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There and Back Again*: US-Cambodian History and Current US Policy Challenges on the Indochinese Peninsula

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There and Back Again*: US-Cambodian History and Current US Policy Challenges on the Indochinese Peninsula

Mike Karlson

“There, 1975”   

Trucks and military vehicles slowly wound their way through the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Scores of heavily armed men rode in and walked alongside them, dressed in black. Residents came out to greet them jubilantly. The civil war was over, at long last. It was the 17th of April in 1975. Fighting between the US-backed Cambodian government of Lon Nol and the communist guerilla forces was indeed over. It would become immediately apparent however, that there was nothing to celebrate. The darkly-clad figures were the Khmer Rouge (KR), and they would establish the brutal communist government of Democratic Kampuchea. Many of those that came out to cheer their arrival would be dead within hours, marking the beginning of nearly four years of terror.

The fall of Democratic Kampuchea in 1979 revealed to the world an abomination of nearly unimaginable scale. A quarter of the Cambodian population, nearly 2.5 million people, had died. Disease, starvation, on-site killings by KR soldiers, and systematic executions throughout regime-run internment camps were the grim realities during this time. Urban centers were destroyed, and public institutions decimated.[i] The United States was largely absent during this time, still reeling from its long war in Vietnam. The Vietnam War and US culpability for the KR period of Cambodian history cannot be ignored. Nixon’s ‘Cambodian incursion’ expanded the war into the Cambodian heartland, fueling the dynamics that produced the KR.[ii] How does this inescapable reality continue to affect US policy and engagement in the region? I define ‘the region’ as the geographic area encompassing the countries of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. It will hereafter be referred to as the ‘Indochinese peninsula’, ‘Mainland Southeast Asia’, or simply ‘region’. I will argue that US relations with Cambodia during this time continue to pose significant policy challenges throughout the Indochinese peninsula. I will support this claim by expounding on three themes, drawing connections between history and the present day. I will first provide a more detailed summary of the KR, their rise and fall from power, then frame current US policy goals in mainland Southeast Asia.

The Khmer Rouge: A Convoluted History

The Khmer Rouge laid claim to the legacy of the Khmer Empire. The massive scale of this ancient superpower cannot be understated. “Between 802 and 1431 the Khmer Empire was the most powerful kingdom in South-East Asia, extending across territory that today includes Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam”.[iii] The actual history of the KR was less grand. Understanding the KR’s rise to power first requires brief context on Cambodian political history throughout the 20th Century. Cambodia had been a colony of France from 1884 until 1945, when the Empire of Japan deposed the French administration. Japan installed a loyal Prime Minister, Son Ngoc Thanh, during their administration of Cambodia. King Norodom Sihanouk, a royal Cambodian figurehead, was forced to declare independence from France by the Japanese. The French returned to Cambodia in October 1945 and arrested Son Ngoc Thanh.[iv]

This transition from French to Japanese, then back to French rule, was the impetus behind the formation of the KR. There was a general desire for independence throughout Cambodia in 1945, but disagreements as to who should lead. Supporters of the exiled Son Ngoc Thanh formed the Khmer Issarak guerilla movement, opposed by Cambodians who remained loyal to King Sihanouk.[v] King Sihanouk prevailed, gaining independence from France in 1953, and becoming the sovereign ruler of the Kingdom of Cambodia. The Khmer Issarak formed a communist insurgency in Cambodia to oppose Sihanouk, gaining support from the Viet Minh.[vi] Sihanouk gradually lost control of Cambodia, and was deposed in 1970 by the Khmer Republic, a rightist government led by Lon Nol. The United States was initially taken by surprise over these events. However, they soon came to support Lon Nol, abandoning the exiled Sihanouk, after the new government reaffirmed Cambodian neutrality.[vii] Sihanouk was openly critical of the American government, writing the following in a 1970 issue of Foreign Affairs. “’I am sorry to have to say it, but I must: The United States does not think of ‘independence’ and ‘democracy’ for its satellite countries in the same way it thinks of independence and democracy for itself’”.[viii] His ouster from power led to one the great ironies of this history. He became a figurehead for the communist insurgency, then named the Khmer Rouge, contributing to a massive expansion in their ranks. The scene that played out in Phnom Penh in April 1975, and the grim realities that followed, were due in large part to this series of misfortunate events. It would be over four decades before the United States refocused on this part of the world, in a perhaps ironically-named, ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy.

