The New York Times had an op-ed by Tom Felix Joehnk, who writes for The Economist from Bangkok and Ilya Garger, the founder of Capital Profile, a Hong Kong–based business research service.
The piece is right to observe that “since seizing power, the [Thai] junta has become increasingly erratic, incompetent and repressive.” It is right that the “economy is stagnating.” It may be right that the “threat of social unrest is rising.” It is right when it says that The Dictator wants to “ensure real power remains in the hands of the military even after a formal return to electoral democracy.”
Most of all, the authors are correct that getting “Thailand back on track is a matter largely for Thais.”
It is wrong to suggest that “America, which has been the dominant foreign player in Thai politics since World War II, can help rein in the junta’s increasingly dictatorial ways by isolating it from its support base among traditional Bangkok-based elites.”
That time has passed. The US is widely viewed in the elite as part of the Thaksin problem. The more conspiratorial among them think that the US and Thaksin want to bring down the monarchy.
But here’s a neat twist in the story, which would confirm a conspiracy for those who already distrust the US, but which says something unexpected:
Washington instead should isolate the Thai military from its traditional backers to deprive the junta of a crucial source of legitimacy and support. Acting with the European Union, Japan and other allies, America should penalize not only the generals involved in the 2014 coup, but also the civilians the government has appointed to its rubber-stamping institutions.
We have to say that we were bemused at this point, but then this:
The United States is in a strong position to do so. Wealthy Thais have shoveled assets overseas at an astonishing rate since Mr. Thaksin was brought down in 2006. Their annual investments abroad have increased twelvefold, according to the Bank of Thailand….
The call is for sanctions a la Burma. There are lots of issues with sanctions, but the authors suggest “that such measures work better when their goal is moderate and when they are used to pressure otherwise friendly governments, rather than enemies.”
We guess the question for the elite is whether the US is now an enemy or a friend?