Thursday, August 24, 2023

"What a Coup Is: A conversation with Edward Luttwak" (with a look at the January 6th demonstration-turned-riot and rumblings in Berlin)

Not just anywhere in Berlin, more on that after the jump.

Over the years we've referenced Luttwak's Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook a dozen or two times.

From The Point Magazine, April 26, 2022:

Edward Luttwak is a military historian, defense consultant and geopolitical grand strategist who has advised world leaders on security and strategy. The author of more than a dozen books, he has published on modern warfare, the winners and losers of “turbo-capitalism,” the strategy of the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, the rise of China. Luttwak first rose to public prominence with Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, written in 1968 while he was working as an oil consultant in London. The book, praised at the time by John le Carré and Eric Hobsbawm, was republished with a new preface by Harvard University Press in 2016. Speaking over the phone on January 7th, we discussed what originally drew Luttwak to the subject of coups, how we would know if we were going through one today, and how to separate reality from rhetoric in remembering what happened at the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

—Jon Baskin

JON BASKIN: Do you remember, when you first saw the attack on the Capitol unfolding a year ago, what your thoughts were?

EDWARD LUTTWAK: The way I saw it was this: Four years previously, a certain fellow had become president of the United States, whereupon a very large part of the U.S. establishment simply said, we don’t recognize the election. They refused to cooperate with him, refused to acknowledge him. That was certainly the case with Pelosi and Schumer. And a lot of journalists, media people, commentators would say, “I don’t recognize this election.” A lot of people in the legislature refused to accept the election. A lot of people in the media felt entitled to attack without reservations, whatever was done. I mean, he gives a State of the Union speech and Nancy Pelosi tears up the speech in front of the TV cameras. And none of the media said that this is a low-level barroom-politics gesture unworthy of any elected representative of the people. No, not at all! And this was just one of countless insults. So the people who did want Trump to be the president felt absolutely outraged immediately after the election.

Then what followed was the entire thing with the Russia accusation, and the Russia investigation paralyzed the administration, as it slowly went through, ending with the finding that no member of the Trump campaign had done anything illegal. When this unqualified exemption was issued, the media ignored it, or denied it, or said, “We need to investigate more.” All this behavior generated a great deal of anger among his supporters. They finally got the guy who reflects them to win the presidency and the establishment refuses it. They have lived through presidents chosen by the other side, which they had to accept. I don’t recall other presidents being denied the way Trump was. So Trump’s supporters built up enormous anger and on January 6th a lot of that anger was vented.

JB: Since that day there’s been this debate, especially among intellectuals and journalists, about whether what happened was an attempted coup or not. What do you think?

EL: It was a very big event, no doubt. But in addressing this anniversary of this event, the first thing is to remove the very blatant and obvious political mud thrown on top of the truth. And the mud basically is to grossly exaggerate the import of what happened, or to treat what happened in a partisan context. What’s happening today is that the Democratic leadership is attempting to make large legislative changes with a very tiny majority. It’s doing all the normal things, presenting legislation and so on, except it is doing it in a very undemocratic spirit. January 6th was the opposite of that. Because it was the mob that attacked a building. That building, however, is the actual heart of a functioning democracy, which is the legislature. So, January 6th was an extreme attack. But it was not a coup d’état. Because a coup d’état is not a demonstrative action, where you go around shouting obscenities and doing noisy things, or even terrorizing Nancy Pelosi. It’s a thing where you have figured out the control levers of the system and how you can physically dominate them. A coup d’état on January 6th would have taken place by mobilizing, directly or indirectly, the National Guard, troops, FBI or whatever, in order to impose these components of the state and to use them for the purposes not of securing the state but of seizing control of the state. That is what a coup is.

JB: What would it look like if someone really was attempting a coup in America?

EL: In any place in the world, a coup d’état has to give you the physical means of control. So first of all you’d seize the Pentagon. Trump supporters would have seized the Pentagon with a band of dissident generals. It is easy enough to replace the chairman of the Joint Chiefs with somebody else. You can find a four-star somewhere and take control of the military. And the military in turn would take control of subsidiary structures like the FAA, for stopping flights and all the rest of it. That is what a coup would have looked like.

You don’t attack a legislature to do a coup, you attack a legislature to punish lawmakers you don’t like. Many legislators have been attacked by mobs. For example, there was an attack, just a couple years ago, against the Romanian Parliament because at midnight, they were trying to legislate a law that corruption could only be prosecuted if it was more than let’s say $100 million; they wanted an exemption for a powerful lawmaker who was about to get nabbed. People found out in Bucharest and they surrounded the legislature. You attack the legislature to do exactly what the January 6th people were trying to do, which was to find Nancy Pelosi and terrorize her.

JB: How did you get interested in coups d’état?

EL: After I graduated from the London School of Economics in 1964, I was appointed to the extremely new and extremely ambitious University of Bath to help start an economics department. So I graduated in 1964, and in September of that year I and another unknown are asked to set up an economics department at the University of Bath. Said university department is now considered one of the top economics departments in Britain. I don’t claim credit for that because I was only there a couple of years. But I was enjoying all this, and had a girlfriend who was a French model in Paris. Since I was on an assistant-lecturer salary, I would fly to Paris and France with their postal flight, which left after midnight and landed at 5 a.m. or something because it cost ten pounds. On this flight, I met a guy who was former this and former that, and he ran the petroleum consulting in the most prestigious building in London. We had a long conversation on the plane, at the end of the conversation he hired me. So I left Bath and got this highly paid job as a petroleum consultant. The National Iranian Oil Company of Iran, and others, were the customers. We did both analytical stuff and political consulting, and I was a political consultant. Therefore I dealt with the coup of Beirut people, the ousted chief of Syrian military intelligence in Beirut. I’m a Francophone, I speak French, I dealt with all these other characters. And I was flooded with information about coups.

Because at that time, there were many coups. Especially in Syria there was a whole series of them. I used to hear about past coups, current coups, possible coups. That was the basis of the book. Basically, the book was a deep immersion in ongoing politics, with particular attention to the Middle East.

JB: What made you decide to write the book as a “handbook”?

EL: Well, what happened was that I had a girlfriend called Mimsy Farmer, and we went to all the parties in London. And Mimsy wore a dress made out of white cotton netting. So the nets overlapped but people could glimpse at her, which was the general idea—she was a Hollywood starlet. And a guy called Oliver Caldecott, who was the chief editor of Penguin, had to be able to gaze through her net. So in order to do so, at least, he approached me at the party and insisted I write the book for Penguin. And I had just read Curzio Malaparte’s book called Coup d’État, so I said, “I’m going to write a book called Coup d’État,” but Malaparte’s book was actually an essay on Mussolini. I was going to write a handbook—how to do it. And I could do it since I was immersed in the mechanics of coup-making, from the people I was dealing with at the consulting office. Because that’s what they were talking about nonstop: you know, in the Lebanon bars, in the Beirut bars....


And Berlin? Major publishing house Axel Springer has an address  on Axel Springer straße (a strasse in Swiss German) but it could just as easily be on Rudi Dutschke straße, the next street over.

And do you remember what Dutschke is famous for? "The Long March through the Institutions," echoing Mao's Long March and thumbnailing Dutschke's strategy of taking over institutions, academia, business, government etc., from within.

Which is exactly what I think is happening at Axel Springer. Proof? Look at this headline:

Wagner allies react: OMG, they killed Yevgeny! You bastards! 
A South Park reference at, an Axel Springer property! A nascent coup!

I rest my case.