A Pivot or an Unwanted Reunion?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unrolled the Obama administration’s Asia Pacific strategy in October of 2011, stating “The future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action”.[ix] This contrasts sharply with a speech President Nixon made to the American people in 1970, when the United States was very much at the ‘center of the action’ in Asia. He acknowledged that the majority of American people would, “…want to end this [Vietnam] war rather than to have it drag on interminably”.[x] He spoke about an ‘action’ he had taken to end America’s involvement in Vietnam, describing “…major efforts, many of which must remain secret”.[xi] These ‘major efforts’ were certainly not a secret to thousands of Cambodians. The bombing of Cambodia actually predates Nixon, beginning under the Johnson administration in 1965. Exact figures on Cambodian deaths from these actions are unclear, but the US Air Force did keep accurate records on the amount of ordnance and sorties used. “…2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites…with 3,580 sites listed as having ‘unknown’ targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all”.[xii] This data was released by President Clinton’s administration, intended to aid in the search for unexploded ordnance.[xiii] These bombs and the history behind them had always remained ‘at the center of the action’ in the region, responsible for the deaths of farmers and rendering large tracts of land unusable to this day.[xiv] US history in the region is analogous to this unexploded ordnance in that it is ever-present and poses significant challenges to future growth. What does this future growth look like from a US perspective?

The 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) is the substantive document that Secretary Clinton summarized in her October 2011 remarks.[xv] Two additional NSS were released in 2015 and 2017 respectively. ‘Cambodia’ is not mentioned by name in any of these strategies however, there are applicable US policy objectives to analyze within the historical framework of US-Cambodian history. The latest NSS is comprised of ‘four pillars’: ‘Protect the American people, the homeland, and the American way of life’, ‘Promote American prosperity’, ‘Preserve peace through strength’, and Advance American influence’.[xvi] The first three pillars focus mainly on strategies to maintain American sovereignty through domestic initiatives and rectifying perceived trade imbalances. The last pillar however, ‘Advance American influence’, is worth a closer examination with respect to US history in Cambodia. There are also more specific policy statements regarding the Indochinese peninsula that will be referenced in the following sections. I will now advance three themes underscoring current challenges to US policy, rooted in US-Cambodian history.

Theme #1: US Convenience ‘Trumps’ Commitment

The 2017 NSS mentions the word ‘commitment’ 17 times within the context of its relationships abroad.[xvii] Its prevalence might suggest to readers an engagement strategy based on mutual trust and assured support to partners during times of hardship. The strategy is light in terms of specific policy objectives for mainland Southeast Asia. Indo-Pacific policy objectives revolve mainly around maintaining mutual defense treaties with countries like Japan, countering perceived malign Chinese influence, and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.[xviii] The most specific reference to the Indochinese peninsula regards Vietnam, and an acknowledgement that it is a “…growing security and economic partner of the United States”.[xix] It is reasonable to assume that other countries in the region will observe and take lessons from this growing relationship between the United States and Vietnam, and analyze it against perceived US commitment. The juxtaposition between stated US commitment and its actions is problematic with respect to US history in Cambodia.

