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Bangkok Burning

Author: Walter Russell Mead, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy
May 20, 2010
American Interest

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The news from Thailand is bad.  The Associated Press spoke of Bangkok “in flames“; 18 provincial capitals and have been placed under curfew and government buildings have been attacked in the cities of Udon Thani and Khon Kaen.  An estimated 65 people have been killed in the last two months of on-again, off-again violence and a political solution seems no closer today than it did at the start of the latest round of “Red Shirt” protests.

This is not, yet, a worst case scenario.  Potentially, violence in Thailand could spread throughout the country and the army could split.  China and the United States could back different sides in what could spiral into a serious civil conflict.  Violence in Thailand could disrupt and destabilize life in neighboring countries, especially Cambodia and northern Malaysia. The death of the current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, would make matters worse as the monarchy, the most important stabilizing institution in modern Thailand, could itself be paralyzed or divided in the midst of the worst national crisis since the Japanese invasion in World War Two.

But if the worst is not yet with us, the outlook is grim.  What we are seeing in Thailand is not just a hiccup, a momentary spasm of protest.  It is the sign of a deep revolution in the nature of Thai society which the country's political and legal systems cannot manage.  Thailand will not settle down for some time, and when (and if) it does, the country will have made major changes.

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