Rummy does Bangkok

Halloween came early to Bangkok this week. Contrary to rumor, the spooks seen weren't any of the participants in the recent Miss Universe pageant that was held in Thailand. No, the truly scary demon came in the person of American defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld who dropped in for a series of meetings with Thai military personnel, as well as a chat with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Local newspapers all published photos of Rumsfeld traipsing about some of Bangkok's magnificent temples. Visiting holy Buddhist sites, however, was probably not the sole reason for Rummy's visit. So what was the old warmonger doing in Thailand? The American Forces Press Service offered this quote from Rumsfeld:
"The military-to-military relationship with Thailand is an important one for the United States," Rumsfeld said. "I appreciate the cooperation that exists between our two militaries. My trip to Thailand was an opportunity to express that appreciation directly to officials in the Thai government, to discuss many matters important to both our countries, and to experience some of the richness of the Thai culture and history."

According to an article in the Bangkok Post, Rumsfeld urged Thailand to "hook up with Malaysia's Anti-Terrorism Centre to battle the growing terrorist threat to countries in the region." What that article didn't mention was that one of the "matters" discussed was the sale of American F-16 warplanes (capable of firing Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) to Thailand. Ironically, Rumsfeld's sales pitch came only two days after he criticized China for upgrading its own military.

And then, hot on the heels of Rumsfeld's appearance, recently retired secretary of state Colin Powell popped into town. Powell was in Bangkok ostensibly to speak at a seminar organized by Business Week magazine and the Thailand Elite company. But he also managed to squeeze in a talk - and the obligatory photo session - with the Thai Prime Minister before leaving town. Thaksin assured Powell that the ongoing violence and unrest in Thailand's deep south, was a "domestic problem" and not linked to a broader regional terrorist network.

After these surprise appearances many burning questions remain. What sort of "suggestions" did Rumsfeld give Thaksin? Was Powell really "relieved" when Thaksin assured him that Thailand's southern turmoil was not linked to a bigger evil? Which go-go bars did the distinguished politicians patronize while in town? (Hey, remember the song "One Night in Bangkok"? I'm sure Colin can hum a few lines if you asked him!). And who will be the next VIP American Republican to visit the Big Mango? Whoever it is, I hope they don't miss the Ping Pong Show in Patpong (if you saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert you'll know what I'm talking about!).

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