The US position on the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea was one of silence and willful ignorance while the regime was in power. This is perhaps best illustrated by the ‘Mayaguez incident’. The Mayaguez incident occurred in May 1975, just one month after the Khmer Rouge overthrew Lon Nol’s government. Cambodian forces, utilizing former US Navy swift boats, approached and forcefully boarded a US container ship, the SS Mayaguez.[xx] They detained the crew and moved them to nearby Koh Tang island. The American President, Gerald Ford, ruled out diplomatic resolution with Cambodia almost immediately. “Ford believed he had few other options since the U.S. had no diplomatic contact with the new Kampuchean regime. For this reason, close advisers suggested that negotiations were not feasible”.[xxi] This was the impetus behind a military rescue operation on Koh Tang island, resulting in the deaths of 41 American servicemen.[xxii]

The real tragedy of the incident lies in the fact that Cambodian forces had relocated the detainees two days prior. The KR had publicly declared their intent to release the sailors, albeit not directly to the US, from the beginning of the incident.[xxiii] Communicating with the Khmer Rouge was not considered to be a viable option for the US during this time. Communist forces had just overrun Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.[xxiv] President Ford needed to show strength to the American people, virtually guaranteeing the ill-fated military response. The Mayaguez incident contrasts sharply with the American position on the Khmer Rouge in the early 1980’s. The United States “…provided covert support to the Khmer Rouge after they were driven from power by the Soviet-backed government of Vietnam”.[xxv] A relationship with the murderous KR at that time was viewed as more advantageous to the US within the framework of its larger interests: preventing the spread of Soviet influence. The dichotomous US approach to the KR in a relatively short time-span potentially undercuts stated US commitment to the growth of partnerships with countries like Vietnam today.

Theme #2: The Pottery Barn…Suggestion

‘The Pottery Barn Rule’ is an American jus post bellum concept attributed to Colin Powell.[xxvi] It is based on the colloquial ‘You break it, you buy it’ idea. It is the idea that American military intervention in a given country comes with an obligation to restore order and stability as a prerequisite to disengagement. The 2017 National Security Strategy mentions the word ‘obligation’ just once. “We are under no obligation to offer the benefits of our free and prosperous community to repressive regimes and human rights abusers”.[xxvii] This is a clear statement to current and future US partners. Partnership with the United States is contingent on the demonstration of values consistent with its own. This is a more complex idea within the US-Cambodian historical context. Regime change, US bombs, human loss on an industrial scale, and a $500 million debt are obstacles to a US values-based foreign policy in the region.

Current US policy in Cambodia seems to support a ‘We broke it, you buy it’ concept. A point of contention between the governments of the United States and Cambodia lies in a $500 million war debt from the early 1970s.[xxviii] The US bombing of the Cambodian countryside during the Nixon presidency killed or displaced thousands. The administration gave $274 million to Lon Nol’s government to offset this human cost.[xxix] The US continues to maintain that Cambodia must pay this debt, now $500 million with interest. The irony of this is not lost on Hun Sen, longtime leader of Cambodia and former Khmer Rouge soldier.[xxx] He invoked the debt issue to justify the cancellation of planned US-Cambodian military exercises, and his decision to expel a US Naval Construction Battalion working on humanitarian projects in 2017.[xxxi] The United States has continuously criticized Hun Sen’s oppressive regime and political crackdown, refusing to recognize his party’s controversial 2013 victory.[xxxii] The metaphorical ‘pottery barn’ in Cambodia seems to have been broken for a long time, reinforcing arguments over who is responsible and why. History and US policy in Cambodia, arguably the region, are inextricably linked. Their interlude poses significant challenges for the US in the region.

Theme # 3: Me, Myself, and the US           

The ‘America First’ theme throughout the 2017 NSS involves the word or variant of the word ‘partner’ over 50 times.[xxxiii] This word is used to support calls for a collaborative approach to shared problems and opportunities throughout the document. The Indo-Pacific regional strategy within the NSS reinforces this concept in stating, “Our vision for the Indo-Pacific excludes no nation”.[xxxiv] There do seem to be caveats to this open invitation for partnership however, as the strategy also states, “The United States seeks strong partners, not weak ones”.[xxxv] The definitions of ‘strong’, ‘weak’, and the subsequent limits of US partnership are subjective. Historical precedent in the region could complicate current and future US partnerships, suggesting a US preference for unilateralism. This is illustrated by the history of the US-Thailand relationship, and decisions that were made by the US during the KR period in Cambodia.

