It seems that U.S. Ambassador Ralph Boyce never really liked Thaksin Shinawatra much. By mid-July 2006, he is apparently so keen for Thaksin to be ousted as prime minister that he is actively campaigning against him in meetings with the elements publicly seen to also be campaigning against Thaksin, notably the royalists in the Privy Council and military.
At this point in the conflict, the People’s Alliance for Democracy has not been on the streets since April, and Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda was leading the anti-Thaksin charge. Prem was busily urging the military on to a coup, telling them that their loyalty was to the king and not the government.
In this cable dated 7 July 2006, Boyce meets with Army Commander General Sonthi Boonyaratglin on 6 July. Boyce seems chuffed that the general has attended the Embassy’s independence day celebration. Boyce sounds fawning but grateful when he observes:
Sonthi’s attendance at the event was itself notable, in contrast to his usual low profile on the social circuit. Even more significant, the General agreed to chat with me following the formalities of the receiving line, which entailed an hour wait on his behalf. Once nestled into a quiet corner, I asked for his take on the Prime Minister’s controversial comments last week….
Sonthi is said to have been “appalled by the thinly-veiled attack on Prem (himself one of Sonthi’s predecessors as Army Commander).” The general is reported to believe that the political crisis was “untenable,” and revolved around “one man–Thaksin.”
Like Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda, Sonthi seems to believe that Thaksin is the problem: “The PM has the ability to end the crisis by going away, but he doesn’t want to go away.”
Sonthi then “indicated in a variety of ways that he does not approve of the Prime Minister, particularly because Thaksin appears to be inclined to not just stay on as PM, but to attack venerable institutions respected by the military.” That means the monarchy and the Privy Council.
Boyce then provides succor to the general, assuring him that:
policymakers in Washington are concerned about the situation in Thailand, but have noted that the military continues to conduct itself in a professional manner, staying on the sidelines of this crisis, and that this can largely be attributed to Sonthi himself.
Sonthi is reported as saying that “there is no intention, whatsoever, for military involvement in the current crisis.” Of course, senior military figures were already heavily involved. Indeed, palace insider Prasong Soonsiri has explained that a cabal of serving and retired military leaders, including Sonthi, began planning the coup in July 2006.
Boyce seems more concerned that a coup might come from Thaksin supporters in the military, Sonthi is reported to have “coolly responded”: “I’ve got class 10 under control; they won’t do anything.”
Boyce sounds unconvincing when he concludes this cable saying:
it is useful to hear the Army chief state in no uncertain terms that the military is not planning on coming off of the bench. We take him at face value; that said, one can never completely rule out the potential for military intervention in Thailand.
We can’t believe that Boyce could have been sweeping the military’s all too obvious tracks.