Thailand and Singapore – crises and…opportunities in 2015

Some interesting news and insights from two Southeast Asian countries.

Exclusive: Who's Really Behind Thailand’s Erawan Shrine Bomb Blast?

Experts investigate the Erawan shrine at the site of a deadly blast in central Bangkok, Thailand, August 18, 2015. Image Credit: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

First, in Thailand, Shawn Crispin writes in The Diplomat exploring the possible deeper background, the players, and ultimately the causes of the Bangkok Erawan Shrine bombings, in ‘Who’s Really Behind Thailand’s Erawan Shrine Bomb Blast?

A security adviser with access to Thai intelligence reports says agents outside of the police are pursuing leads that indicate extensive Thai involvement in what appears on the surface to be a foreign-executed attack. Local intelligence cited by the adviser indicates that the plot was planned for over one year, before the Uyghur deportations but likely after the military’s May 2014 takeover. The adviser says the apparent Thai actors have concealed their identities in various ingenious ways, including the use of Internet-based communication applications that are knowingly difficult, if not impossible, for local intelligence agencies to track and detect.

Then, in Singapore, two different views of the Singaporean General (parliamentary) Elections with similar broad conclusions: see “No easy win for Singapore’s PAP” in The Diplomat again, and “In staid Singapore, a national election that could change its course” from the South China Morning Post.

No Easy Win for Singapore’s PAP

Image Credit: REUTERS/Edgar Su

“Bring the [ruling party’s lightning sigil] home”, states one placard above…because, you know, it was like a spy out in the cold, or stuck fighting senseless wars in a foreign land, or lost like sheep wandering a desert for 40 years…oh sorry, those are real issues.

Both articles conclude that the ruling PAP will form the next government.

Let’s then look at some of the main none-too-subtle differences, either by omission or commission/contradiction, and my token critique particularly of the SCMP article, in brackets.

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Human terrains, all-too-human flaws

When I was in graduate school, I attended a guest lecture* on the the US military’s ‘Human Terrain System’ (HTS) that was being pioneered in Afghanistan from the second half of the 2000s. I found the concept and reality mildly interesting, and I thought it had some potential.

But in light of the US invasion of Iraq, I knew they still had a very long way to go, and I suspected that there were more problems than not. Somehow that feeling proved correct.

Ted Callahan, a United States Army Human Terrain Team social scientist, talking to local residents to investigate a tribal dispute in the village of Wum Kalay, Paktia Province, Afghanistan on Aug. 12, 2009. Credit Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

This article published by the New York Times last month, ‘The quiet demise of the Army’s plan to understand Afghanistan and Iraq‘, is a worth a read.

The author has written a book about it, titled The Tender Soldier.

The trope about Afghanistan being the “graveyard of empires” seems to hold true of ideas as well, including well-intentioned but ill-conceived ones.

*guest lecture: in my grad school, translated as “a talk within a compulsory conference that we had to attend in order to fulfil credits so that we could actually graduate.”

Grand Blog Tarkin

Pity the modern supervillain, Adam tells us. He’s a poor, decrepit figure, beholden to the deceptive whims of irrationality, distanced from the creative politics of his more practical predecessors. The grand image of global–or, better yet, multiversal–domination is a Mesopotamian artifact of superherodom.  The Joker’s low-tech banditry abounds in contemporary supervillainy, while Dalek “extermination” is little more than a charming, if impractical product of British public television. From a critical perspective, this shift is an unfortunate consequence of post-9/11 security cultures. If Judi Dench’s M is any indication–and s/he has been for a half-century–hero fandom should view the modern supervillain as a product of a more discreet Zeitgeist, of a less transparent, more opaque world of “shadows.” Hats off to Christopher Nolan, whose Joker is a mere interlude to Ra’s al-Ghul’s global League of Shadows, a happy marriage of Erik Prince (Bane, the mercenary) and young Emma Goldman…

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“The Pentagon’s grip on Hollywood” (updated 10 July)

 From Al Jazeera‘s ‘Listening Post’ programme, hosted by Richard Gizbert:

The military entertainment complex is an old phenomenon that binds Hollywood with the US military. Known as militainment, it serves both parties well. Filmmakers get access to high tech weaponry – helicopters, jet planes and air craft carriers while the Pentagon gets free and positive publicity.

The latest offering to come from this relationship is Act of Valor and it takes the collaboration one step further. The producers get more than just equipment — they have cast active-duty military personnel in the lead roles, prompting critics to say the lines have become so blurred that it is hard to see where Hollywood ends and Pentagon propaganda begins. In this week’s feature, the Listening Post’s Nic Muirhead looks at the ties between the US military and Hollywood.