The United States and Thailand have had a security partnership since 1954, with the former South Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (SEATO) establishment of the Manila Pact.[xxxvi] This partnership strengthened during conflicts in the region. Thailand supported the US in the Korean War with its own troops, losing over 1200. Thailand also supported the United States during the Vietnam War, providing basing for 50,000 US troops. It also provided troops again, this time to fight in South Vietnam and Laos.[xxxvii] This partnership was no doubt valuable to the United States at the time, as it fought communist forces throughout most of the Indochinese peninsula. How consistent was the US however, in upholding the value of this partnership? The SS Mayaguez incident is again a useful vehicle to analyze US decision-making. The rapid US military response to the incident involved the transfer of 600 Marines from Okinawa and the Philippines to Thailand. The US placed these forces at U Tapao Royal Thai Airforce Base (RTAFB) “…without the express permission of the Thai government”.[xxxviii] This unilateral act strained US-Thai relations for years afterward. Some Thai officials called for the withdrawal of all US forces from the country, viewing it as a breach of sovereignty.[xxxix] What are current and potential future US partners to make of incidents like this one? Perhaps ‘America First’ states more clearly what history seems to illustrate regarding the US scope of ‘partnership’.

“And Back Again?”

An American backpacker walks through the halls and spaces of an old high school in Cambodia, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The now-empty classrooms echo the sounds of other tourists who stop and pause to peer inside. This is Tuol Sleng, the site of mass atrocities during the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia. It was simply referred to as S-21 in those days, denoting it as just the 21st in an untold number of similar such facilities. These former classrooms housed over 12,000 political prisoners from 1975 to the overthrow of Democratic Kampuchea in 1979. Only 7 individuals are known to have survived.[xl] The rest died within the walls of disease, torture, or starvation, or else were driven to a nearby field and murdered, either shot or bludgeoned to death by farm tools.[xli] Diligent records were kept by the KR cadre that ran S-21, including pictures of new arrivals. Their grim faces, likely aware of what awaited them, now line the walls of this former school-turned prison-turned museum. Many of them were undoubtedly the same faces that lined the streets of Phnom Penh in April 1975 to celebrate the Khmer Rouge’s victory over Lon Nol’s government. This site has not been a school for decades, but the lessons still being learned here transcend the design of the builders.

The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes is a stark reminder to the world of the human cost of war. It stands shoulder to shoulder in time with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, inscribed with the names of the over 58,000 American servicemembers that gave their lives during the Vietnam War. This former school in Cambodia, and the black granite wall in Washington, D.C., can serve as metaphors for how history can both present or hinder opportunities in the future. History can be acknowledged and learned from, or it can be an imposing wall, difficult to overcome. The 2017 NSS sets a course for the future of the United States, calling on itself to “…advance American influence because a world that supports American interests and reflects our values makes America more secure and prosperous”.[xlii] This endeavor faces significant challenges. The history of the United States in Cambodia underpins one such challenge. How does the United States prioritize and balance commitment and convenience? How or will the US accept responsibility for the costs of conflicts it is a major contributor to? What is the true value and meaning of US partnership? These questions, viewed against the backdrop of US history in Cambodia, will either be valuable lessons or barriers to success, especially on the Indochinese peninsula.

*Title borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings character, Bilbo Baggins

 

Bibliography

Anderson, Nicholas D., and Victor D. Cha. 2017. “The Case of the Pivot to Asia: System Effects and the Origins of Strategy.” Political Science Quarterly  (Wiley-Blackwell) 132 (4): 595–617. doi:10.1002/polq.12703.

