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Archive for April, 2003

Friday, April 25th, 2003


It is often the case that when two parties are in a dispute a temptation arises on the part of observers to resolve the question in their own minds by blaming both sides equally. Generally, this temptation is strongest when judging the merits of the argument and assigning blame involves some degree risk for the observer; avoiding judgement thus becomes a psychologically comfortable form of cowardice ( or at least laziness ). When this conduct is elevated into foreign policy, as with arms embargos that ” affect both sides equally ” as with the Spanish Civil War in 1936 or Bosnia in the 1990’s, moral equivalence becomes essentially a passive assist to the stronger party without reference to justice. Usually this means favoring the aggressor over the victim.

I mention this because H-DIPLO is running a thread entitled ” The Left, the Right and…” debating the philosophical influences that may have caused academics to become partisans or apologists for various dictatorships in the 20th century. Left-wing posters have raised the issue of Pol Pot’s years as an an anti-Vietnamese guerrilla in the 1980’s a proof of ” Right-wing ” perfidy.

A brilliant and completely devastating rebuttal was just posted by Stephen J. Morris of The Foreign Policy Institute. I can say I learned some things from it while admiring the comprehensively thorough rejection of the poster’s argument. Here it is in it’s entirety:

Some myths about Indochina die hard, even in academia. Doug Stokes is

completely wrong about “the right” (i.e. the British and US governments

of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) supporting Pol Pot more than

“the left.”

It was the “left” wing, to be precise communist, governments of Vietnam

and China that armed, trained and supported the rise to power of the

Khmers Rouges. The “left” government of Vietnam continued to support the

Khmers Rouges politically until 1977 and the “left” Chinese and North

Koreans supported them politically, economically and materially until

1993. The radical left in academia supported Pol Pot during most of his

time in power. The political “right” in the democratic west gave the

most limited and qualified political support, in the form of supporting

continued UN recognition to the Khmers Rouges guerrilla movement only

after it lost power, and even then it did so in order not to restore the

Khmers Rouges to power, but to find a way to reverse the Vietnamese

communist occupation, which China was determined to do regardless of

western policy, and to facilitate a noncommunist alternative for

Cambodia. No western government gave military aid to the Khmers Rouges.

One cannot base one’s knowledge of recent Cambodian history, as Mr

Stokes seems to have done, upon the writings of a notoriously unreliable

journalist named John Pilger (most of his print journalism is for the

English tabloid Daily Mirror newspaper). To get a sense of Pilger’s

credibility, one should recall that he recently described the United

States under George Bush as being like Nazi Germany. This is par for the

course. Pilger is an agit prop specialist, not a balanced analyst nor an

objective correspondent.

To get a sense of Pilger’s intellectual deceitfulness, in the article

cited Pilger refers to UN food supplies to the Khmers Rouges. This was

food, not weapons. It was authorised by the UN, not the “right.” KR

commanders ran the camps, and their soldiers benefited from the food.

But mostly civilians lived in the camps. Similarly UN food supplies went

to the larger refugee camps controlled by the noncommunist resistance.

It was all humanitarian aid. The UN responsibility was feeding

civilians, who would otherwise have starved, even if soldiers who

controlled them also were fed.

To make his case by sleight of hand, Pilger lumps together the

noncommunist resistance with the Khmers Rouges, despite their

organisational separation. There was a political alliance against the

Vietnamese occupation regime from 1982 on, imposed upon them by ASEAN to

enable ASEAN and others to help the noncommunists, because the UN in the

pre-Yugoslavia era of the “primacy of national sovereignty,” had

recognized the KR regime overthrown by Vietnam’s invasion as the

legitimate rulers of Cambodia, and an unsavory coalition with them was

the only way to give the noncommunists a role in Cambodia’s future.

Although the KR and the noncommunist resistance did occasionally

cooperate in battles against the Vietnamese and the regime that Hanoi

had installed, the noncommunists did not take military orders from the

Khmer Rouges, and mostly operated separately. Sometimes the KR attacked

the noncommunists, despite their political alliance. There was no

functioning common high command. Later, when the UN peace plan was put

into practice in 1992, the noncommunists completely separated from the

KR, and ran in the 1993 elections that the KR boycotted.

