Sunday, January 26, 2014
Rectification of Names II: Let’s Call a Putsch a Putsch
As part of China Matters’ campaign to rectify names, most recently marked by the classification of current Japanese foreign policy as “Japan’s Military Restoration” I hereby decree that events in Egypt, Thailand, and the Ukraine are not revolutions—they are putsches.
A revolution, as its name implies, involves the overturn of an existing system of rule, usually authoritarian, in favor of a newly constituted system of rule, usually more democratic.
A putsch, on the other hand, involves a vociferous group using street action to overturn an elected government it finds disagreeable.
Egypt 2013 was a putsch against an elected government by a critical mass of people in the streets and barracks who didn’t want the inconvenience of waiting a year or two for their crack at power through the ballot.
This ugly state of affairs has caused a certain amount of brainhurt for people infatuated with the vision of heroic, democracy-loving, and reliably liberal masses overthrowing authoritarian regimes.
Juan Cole is trying to sell the overthrow of the Morsi presidency in Egypt as a “revocouption”, shoehorning a certain measure of legitimacy into the military’s coup by declaring it a continuation of the original revolution thanks to the street demonstrations against Morsi and the writing of a new constitution (and thereby writing the MB’s role in the overthrow of Mubarak out of the revolutionary official history). No sale, oh mighty promoter of the Libyan intervention, which I suppose can rebranded as the “fuckupalotaboomboom” with that nation’s descent into chaos.
Currently, the popular mandate for the putsch against Morsi leans upon the rather slender reed that about 5% more Egyptians voted in the 2014 constitutional referendum boycotted by the MB (which passed by a Saddam Hussein-worthy 98.1%) than voted in the 2012 referendum boycotted by the anti-MBs.
A similar situation obtains in the Ukraine, where the opposition has decided a putsch is preferable to waiting for another election, especially when the West is unapologetically pitching in on behalf of the anti-government forces. The bias of Europe and the United States for advancing their geostrategic interests at the expense of even paying lip service to the electoral process would be almost comical, but for the fact that some unsavory neo-nationalist outfits are being used as shock troops in order to soften up the shaken Ukrainian government. It will be interesting to see how far observers go in oohing and aahing over apocalyptic cityscapes and Molotov-cocktail tossing/mace-wielding “activists” going up against The Man, as Belle Waring did in a cringe-worthy post (subsequently caveated) at Crooked Timber, if there is a prospect that such scenes might be re-enacted in their countries.
As for Thailand, the Yellow Shirts specifically want to a) bring down the government b) foreclose the possibility of a new election they would almost certainly lose and c) convince the army to intervene on their side. Doesn’t get more putschy than that.
When I went to school in an admittedly naïve and optimistic period of history, I was taught that respect for the electoral process by both winners and losers was paramount, because if the process was not respected then the country would just go to hell in a handbasket, just as is occurring in Egypt, Ukraine, and Thailand (and, for that matter, the United States in 1860).
Although I considered corrupt the entire process of the 2000 presidential recount, from the obvious finagling of the Florida Secretary of State to Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision, once the Supreme Court had spoken I considered the case closed and I’m glad that Al Gore didn’t exhort me to take to the streets with my construction helmet, rebar club, and bottle of gasoline mixed with dish detergent to overturn the outcome (though understandably the millions of people victimized by Bush’s reign of error, starting with the citizens of Iraq, might feel differently). A few years later, the Democrats got their president, he got a chance to f*ck things up in his own special way, and agitation for an anti-government putsch still seems to be something of a fringe obsession inside the United States.
Overseas, it’s a different story. The current trio of putsches has not elicited a lot of impassioned “gotta respect the electoral process” harrumphing from the US government or punditocracy. In Ukraine, the US avidity for anti-government mischief is palpable; in Egypt, we don’t want to tick off the army and endanger the Egyptian pillar of Israel’s security arrangement; and in Thailand I don’t know what; maybe we’re just interested in staying on the Army’s good side over there.
At the bottom of it all, I suppose, is the idea that it doesn’t matter if it’s a color revolution or a putsch; local political unrest is just another potential tool for advancing and protecting US interests. But it also gives some ammunition to the PRC government in arguing that the US is not interested in democracy (I might point out that the US is a republic, not a democracy, a distinction that 200 years of protection of wealth and property rights and de jure and de facto limits on popular sovereignty has shown to be non-trivial—relax, Tom Perkins!) or even elections; it’s just interested in getting its way.