Chanlett-Avery, Emma, and Ben Dolven. 2013. “U.S.-Thailand Security Relations.” Congressional Research Service: Report, December, 11–15. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search. ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=93725538&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Coates, Karen J., and Jerry Redfern. 2017. “In Call to Cancel Debt, Cambodia Asks: When War Is over, Who Cleans up the Mess?” The Christian Science Monitor. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgbc&AN=edsgcl.500666367&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Connolly, Chris A. “Kissinger, China, Congress, and the Lost Chance for Cambodia.” Journal of American-East Asian Relations 17, no. 3 (November 2010): 205–29. doi:10.1163/187656110X542022.

Drivas, Peter G.1. 2011. “The Cambodian Incursion Revisited.” International Social Science Review 86 (3/4): 134–59. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url= http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=70924537&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Engel, Preston, Lawrence (ed.s), America in the World: A History in Documents War with Spain to the War on Terror (Princeton University Press, 2014)

Gaddis, John. The Cold War: A New History (Penguin, 2006)

Gidley, Rebecca. 2018. “Trading a Theatre for Military Headquarters: Locating the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.” Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International & Strategic Affairs 40 (2): 279–300. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=131664741&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Griffiths, Rhys. 2017. “National Gallery Cambodia.” History Today 67 (5): 78. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edb&AN=122332427&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Grunstein, Judah. 2010. “America in the ‘Post-Pottery Barn Rule’ Era.” WPR Trend Lines, August, 1. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url= http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=wpr&AN=78571801&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Head, William. 2012. “Mayaguez: The Final Tragedy of the U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War.” Journal of Third World Studies 29 (1): 57–80. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=79790237&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Heder, Steve. 2018. “CAMBODIA-VIETNAM: Special Relationship against Hostile and Unfriendly Forces.” Southeast Asian Affairs, January, 113–31. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx? direct=true&db=tsh&AN=129245270&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Herring, George. The American Century & Beyond. U.S. Foreign Relations, 1893-2014. (Oxford University Press, Second Edition 2017). 

“History.” 2011. Cambodia Country Review, July, 6–8. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=58451458&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Karsh, Jason. 1990. “The Khmer Rouge: A Dubious Role in Cambodia’s Future.” Harvard International Review 13 (1): 34–36. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=9701144215&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Leifer, Michael. 1975. “The International Dimensions of the Cambodian Conflict.” International Affairs 51 (4): 531. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=buh&AN=4700931&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Owen, Taylor, and Ben Kiernan. 2006. “Bombs Over Cambodia.” Walrus 3 (8): 62–69. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=504235736&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Schell, Orville. 1970. “Cambodian Civil War.” New Republic 162 (23): 12–14. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=10523457&site=eds-live&scope=site.

>Sihanouk, Norodom. 1970. Foreign Affairs 49 (1): 1–10.   https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mth&AN=5804693&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Silove, Nina. 2016. “The Pivot before the Pivot: U.S. Strategy to Preserve the Power Balance in Asia,” no. 4: 45. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edspmu&AN=edspmu.S153148041640001X&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Strangio, Sebastian. 2017. “Cambodia Turns Against the U.S. as Hun Sen’s Political Crackdown Widens.” World Politics Review (19446284), September, 1–4. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=wpr&AN=125444864&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Stehle, Barbara. 2013. “Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes.” Interventions/Adaptive Reuse: Int/AR 4 (January): 48–57. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ofs&AN=101635341&site=eds-live&scope=site.

United States White House Office. 2017. National Security Strategy. http://www.whitehouse.gov.

Var, Veasna. 2017. “Security Issues and Challenges for Cambodia: Domestic and Regional.” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 29 (2): 287–311. https://nduezproxy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tsh&AN=123380184&site=eds- live&scope=site.

End Notes

[i] Jason Karsch. 1990. “The Khmer Rouge: A Dubious Role in Cambodia’s Future.” Harvard International Review 13 (1): 34–36.

