In PPT’s continuing series of posts on the Wikileaks cables, we found the cable attributed to Charge Alex A. Arvizu on 28 July 2006 revealing. For context, this cable is produced less than two months before the coup. It comes at a time when Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda was actively campaigning against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (see below) and following a period where senior serving officers appeared with the anti-Thaksin and royalist People’s Alliance for Democracy.
The cable has some juicy titbits: “4. (C) Most RTA officers who will express an opinion dislike the Prime Minister. Notably, Thai officers pledge allegiance to the Monarchy, not the Constitution, when they are commissioned. Further exacerbating tensions between the majority in the RTA and the pro PM minority is the perception that Thaksin and his loyalists are insulting esteemed former military officers like Privy Councillor and former RTA CINC GEN Surayud Chulanont and Privy Councillor and former Prime Minister GEN Prem Tinsulanond. It is widely speculated that Surayud and Prem were instrumental in shaping the King’s unfavorable view of Thaksin.”
The cable explains how Army boss General Sonthi Boonyaratglin has used a snap reshuffle to move around officers suspected of supporting Thaksin. This is referred to as “defanging the dragon.” It is said that “Sonthi’s move was likely approved by Prem who, on July 14 in a speech to military cadets, likened Thaksin’s government to a jockey who simply rides the horse of state which is owned by the country and the King (ref C).”
The most interesting insight is in the summary, not so much in what is said, but in how the U.S. Embassy appears to be cheering the moves against Thaksin: “1. (C) Summary. Thai Army officers, civilian defense analysts and other observers almost uniformly view the July 17 Army reshuffle as a deft move by Royal Thai Army (RTA) CINC GEN Sonthi Boonyaratglin to ensure that key battalion-level commanders and their subordinates in the capital environs are loyal to the King and to RTA HQ, i.e. to GEN Sonthi. Clearly the reshuffle was designed by GEN Sonthi to preempt possible power plays by some Army elements close to beleaguered caretaker PM Thaksin. By virtue of his identification as a protector of the Palace, GEN Sonthi is widely viewed as one of the ‘good guys’ in the political spectrum, and the July 17 Army appointments are generally seen as contributing to a positive resolution of the ongoing political drama rather than aggravating it. Even so, it is remarkable that in 2006 the military — and the institution of the monarchy, for that matter — remain for better or for worse critical determinants in Thai politics. End Summary.”
By this time it was clear to most observers that the threat of a coup was from Sonthi and his palace backers, not from Thaksin military people. As the cable states, this reshuffle was to “ensure that key battalion-level commanders and their subordinates in the capital environs are loyal to the King and to RTA HQ, i.e. to GEN Sonthi.” Clearly a coup is in the making and the Embassy cheers the “good guys” and views coup preparations as “positive.”
We tend to think this remarkable account is reflective of the generalized response under Ambassador Ralph Boyce. Judging by the cables he writes, he seems to have seen himself as a political player in these events and was exceptionally close to the opposition, continually slagging off Thaksin to his bosses in a propaganda-like campaign.
There’s more U.S. Embassy cheering in this cable, where Arvizu sees nothing wrong with politicized decisions by the courts on Election Commissioners and seems excited about the prospects for an election that would never come because of the coup.