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Thread: Can Military Governments be a good thing (for a while)?

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Can Military Governments be a good thing (for a while)?

    So the Egyptian Military is going to stand by "the people", as one Egyptian put it, and pressure Morsi to step down (maybe).

    My question to the audience is this "Do military coups and temporary military governments get a bad rap?" Does the military, in places like Turkey and Thailand, ensure a less bloody transition than other alternatives. Is this something Westerner's should take another look at (or even tacidly encourage)?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/02/wo...s&src=igw&_r=0
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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    The Curmudgeon asked:
    Do military coups and temporary military governments get a bad rap?
    Yes, deservedly so from my West European viewpoint and not being personally subject to such military-led governance, let alone the inevitable coercion, torture, corruption and more so I am very lucky.

    Not to overlook in my adult life two European nations had such rule, Greece (1967-1974), maybe the quasi-military regime in Portugal and Spain (1935-1975). It is rare for the military to voluntarily relinquish its 'rule' and 'right' to intervene - as events in Cairo today indicate. IIRC Nigeria had one such 'return to barracks'.

    Does the military, in places like Turkey and Thailand, ensure a less bloody transition than other alternatives.
    I don't know much about Thailand, but Turkey appears to have voluntarily accepted Ataturk's rule after the defeats in WW1 and more. The military until very recently remained the 'guardian' of his legacy, with coups in May 1960 (till September 1961), 1971 (May 1971-September 1973) & 1980 (September 1980-November 1983). All dates are approximate.

    Yes many countries face a 'bloody transition' when faced by revolution, instability and political competition. Whether it is 'less' than the alternatives is a moot point. Chile, Argentina and Brazil come to mind.

    Is this something Westerner's should take another look at (or even tacidly encourage)?
    No, no. Let the people, Egyptians today, make their own decisions. Has Western involvement, however active or 'mild' helped a transition and the development of what each nation seeks. The USA in particular readily forgets 'self-determination', let alone liberty and freedom.

    Have we not learnt a military follows its own path, no doubt with "spin" and megaphones announcing the emergency action is to preserve 'Western values', fight communism and extremism?

    Just read a Tweet by Majid Nawaz, of Quilliam Foundation, an ex-radical (Hizb-ut-Tahir) who was imprisoned in Eygpt and now a Liberal-Democrat party member here:
    SECULAR military dictator better than hard line Islamist denying democracy
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 07-01-2013 at 08:00 PM.
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    Default Isn't this the old Jeanne Kirkpatrick argument....

    ....on autocratic governments vs. tyrannical governments?

    Am I getting this wrong?

    Anyway, when did we ever stop supporting military governments if we thought the military was the magical key to stability? (Witness our relationship with Musharraf, who did a number on us).

    This might be entirely too glib, but is Egypt about to "go Pakistan", or is this more like the run up to the Algerian civil war? I hope neither.

    For most of the 1980s, as perhaps Ronald Reagan's most influential foreign-policy adviser, she supported military interventions, covert proxy wars, the coddling of anti-communist dictators and the full-blooded, unapologetic pursuit of America's national interests. Asked 20 years later about Iraq, old age or greater wisdom seemed to have tamed her. George Bush junior was “a bit too interventionist for my taste”. As for moral imperialism, “I don't think there is one scintilla of evidence that such an idea is taken seriously anywhere outside a few places in Washington, DC.”

    Certain sentences from her most famous article, “Dictatorships and Double Standards”—written on her summer holiday in France, published in Commentary magazine in November 1979—now induce a sigh. “No idea holds greater sway in the mind of educated Americans than the belief that it is possible to democratise governments, anytime and anywhere, under any circumstances.” “Decades, if not centuries, are normally required for people to acquire the necessary disciplines and habits. In Britain, the road [to democratic government] took seven centuries to traverse.” “The speed with which armies collapse, bureaucracies abdicate, and social structures dissolve once the autocrat is removed frequently surprises American policymakers.” Yes indeed.
    http://www.economist.com/node/8447241

    Some events are beyond the ability for us to control, guide, etc. We can only watch events play out and keep mind of basic interests. And each event is contingent. And both support for hurried democratization AND support for military coups has come back to haunt us, again and again.
    Last edited by Madhu; 07-03-2013 at 05:27 PM. Reason: Added last sentence

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Watch Egypt!