I have studied the international and domestic politics of Cambodia for

two decades, and as a producer-correspondent for CBS News in 1983 spent

several weeks with a cameraman in the jungle guerrilla strongholds of

the Khmers Rouges and the noncommunist resistance. I can state quite

categorically that all of the supply of arms to the Khmers Rouges came

from China, not from Britain or the United States. John Pilger is

telling falsehoods when he claims the contrary. The noncommunist

resistance received most of its arms overtly from the ASEAN countries,

some from China, and perhaps some assistance covertly from the CIA,

though I cannot be sure of the latter. The USA was backing the

noncommunist resistance (NCR) to win power in Cambodia through a

political settlement, and that was the reason it supported the tactical

political alliance the noncommunists had undertaken with the Khmers


For the record, I was a strong public advocate of the west, especially

the United States, arming the NCR, and was the only western academic to

publicly do so (first in the New York Times in December 1982 and then

most fully in The Atlantic Monthly January 1985, and also in various

other newspaper articles). In the 1980s I publicly berated the Reagan

Administration, for not doing more. From 1989 I interacted informally

with the then powerful and highly respected US Democratic Congressman

Stephen Solarz to achieve the UN mandate to take over and run an

election in Cambodia. (Solarz, it should be noted, though sneeringly

dismissed by Pilger as a “cold warrior,” is a liberal Democrat who holds

the high moral ground on Cambodia. He had held the first hearings on the

Khmers Rouges holocaust in May 1977, at a time when Pilger’s moralizing

tabloid journalism never expressed a moment’s concern for the Cambodian

victims of Pol Pot. At that forum Solarz also denounced the Institute

for Policy Studies witness Gareth Porter for his pro-KR testimony).

That the limited western support for the noncommunist resistance was

morally justified can be seen in the outcome of the UN sponsored 1993

elections in Cambodia. Despite the fact that the playing field was

tilted against the noncommunist parties (the ruling communist faction,

led by Hun Sen, carried out large scale intimidation, including murder,

of its opponents), the noncommunists won a majority of the vote.

Tragically the UN peacekeepers did not stand by the election outcome,

and allowed the losers (Hun Sen’s ruling faction) to be given a role in

the government after they threatened a civil war. How and why that

happened is another long and sad story.

Subsequently the Hun Sen regime, led by former Khmers Rouges commissars

launched a full scale coup d’etat in 1997, and welcomed the vast

majority of surviving Khmers Rouges back into Cambodian life, giving

some of the mass murderers posts in the Cambodian armed forces, and

engaging in lucrative business deals with others. Little wonder that Hun

Sen has opposed a full scale international tribunal to try and punish

the Khmers Rouges for crimes against humanity.

No western government ever endorsed the Khmers Rouges while they were in

power, nor did any western government, “right” or “left,” want them to

return to power. However a number of “left” western academics did

endorse the Khmers Rouges regime while it was in power, and either

denied the numerous published refugee and journalists reports of massive

atrocities by the regime, or else claimed that these atrocities were not

the fault of the central authorities but rather spontaneous expressions

of anger by poor peasants. Most notably the Americans Gareth Porter,

George Hildebrand, George McT. Kahin, and Michael Vickery, the

Englishman Malcolm Caldwell, the Frenchman Serge Thion (who also denied

the Nazi Holocaust, and was recently fired from his tenured academic

posting in Paris) and Thion’s sometime coauthor, the Australian Ben

Kiernan. Though all of these academic authors eventually ceased

supporting Pol Pot’s communist regime — but only after the KR split

with Hanoi became open in 1978 — they never apologised for misleading

the academic community and their own societies more generally about the

Cambodian holocaust, nor explained how they could have been responsible

for such bad scholarship. Perhaps they could use the forum of H-Diplo to

do so now.

I have documented most of the charges made in the last paragraph above,

in my article “Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot and Cornell,” published in The

National Interest, Summer 1989, and in “The Wrong Man to Investigate

Cambodia,” published in The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 1995. Full

citations are available there.

Stephen J. Morris.


The Foreign Policy Institute.


Johns Hopkins University.

Washington DC

Friday, April 25th, 2003

JUDITH APTER KLINGHOFFER has a great quote on her HNN blog from Martin Luther King, Jr. explaining why Anti-Zionism is a manifestation of Anti-Semitism. I’d never heard this one before in all the media articles on King or on Anti-Zionism that I’ve read and the effect will probably be, for the Left, dismay and then anger with some racial-socialist nitwit like Maxine Waters claiming proprietary use to any quotations from dead historical figures that might possibly embarrass progressive activists.

Friday, April 25th, 2003

THE UN vs.THE US: An interesting article at Foreign Affairs – I don’t agree with everything but the author, Micheal Glennon of Tufts University has an excellent analysis of the decline of the UN. Worth the investment of time to read.

Friday, April 25th, 2003


What in the world is the nonsense coming out of Iraq regarding ” questions about Tariq Aziz’s status ” ? Hasn’t anyone at the State department ever heard of the Genocide Convention ? Or crimes against humanity ? How can you try some Bosnian Serb thug but not the Joachim von Ribbentrop of Iraq ?

Aziz is an official of the highest level for a regime that has murdered over 200,000 people, targeted ethnic minorities for obliteration, made unprovoked attacks upon three neighboring states, built and used WMD against women, children and old people. Aziz is getting cut slack because of his long familiar place on the diplomatic circuit and the number of past and present government officials and heads of state with whom he has shared cocktails and off the record jokes in fluent English. The idea of trying Aziz makes some folks a little squirmy but morally how is Aziz any different from Chemical Ali ?

Let’s try to remember that his job was making life easier for the regime to kill it’s enemies quietly and without cost.

Friday, April 25th, 2003


“What sort of philosophy one chooses depends on what sort of person one is “

– Johann Gottlieb Fichte

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