Thailand's recent coup provides food for thought
Thailand has endured — thrived, for that matter — after eighteen coups, some for only selfish reasons and others for those more praiseworthy, since the 1930s.
Of course, the United States and several western democracies revile the fact that at almost at the precise moment Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was in New York addressing the United Nations on the promise of Asian democracy, General Sonthi Boonyaragatlin was busy at home overthrowing the Shinawatra administration in a military — but bloodless — coup.
Naturally, my laissez-faire psyche found this action not only an interesting but also somber idea for my own much-loved countrymen to explore.
In the end, the American Revolution was nothing more or less than a coup aimed at the British. Why then, save for the Civil War, have our nation's people not found themselves again turning, intentionally and well-considered, on its own government?
There are many answers — including fear, laziness, bought-and-paid-for leaders, conscience, and the way freedom is perceived.
Or perhaps such an action has not been necessary.
Now, one major change occurring over the past six years is that America has become essentially a police state — a comfortable one, but a police state nonetheless. This makes peaceful struggle quite impossible for the typical citizen.
In Thailand, now former and mortified Prime Minister Shinawatra was known, time and again, for corruption, fiscal and otherwise — as well as viciousness in opposition to anyone who dared get in his way.
The King of Thailand — worshipped almost as a God — also thought it time for the Prime Minister to go.
So, simple as that, another bloodless coup in Thailand commenced. Tanks rolled into the capital and marshal law was declared — not to allow the military to take long-term stewardship of Thailand, but to make certain that Prime Minister Shinawatra's supporters would not defend the then-exiled leader. Many in Thailand were so frightened of him "that they followed him like buffalo" (TIME Magazine, quoting a housewife in its October 2nd international edition).
Naturally, intercontinental reaction to this coup was a deafening frown.
In Thailand such coups are normal, and appear to be now at least a possible fourth check and balance on its concept of democracy. If the executive, legislative, and judicial branches fail to save the population from a brutalizer, then the military steps in — in a well-intended move this time, it seems, always in consultation with the King, and following harsh public protests aimed at the Thai Prime Minister who had secretly been infiltrating the military with his own people and promoting them to positions higher than they deserved, most likely planning to depose the commanding general and cement his total control over the country.
The question is not whether or not a military coup is the best way to fix a broken democracy.
It is, however, one way.
Of course, there are other methods, the kinds we are inured to: elections, court orders, impeachment and removal, or new and perhaps progressive legislation. The test in Thailand will of course be who the post-coup military leadership chooses to best provisionally fill the post of "leader" before future elections are held — and held quickly.
Now, let's study the unthinkable: a military coup in the United States.
Decide, for argument's sake, that the Bush Administration has placed itself in a position similar to that of former Prime Minister Shinawatra. Certainly a case can be made that this Administration, particularly Vice President Richard Cheney and others surrounding him, have financially profited, and handsomely so, from the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the so-called never-ending "War on Terror[ism]." And let us not continue to ignore the billions in profit "earned" by the Carlyle Group, with its enormous and long-established investment in the Middle East — an group which boasts the former President Bush as an essential stakeholder.
Certainly the present President Bush and the Secretary of State have corroded the international and diplomatic reputation of the United States to the point that America has become a head-shaking laughingstock among even those foreign scholars who love her.
Surely the President and his cronies threaten this and especially future generations with unthinkably harsh taxes (to pay for his military jaunts), unheard-of destruction in the areas of civil rights and privacy, and the death or maiming of thirty thousand American soldiers and hundreds of American civilians.
Bottom line: the United States, in almost every manner, has suffered acutely under the "leadership" of George W. Bush, and the worst is most likely yet to come.
While the U.S. economy seems to have rallied over the past six years, the truth is that the continually rising $150 thousand per capita debt we, our children and grandchildren must pay in the future is killing the value of the U.S. dollar and some experts fear stagflation or even deflation as the overheated economy pauses and then begins a downhill slide approaching the end of this Administration's imperative in Washington.
Yet others — yes, including Democrats — are also complicit. Who among them might be conserved should the Pentagon decide some night to aim their missiles at the District of Columbia?
Your guess is as good as mine, but it's the Administration that would be the primary target for isolation and removal — but not the only target. Several members of Congress would also "flee the light."
And who at the Pentagon, among uniformed men and women would we, or could we, trust should our tanks begin a startling journey down Pennsylvania from Georgetown toward Capitol Hill stopping off at the White House?
Would that be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace?
America could do worse.