    The situation in Egypt may be the most current experiment on Military Government, we will have to see how it turns out. IMO it can be a good thing if done in accords with the original concept as was presented in the USMC Small Wars Manual.

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    I was going to write the same thing. They seem to have decided to keep a relative low profile - if it can be called that way - and avoided the usual arrests.

    We will see.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    A good thing? No. A necessary thing, maybe, in some very rare circumstances, if the people to be governed accept it.

    Anybody who starts thinking a military government would be a good thing for somebody else needs to be hit hard on the head before he has any chance to put that idea into action.
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 07-04-2013 at 02:29 AM.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default What does the original small wars journal say?

    I don't have a copy and would love to know.

    As far as I can see, military coup is just another option for a bloodless transition. It depends on the motivation of the military. I don't think it needs to be automatically and arbitrarily attacked.

    I like the model the Egyptian's have take so far. The choice of the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court was a nice choice.

    For a long time the Turkish military guaranteed secular government that Ataturk tried to establish. That kind of dedication to an ideal can act as a stabilizing factor or it can be used to gain personal political power.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

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    Default Questions and Links

    The OP title, Can Military Governments be a good thing (for a while)?, immediately brought to mind two questions:

    1. "Good thing" for whom ?

    2. "Good thing" for what ?

    Each has, I expect, a dozen or more answers; as well as a similar plethora of answers for the counterpoint questions:

    1. "Bad thing" for whom ?

    2. "Bad thing" for what ?

    --------------------------
    Links to USMC Small Wars Manual (Wiki, Manual and NWC Book Review). The most important concept is the end goal, chap. 15, "Withdrawal".

    I expect a spirited discussion would evolve from consideration of whether the USMC interventions in Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua were "good things" or "bad things".

    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    I don't have a copy and would love to know.

    As far as I can see, military coup is just another option for a bloodless transition. It depends on the motivation of the military. I don't think it needs to be automatically and arbitrarily attacked.
    I define good as being better than a decent into internal Civil War. The Army appears to be trying to preserve the primarry purpose of Government which is to Protect and Provide the

    jmm99 has provided several references for the manual. Chapter 13 on Military Government appears to be what the Egyptian Army is in so far as they are being selective as to who and what is replaced until elections can be established.

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Firn View Post
    I was going to write the same thing. They seem to have decided to keep a relative low profile - if it can be called that way - and avoided the usual arrests.

    We will see.
    I was completely right, they only took a great deal of key members into costudy. Morsi is still a free man, so far.

    Egypt's new military rulers have arrested the Muslim Brotherhood's supreme leader, security sources say, and issued warrants for up to 300 other members hours after ousting the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and taking him and his aides into military custody.

    The day after a momentous night in Cairo has revealed the full extent of the military overthrow, with key support bases of the Muslim Brotherhood, including television stations, closed down or raided.

    Security officials told the Associated Press and Reuters that the Brotherhood's supreme leader, Mohammed Badie, was arrested in a coastal city near the Libyan border on Wednesday and flown to Cairo in a military helicopter.

    The Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said he could not confirm the reports because the group had lost their lines of communication to Badie.
    @jmm99: Cui bono indeed?

    Morsi certainly was elected in a quite democratic fashion but selected to ignore a good deal of that democracy as a sort of fading fashion. Shame on him. Religion alone does in any case not sort out the economy of a country. It is of course impossible to tell how much the last years in government have weakened the brotherhood and how much strenght they can win from this coup.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Why and how makes all the difference.

    Being a military man, I would like to think that the military that understands its role as a servant of the country (however you define THAT term), can step in when the alternative is a decent into civil war. There has to be other options.

    I wonder if things had been different in Syria had the military not sided with Assad. I realize that is fantasy, but it begs the question of when the military has a duty to protect the population, even from its own government.

    I take an oath to the Constitution, and then to the President and the Officers appointed over me. I prefer to think that, in other parts of the world, military men think the same way. I realize this has shades of "Starship Troopers", but reality can be stranger than fiction.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 07-04-2013 at 06:38 PM.
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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    Looking at my sig there have been indeed some cases, where a quicker execution of what the intellect dictated would have saved first the one of democracy and later the very own.

    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

    Thankfully Europe today is a different continent despite the big crisis. Mr Bunga bunga and a mad Magyar.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

    General Ludwig Beck (1880-1944);
    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    The question shouldn't be if something is "good", but whether it's the least evil option which is available and realistic.