[ii] George Herring. The American Century & Beyond. U.S. Foreign Relations, 1893-2014. (Oxford University Press, Second Edition 2017).

[iii] Griffiths, Rhys. 2017. “National Gallery Cambodia.” History Today 67 (5): 78

[iv] “History.” 2011. Cambodia Country Review, July, 6–8.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Peter Drivas. 2011. “The Cambodian Incursion Revisited.” International Social Science Review 86 (3/4): p. 140.

[viii] Norodom Sihanouk. 1970. Foreign Affairs 49 (1): 1–10.  

[ix] Nina Silove. 2016. “The Pivot before the Pivot: U.S. Strategy to Preserve the Power Balance in Asia,” no. 4: 45.

[x] Engel, Preston, Lawrence (ed.s), America in the World: A History in Documents War with Spain to the War on Terror (Princeton University Press, 2014) p. 278.

[xi] Ibid. p. 279.

[xii] Taylor Owen, and Ben Kiernan. 2006. “Bombs Over Cambodia.” Walrus 3 (8): p. 63.

[xiii] Ibid. p. 62.

[xiv] Ibid. p. 62.

[xv] Nina Silove. 2016. “The Pivot before the Pivot: U.S. Strategy to Preserve the Power Balance in Asia,” no. 4: 45.

[xvi] United States White House Office. 2017. National Security Strategy.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] Ibid. p. 46.

[xx] William Head. 2012. “Mayaguez: The Final Tragedy of the U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War.” Journal of Third World Studies 29 (1): p. 57.

[xxi] Ibid. p. 59.

[xxii] Ibid. p. 67.

[xxiii] Ibid. p. 65.

[xxiv] Ibid. p. 57.

[xxv] George Herring. The American Century & Beyond. U.S. Foreign Relations, 1893-2014. p. 547.

[xxvi] Judah Grunstein. 2010. “America in the ‘Post-Pottery Barn Rule’ Era.” WPR Trend Lines.

[xxvii] United States White House Office. 2017. National Security Strategy. p. 42.

[xxviii] Sebastian Strangio. 2017. “Cambodia Turns Against the U.S. as Hun Sen’s Political Crackdown Widens.” World Politics Review (19446284), September, p. 1.

[xxix] Karen Coates., and Jerry Redfern. 2017. “In Call to Cancel Debt, Cambodia Asks: When War Is over, Who Cleans up the Mess?” The Christian Science Monitor.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Sebastian Strangio. 2017. “Cambodia Turns Against the U.S. as Hun Sen’s Political Crackdown Widens.” World Politics Review (19446284), September, p. 1.

[xxxii] Var, Veasna. 2017. “Security Issues and Challenges for Cambodia: Domestic and Regional.” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 29 (2): p. 291.

[xxxiii] United States White House Office. 2017. National Security Strategy.

[xxxiv] Ibid. p. 46.

[xxxv] Ibid. p. 39.

[xxxvi] Chanlett-Avery, Emma, and Ben Dolven. 2013. “U.S.-Thailand Security Relations.” Congressional Research Service: Report, December, 11–15.

[xxxvii] Ibid.

[xxxviii] William Head. 2012. “Mayaguez: The Final Tragedy of the U.S. Involvement in the Vietnam War.” Journal of Third World Studies 29 (1): p. 80.

[xxxix] Ibid. p. 70.

[xl] Barbara Stehle. 2013. “Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes.” Interventions/Adaptive Reuse: Int/AR 4 (January): p. 51.

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] United States White House Office. 2017. National Security Strategy. p. 4.

 

About the Author(s)

Mike Karlson is a Civil Affairs Major and has 15 years in service. These years are comprised of time as an Army Infantryman, Transportation Officer, and Civil Affairs Officer. He has served overseas in Afghanistan, the Republic of the Philippines, The Republic of Korea, the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, and the Republic of Cambodia. He holds a BA in Psychology from the Virginia Military Institute, and an MA in Organizational Leadership from Brandman University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Strategic Security Studies through National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs, Joint Special Operations Master of Arts program.