Pace is highly educated, a brilliant strategic thinker, and although appointed by George W. Bush in 2005 might be counted on because of his demonstrated consciousness for what it right.
As an example, at a July 2006 hearing in Miami, Florida, chaired by then
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-VA), General Pace broke down in tears speaking of his Italian immigrant father and the prospects his parents gave their children by coming to the United States. Is this a man who will continue to tolerate what he sees amiss in our civilian and corporate-controlled government?
When one journalist asked now-dishonored ex-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about torture of prisoners and others by Iraqi authorities, Rumsfeld remarked, "Obviously, the United States does not have a responsibility" other than to voice disapproval."
Peter Pace had a different view and was not frightened to express it — right then and there: "It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it." Rumsfeld looked completely flabbergasted, then insipidly shot back, "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."
No, Gramps. General Pace knew exactly what he had said and returned fire, forcefully retoring (in palpable disgust at Rumsfeld), "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it!"
There you have it.
The question is, is Marine General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs disgusted enough with this Administration to lie awake nights thinking about clandestine meetings with his staff designed to prepare a coup against President Bush and other politicians who have placed the United States in a now unacceptable and precarious position?
I doubt it.
Peter Pace is an American first, and he knows that the place to try these men and women is in the United States Senate — in an impeachment action.
Does he appreciate however that this will never happen as matters now stand? Does he see that Democrats, who would have to commence this procedure, are too frightened of their own political and financial well-being to do so?
Perhaps General Pace, who could not act unilaterally as he has no direct control over the branches of the military, might believe the Supreme Court could intervene in some way — yet the probability of this, in a court now chock-a-block with Neoconservative ideologues, are slim to none.
So Peter Pace, perhaps it's up to you.
You swore to defend us and to uphold our Constitution — many times during your career, and Lord knows we have
trusted you with great responsibility, and you have trusted us to scrutinize your actions.
On Memorial Day this year, Pace delivered this message, perhaps a clue to his focus:
"That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion."
These iconic words delivered by President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg embody the true meaning of Memorial Day: to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom. Each member of the Armed Forces swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. The unspoken part of that oath is the willingness to lay down one's life to protect our liberties. Our freedom is not free, and the sacrifices of servicemen and women throughout history stand as constant, powerful reminders of the price.
President Lincoln said, "to truly honor these heroes, we must steadfastly resolve to continue their noble fight against all who would threaten our way of life." On behalf of the Joint Chiefs and the men and women of the Armed Forces, I join all Americans in paying tribute to those who gave their lives in service to our country. We are eternally grateful for their selfless sacrifice, and honored to carry on their precious legacy."
For me, the key sentence in that message is, "The unspoken part of that oath is the willingness to lay down one's life to protect our liberties."
It is doubtful that even one shot would be fired if General Pace moved forward toward a military coup that would guarantee our Constitution and new and free elections within a short period of time. Not a single soldier would have to lay down their life to protect the America we have elevated and nourished for these past two hundred and thirty years only to see her defiled by our current government.
Would Peter Pace be guilty of a crime should he convince and then lead his Generals and Admirals in a coup against the Bush Administration?
Yet is he not possibly guilty of a higher crime if he does not?
One can only speculate.
I love my country, America, more than I can say — but something has to give.
The truth is that every so often all nations need a surprise victory. For the United States this has happened several times, most notably during our Civil War, where people were forced to confront the tragedy of slavery. A century later came the civil rights movement, which included armed insurrection and massive destruction of property but finally an end to institutionalized racism. And let us not forget the Vietnam War, which forced former President Johnson to back away from the Oval Office in shame and with America's conscientious approval.
These were military or quasi-military and police actions, but violence or the threat thereof is nothing new to Americans.
In fact, General Pace would merely have to pick up his telephone in Virginia and call the President to tell him that the United States armed forces, on land, in the air, and at sea, would like him to resign.
That's all it would take.
Just imagine the end result.
Who, already in elected office, would dare to run once again? Only those who we might now trust or be convinced to trust once again. The rest of them would retire to the dustbin of history and perhaps a new, younger, less corruptible group might populate the House and Senate of the United States.
Yes, a dream — but one that is evocative and electrifying.
Let me end with this: Robert Horn of TIME quoted Adul Khiewboriboon a Thai, who lost his son to a gunshot in that nation's military coup of 1992. His son was only twenty years old.
"I'm against the very principle of a coup, but I just don't see any other way out this mess."#
JEFF KOOPERSMITH is a political consultant, opinion research authority, policy analyst, and self-described "renegade lobbyist."