    One can hardly think of Stauffenberg et al and not think that there are at least exceptions when a coup by or with the military is better than the status quo.


    In most potential military coup scenarios it's better to keep the military in the barracks - especially if a civil war is a possibility. There isn't going to be much of a civil war if the military stays in its barracks. The threshold for the launch of a civil war by dissenters is typically so high that the government couldn't stem it with police forces alone.
    Countries with lots of tribal institutions, paramilitary forces, access to foreign forces or domestic warlords are obviously exceptions to this. Soon, countries with a very much hardware-supported police state may be added to this list of exceptions.

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    Default Cui bono ?

    Pro re militari.

    Regards

    Mike

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    Council Member ganulv's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Firn View Post
    Morsi certainly was elected in a quite democratic fashion but selected to ignore a good deal of that democracy as a sort of fading fashion.
    Even so, does that justify removing him from office in an illegal manner? I feel like one of corollaries of adopting a democratic system is accepting that voters are going to make the wrong decision at times.

    Quote Originally Posted by Firn View Post
    Religion alone does in any case not sort out the economy of a country.
    As painful as it would have been for the people of Egypt to let the Morsi stagnation continue, I have to believe that with enough time many of his supporters would have come to accept exactly what you are saying. (Not all of them would have, admittedly. I’m an American. I know that ideology can blind people to facts. )

    Al-Qaeda has been saying for years that democracy will never give an Islamist party the opportunity to succeed. Whatever favors the Egyptian military may have just done for their country’s economy may have been matched by the favors done for Al-Qaeda.

    Quote Originally Posted by Firn View Post
    It is of course impossible to tell how much the last years in government have weakened the brotherhood and how much strength they can win from this coup.
    I did a short post on my blog [LINK] questioning whether ‘coup’ is the best word for what happened in Egypt. I’m not saying that I know the right word, just that I suspect that coup might not be it.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Moderator at work

    This thread posed a general question before recent events in Egypt and a separate thread is about to be started on the developing situation in Egypt. The title is 'Egypt: has the Spring ended?'

    A number of the posts here on Egypt will be moved to the new thread.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default British Officer's Oath and Regicide

    Dave, how is Cromwell's "coup" remembered in British civil and military history?
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Cromwell's coup?

    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    Dave, how is Cromwell's "coup" remembered in British civil and military history?
    Most history of this period is called 'The English Civil War' and Cromwell's later coup against an elected, Puritan parliament although recorded was not widely known today. It certainly featured in the 1970 film 'Cromwell':http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065593/

    This changed when the story of 'The Levellers' became part of a new interpretation of populism and revolutionary aspects of English history, allied with part of the fringe around the 'left':https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levellers

    Amidst that difficult time it is important to note and taken from a review of a play in 2012:
    It tells the story of the 55-day military coup in the mid-1600s when Cromwell's army took control of Parliament and moved to put King Charles I on trial for treason.
    Link:http://www.theweek.co.uk/theatre/497...-military-coup

    Context can provide a better answer sometimes; I cite a review of a new 2012 book on Cromwell:
    The main theoretical premise of his book, The Noble Revolt, is to put forward a view of the Civil War as basically a coup d’état by a group of nobles or aristocrats who no longer supported the King. According to Diane Purkiss these nobles were ‘driven by their code of honour, they acted to protect themselves and the nation. Names such as Saye, Bedford, Essex and Warwick move from the side-lines to occupy centre stage, as do their counterparts among Scottish peers. It was they and not the rude masses who plucked a king from his throne. Oliver Cromwell, for Adamson, was merely one of their lesser lackeys’.
    Link:http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1254

    An article in an Egyptian e-paper actually refers to Cromwell's coup!http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2013/0...-coup-de-quoi/

    Incidentally I doubt that the syllabus at RMA Sandhurst or any other military training place includes this period. We have had other coups too, such as 'The Glorious Revolution':http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glorious_Revolution
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Lack context

    Us young colonists lack the context of your history. Most of what I know from that time is from a series of books by Quentin Skinner "The Foundations of Modern Political Thought". In that book i remember some quotes from other military men finding the acts of the King to be against the rights and honor of an Englishman. There is quite a bit about the Levellers and other similar groups in Europe, particularly the Dutch republics. It makes interesting reading for those who think that the idea of individual human rights have always existed but were simply repressed by the European monarchs since time immemorial. The Romans have no history of human rights.