This is not just a step “going a little bit beyond propaganda”, as one of the commentators said in the video, but one that reveals a symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and the U.S. regime. One that is about active collaboration between a state’s military establishment and civilian film industry – a collaboration that has been advanced far beyond the days of the Cold War, which had its fair share of propaganda films emanating from Hollywood-Pentagon collaboration.

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Is Egypt’s Military Turning Against the Revolution? – The Atlantic

Is Egypt’s Military Turning Against the Revolution? – The Atlantic

Mar 1 2011, 7:00 AM ET By Eric Trager

The army helped to oust Mubarak, but has since adopted some of his uglier tactics

CAIRO, Egypt — The bands of thugs that had roamed these streets barely three weeks earlier were only a memory on Friday, replaced by roving face-painters, souvenir salesmen, and food vendors. Tahrir Square had become a patriotic carnival, with parents bringing their children for flag-waving Kodak moments, nationalist chants, and cotton candy. Twenty- and thirty-somethings strolled about in “January 25th” t-shirts while the older folks stood in circles debating the country’s future. These public political parleys are still novelties, and the people of Tahrir Square were reveling in them.

“In forty years of political activism, I never sat next to Muslim Brothers, except here,” said Hany Enan, a founder of the left-wing Kefaya opposition movement, in awe. “I’m a secularist, and I used to hate them.”

But Friday night brought the stark reminder that Egypt’s revolt is not yet a revolution. After midnight and without warning, masked military police officers attacked a group of protesters who had gathered peacefully outside the People’s Assembly, just three blocks south of Tahrir Square. A high-ranking officer reportedly ordered his subordinates to surround the protesters, whom the military police attacked with Tasers and the blunt ends of their weapons.

“I was there because I trusted that the army would not violate its responsibilities,” said Khaled Haall, a programming engineer who has been active in the demonstrations. “Because of this, I have lost my faith in the army.”

Until now, the military has been lauded as a hero of the public uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. “Al-shaab wa’al-gaysh eed wahdah” — “the people and the army are one hand” — was a common refrain during the demonstrations, and many protesters recognize that internal military pressure ultimately forced Mubarak’s resignation.

But since taking control of Egypt on February 11, the Supreme Military Council has emphasized its desire to return things to a state of normalcy for the sake of the country and the economy. The regular demonstrations that continue to cut off — if not shut down — major urban thoroughfares do not fit with that plan.

After Mubarak, Egypt’s Revolution Is Far From Over – The Atlantic

After Mubarak, Egypt’s Revolution Is Far From Over – The Atlantic

Feb 11 2011, 11:43 AM ET By Max Fisher

The country’s autocratic regime is far too entrenched simply to be gone within a week — or maybe even a generation
Updated 1/11, 11:09 a.m. EST
After two and half weeks of protests, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has resigned the presidency he’d held since 1981. According to a brief announcement from Vice President Omar Suleiman, the high council of Egypt’s powerful military will take over the leadership of the country. Though the military issued a statement pledging Constitutional reforms, an end to the decades-long state of emergency, and a transfer to a free democracy, it’s not clear how that will happen or when. Whatever happens next, Egypt appears to now be entering a new era. But it is not the first country to set out on the long and difficult path from autocracy to democracy.

On August 19, 1991, when recently elected Soviet Presidium Boris Yeltsin climbed one of the tanks occupying Red Square to diffuse an attempted coup by nationalist hardliners, as well as the pro-democracy protesters flooding the streets, it looked to many like the end of the much-despised Soviet regime. Twenty years later, the Russian democracy remains dominated by Soviet officials and all their bad habits, from low-level bureaucracies all the way to the office of the Prime Minister, which is held by a former officer with the KGB. Civil rights in Russia are scarce, with dissidents regularly arrested and journalists turning up dead. Transparency International ranks Russia as one of the most corrupt nations in the world, below Iran, Haiti, and Yemen.

With Mubarak’s departure, the Soviet Union’s dissolution provides an important lesson. Even with Mubarak gone, Mubarak’s Egypt — composed of countless bureaucracies, institutions, and officials — is likely to remain for a generation or more. This one man’s departure is an historic moment for Egypt and for the Middle Eastern struggle for democracy. But the arbitrary, corrupt, and violent regime that Mubarak has spent 29 years constructing will not disappear with him.