to an audience. Protocol required both men to walk toward the seated king on their knees. The footage and photos of the two of them crawling on their knees and then listening to the king were all over the tv and papers. The ex-general was in an Armani suit (he had the reputation of being a proud and powerful man) while the populist wore his usual simple peasant clothes (he cultivated the image of simplicity and humility). Not surprisingly, the images appeared to seal the ex-general's political fate (and this appeared to have been the king's intention by allowing the audience to be filmed and photographed).

* * *
Followup Saturday, Sept, 23

I shouldn't treat this story with such breezy carelessness. Many people take the story more seriously. A commentary in Le Monde was translated by Leslie Thatcher for Truthout.

...this coup d'√ątat has been limply condemned by the international community. A sign of the times? Indicator of erosion, of exhaustion of the democratic model in developing countries, where it too often merges with nepotism and corruption? The timidity of criticism is explained by an observation: the putsch, accomplished without bloodshed, was welcomed by the population - in any case, by the residents of Bangkok - with relief. It's a fact: the reaction on the street was to offer the soldiers flowers, not to throw stones at them. The symbol is powerful.

Etc., Etc.

My point in posting this story (I almost said "little" story, but for the people involved it is anythign but little. It is easy to be carelessly disrespectful, isn't it?) was that there are all kinds of variants on what we like to call "democracy." From what I remember of history in those classrooms so long, long ago, there is a second-cousin to democracy called populism. Populism is what people call democracy that they don't like. But populism is what is afoot today all over the world.

dr ngo's comments above are cogent, but the most important line in the piece is at the beginning:

"-- First, the disclaimers. It's NOT about Islam. It's NOT about us."

That point needs to be underscored.

It's about populism. Nothing more. (Remember, now: Populism is what we call democracy that we don't like.) Next, I have to write something that will make a lot of people angry. [Reader advisory: Righteous Indignation Trigger coming up...]

When the leaders of Venezuela and Iran spoke to the United Nations this week, they said things that were rude to the point of insult to the United States, their host country, and to George Bush, our president. No need to link or quote them here. Besides, everyone knows to what I am referring...
Who was their audience? The UN, you say?
Their audience in both cases was the people they left at home, the populist-driven base that put them into power. Oh, we can get all prissy and self-righteous about how those elections were manipulated, how Jimmy Carter was so afraid of violence that he put a stamp of approval on a clearly "rigged" election of Chavez. Or how extremists in Iran somehow succeded in sneaking Ahmedinizhad past a majority of their people. But the simple fact is this: the mathematical majority of people in those countries, whatever the reason, don't like US policy and how it impacts their lives. They may love our consumer-driven brand marketing, our fast foods, our movies and cable TV. But at another level they think our foreign policy stinks. And like it or not, that is why leaders such as these occupy the offices they hold.

Majority. That means an expression of *choke* democracy, ya'll.
And my guess is that the respective majorities of the folks back home cheered their leaders for what they said and how they said it. No, Chavez and Ahmedinezhad were not speaking to the UN. They, just like Senators and Congressmen in Washington, were speaking to the camera, and so to their constituencies...the folks back home.

Sure, some of their compatriots were embarrassed. I don't know about you, but I didn't read any reports yet about anyone from Venezuela or Iran rendering an apology. That might come later, of course, but at the moment those voices are mute. Why? Because we know what happens when anyone speaks out against the grain of public opinion.

Dr. Hadar once referred to the president's democratic crusade as a nutty idea. I'm beginning to think he was correct.

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