    So when I look at places like Egypt today it is easy for me to see shades of Europe circa 1650. That is a simplistic view, but I think there are lessons that can be learned from the machinations that Europe went through before stabilizing politically in the 1950s.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 07-07-2013 at 02:22 PM.
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    This is a very complex topic and the answer on whether or not military governments can be a good thing is very much situational dependent, which in my opinion means the West more often than not should sit back and count to 10 very slowly before they start issuing demands for the military to transition to civilian rule, which is our general default response based on our principles, but to demand a rapid transition without understanding the overall context invites serious and enduring problems.

    Externally sponsored military coups are almost always, if not always, a bad option. Military coups sponsored/supported by an external power (usually a state) have been perceived as amoral (rightfully so) and have generally resulted in ineffective and eventually failed governments. In the case of the U.S. sponsored coups, those efforts more often than not resulted in longer term harm to our interests than any short term benefits gained. Hopefully the era of coup making by via external support or intervention is coming an end as a desirable option, but if you believe that the press reports represent reality then it seems this is just wishful thinking.

    When we look at Egypt it appears to be an internally motivated military coup with no outside support to the military visible, but of course that doesn't mean they weren't encouraged and supported in various ways by any number of state actors. However, for purposes of debate lets assume it was internal with no external support (intelligence, promises of support, encouragement, financial deals, etc.).

    We don't know as much as we think we do. What do most of us really know to be fact? Just because the media excessively covers demonstrations and calls them the will of the people doesn't mean that this media created reality is reality. A camera looks at the world through a soda straw, and media reports can intentionally and unintentionally be very deceptive. We really have no idea if the political activists in the streets represented the majority of the Egyptian people. The media attempted to create the illusion that the 99% movement in the U.S. was supported by the majority, but Americans for the most part were able to see past that attempt to create a media based reality because they had venues other than main stream media to analyze and inform their opinion.

    Is the coup legal or illegal? If the sitting government was violating the constitution, could a military intervention actually be legal and desirable? Despite all the negative effects of the military leaving its barracks and getting involved, are there times when a military coup is the lesser of two evils? If the military leaders took an oath to defend the constitution do they have an obligation to intervene if the government is threatening the constitution? There are no easy answers, but as Fuchs wrote this may be simply the lesser of two evils.

    Should we push military governments to transition to civilian rule rapidly?

    In my opinion it depends, which means we shouldn't have a policy where we automatically disengage because we don't like the smell of the military lead government.

    - Does a viable constitution exist which would provide the basis for a civilian government to "rapidly" assume control within an accepted legal structure? If it doesn't, simply holding a flash election will result in little more than mob rule under the guise of a democratically elected government (Iraq for example, and maybe the MB in Egypt?).

    - If we're dealing with a nation whose borders were created by European colonists that resulted in an irrational state with a population deeply divided among ethnic lines is it possible to develop a truly functioning democracy (instead of a façade) to begin with?

    - Why did I default to democracy when discussing civilian led governments? Is it really the best system in all states? Do we confuse our view of legitimacy with what the citizens of another nation perceive as legitimate? Do we too often exceed our level of understanding of a nation-state and incorrectly push inappropriate solutions based on the U.S. (and West's in general) view of the world? More importantly is our foreign policy making us more or less popular in the world? Seems to me we already lost considerable influence throughout much of Latin America by attempting to push our agenda. In a multipolar world nations realize they have other options than partnering with the U.S., but I'm not sure our foreign policy community has grasped that fact yet.

    I took the long route to the bottom line, but in some rare cases I suspect a military led government "could" be better than some other options. Even if it isn't better, once one exists, we need to slow our roll before we demand a rapid transition to civilian rule. In many cases returning a legitimately elected government that was illegally ousted by the military is absolutely the right thing to do, but not all cases are that simple.

    Assuming Bashir's government eventually falls in Syria, do we really think the ethnic killing will stop while an interim civilian government develops a new constitution and prepares for elections? Perhaps it is more reasonable to think that a military coup and interim military government will be necessary to stop the projected continued mass blood letting, and only after the massive ethnic killing stops and some degree of order is imposed, should an interim civilian government form?

    I don't have any idea what the right answer is, but I do know our simplistic approach based on our desire to rapidly install a civilian government too often fails.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 08-16-2013 at 05:48 PM. Reason: grammar

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