Comments

Bill Laurie, a Viet Nam veteran and student of the subject, had this (among many other things) to say in reply to this article (used with permission).

  1.   Author cites "U.S. backed" Lon Nol government.   There is not one mention of "Hanoi-backed Khmer Rouge" nor a "China-backed Khmer Rouge.“  Why?
  2.   Author states '79 Hanoi expulsion of Khmer Rouge "revealed to the world" Khmer Rouge barbarity. This barbarity was visible in 1971 and after.  Reliable information and intel clearly indicated diabolical nature and activities of Khmer Rouge. Intel reports in '71-'72 reflected the KR practice of entering a hamlet, assembling all residents to witness execution of Buddhist monks, heretofore influential and revered figures in Khmer society.   One cannot influence or be revered when one is dead. No one had to wait until 1979 to have this "revealed" to them.
  3.   Author states US bombing "produced Khmer Rouge" and US culpable in Khmer Rouge rise to prominence.  This is highly debatable. First, as stated before, no Hanoi, no Khmer Rouge. Hanoi's rabid ideologues are also "culpable" and bear primary responsibility for Khmer Rouge rise to power.  50,000-60,000 NVA regulars did a lot of the heavy lifting to support Khmer Rouge. U.S. bombing came AFTER Sihanouk ordered his fledgling air force to bomb known Khmer Rouge positions.   Neither Sihanouk nor Hanoi said a word about "illegal" (it wasn't) U.S. bombing, the intent of which was to STOP a communist takeover by force of arms.
  4.   Author states Sihanouk "gradually lost control" of Cambodia. This is anemic prose and is deceptive. Sihanouk did not 'lose' control as much as Hanoi and its Khmer Rouge subordinates SEIZED control. Sihanouk had 'control' taken from him.
  5.   Author states U.S. gave covert aid to Khmer Rouge after Hanoi attacked, ejected KR, and installed KR elements (Eastern Zone) controlled by Hanoi. This is simply not true and is little more than an urban myth. The anti-Hanoi Khmer Forces had three components.  One was Khmer Rouge.  Another was headed up by Son Sann, later combining with Prince Sihanouk.   The U.S. provided limited military and financial aid to the NON-COMMUNIST elements of anti-Hanoi of forces.  Had the U.S. not provided aid to non-communist, Khmer Rouge elements, the latter would have gained more control.
  6.   Author states U.S. bears responsibility for damage to people and land it destroyed with bombing, etc.  Several points:
  1.   If Hanoi and Khmer Rouge had lived up to '73 supposed-to-be "peace"(!!!) Accords the U.S. would have instituted a comprehensive EOD program.   This would have extended to Laos and Viet Nam.   Hanoi did not stop its war for one day and no EOD removal program was possible.

            B. No mention made of Hanoi's responsibility to address problems its war created.   The very worse province for UXOs in the former RVN, is Quang Tri.  It bordered NVN on the poorly named DMZ.  Quang Tri was pounded mercilessly by NVA arty, mortars, rockets and the landscape was littered with NVA emplaced mines.  The dud rate for Moscow/Beijing supplied ordnance was assuredly sufficient to leave hundreds of lethal rounds in the soil.  

In its 1985 major offensive against Khmer Rouge forces, Hanoi placed extensive mine fields along the Cambodia-Thai border.  Hanoi made no effort to leave maps showing locations of mines and did NOTHING to remove them. For a time during mid-90s, Cambodia was termed the "amputee capital of the world," all attributable to Hanoi's occupational NVA forces.

"The United States and Thailand have had a security partnership since 1954, with the former South Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (SEATO) establishment of the Manila Pact".

Correction: Southeast Asian Treaty Organization.