I’ve seen many coups in my decades as a journalist and connoisseur of exotic, turbulent places. The most exciting coup occurred in Paris under President Charles de Gaulle as I waited at Place de la Concorde with heavily armed paramilitary police as we prepared for an attack by elite paratroopers from French Algeria. Amid crackling radios and the rasp of machine guns being loaded, armored vehicles took position for combat. De Gaulle urged civilians to block the streets running from the airports to central Paris. And so, we did.
In the end, French paras did not come from Algiers because the Air Force commander grounded all the military transport aircraft. Interestingly, an attempt by anti-Gorbachev communist rebels to fly special forces into Moscow to back their coup was similarly thwarted when Russia’s then air force commander grounded all military transport aircraft.
Traditionally, air forces are more liberal/left than ground forces – and sometimes sailors are farthest to the left, as witnessed when mutinous sailors of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet seized the battleship “Potempkin” at Odessa.
I remember being in the middle of attempted coups in Trinidad and Haiti, Kuwait, Italy and Peru. But none, save France, can compare to the current explosive Washington investigation into former President Donald Trump’s attempt to reverse his electoral loss and re-seat himself in the White House. This was one of the most disturbing and ugly events in US history, and akin to the attempt to crush the Roman Republic, on which the US political system in based.
It’s by now clear that Trump and his far-right allies tried to stage a bureaucratic coup, using some of the myriads of lawyers floating in Trump’s orbit. I was considered for a senior foreign policy job by the incoming Trump administration but declined after meeting many of its key members, including Trump.
I was a lifelong conservative Republican, but the people I met at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida HQ, were nothing like the old guard Republicans I had known. They were shady denizens of New York City’s real estate industry and until then obscure far right. Not my cup of tea. My Republican Party lived on Manhattan’s Upper East side, not darkest Queens or the remote burbs.
I watched the January coup unfold with horror and dismay. Whose idea was it to send a mob of yahoos to storm the Capitol, the heart of our democracy? What kind of half-ass attempt was this?
Long ago, I helped organize and mount a coup against my Swiss school’s unliked student government, then led by a little leftwing worm from California.
We declared the student government dissolved, appointed ourselves as committee of public safety, and promised new free elections in six months. All classic coup blarney. One of our chief coup committee members was a chap named Firdaus whose father, a general, had helped overthrow the government of Indonesia. Another coup member was my Turkish pal Turgut. His father had been hanged by the US-directed military junta in Ankara.
All the parts of our coup in Geneva fell right into place. There was none of the rioting and window smashing, none of the storm of obscenities and fighting that we saw in Washington on 6 January. What transpired in Washington last January was worthy of a mob riot in some small African country. Its leaders deserved a long time in jail – for a brazen crime against US democracy, and for galloping incompetence.
Trump and his hillbilly mob should have read military strategist Edward Luttwak’s fine book about how to stage coups. Instead, they swallowed Fox TV propaganda and puerile internet rubbish.
The rioters should all stand trial for sedition. Starting with Mr. Trump, who has much to explain.
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