Genocidal Stalinism in Cambodia, apologists in the West

In a rare piece of good news, Nuon Chea, the no.2 in the one of the most horrific regimes of our time, Khmer Rouge's Kampuchea, has been arrested, hopefully to face justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Mr Eugenides comments:
Though his lawyers will no doubt bring it up as an issue, it's doubtful that too many Cambodians will have qualms about seeing an octogenarian going on trial. The absence of any formal judicial proceedings against the Khmer Rouge leadership has, moreover, made it possible for the likes of John Pilger to use the tragedy to push his own worldview (in which the US - who else? - bears primary responsibility for the genocide), and for Noam Chomsky to go one better and spend the past quarter century downplaying and minimizing the scale of the Khmer Rouge terror, most notably by comparing it, grotesquely, with French vigilanteism after the end of the Second World War - thus neatly equating the fate of the innocent victims of these horrific crimes with Nazi collaborators.
Hunting down and trying old men for the crimes of the past is not without its problems, but no full and proper accounting for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge has ever been possible. Perhaps, after Milosevic, Pinochet and Hussein, it's fanciful to imagine that this heralds a new accountability for old tyrants; Nuon Chea may never make it to the dock. But it's something, after all.
Much as I have come to hate Pilger, his role in informing the world of Pol Pot's genocide was vitally important. I, for one, vividly remember Pilger's broadcasts, which certainly opened my eyes. And he is right to point out that the West's blindness to the genocide was because of Cold War realpolitik: Pol Pot's Peking-affiliated version of Communism was an ally against Vietnam's Moscow-affiliated version.

Pilger was right to draw attention to the Faustian bargain Nixon and Kissenger made with Pol Pot, which Thatcher and Reagan renewed. He was right to draw attention to the obscenity of America (under George Bush Sr) and Beijing forcing the UN to allow the Khmer Rouge back into Cambodia, indeed back into a coalition government.

Pilger also highlights Nixon and Kissinger's bombing campaign on Cambodia, during Operation Menu, as part of the Vietnam war. He is right to condemn this as a war crime.

However, Pilger is wrong in blaming this campaign for Pol Pot's genocide. Pilger writes that
In dropping the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on a peasant society, Nixon and Kissinger killed an estimated half a million people. Year Zero began, in effect, with them; the bombing was a catalyst for the rise of a small sectarian group, the Khmer Rouge, whose combination of Maoism and medievalism had no popular base.
His logic is flawed here. The Khmer Rouge was morally responsible for its actions - blaming America is like blaming Hitler on the financial speculators who drove the inflation wave of the 1920s. But America, and its then new friend China, then proceeded to prop up the new regime, for which it is morally culpable.

As I have written before (somewhere), if 9/11 taught us something, it should have been that propping up lesser evils (Osama was deemed better than the Soviet Union, Saddam was deemed better than the Ayatollahs) can come back to haunt you. The post-9/11 shift from realism to idealism in British and American foreign policy was a half-learning of that lesson - but it's only been half-absorbed, and if the Decent Left scorn Pilger for making a similar point then we lose our moral high ground.

Chomsky, on the other hand, can rot in hell.

See also: Jim D on losing respect for Pilger
Previous: Hitchens and William Shawcross on Cambodia; Chomsky on My Lai and Pol Pot; Chomsky the revisionist.


Incognito said…
Agreed, supporting the lesser of 2 evils eventually causes problems down the line.. but how does one solve the immediate problem.
I have no answers.

It's like supporting Fatah and the PA over Hamas, when they loathe us just as much as the others, and yet we send them millions in aid. Posted on that recently.
bob said…
I don't know what the right thing to do is either. For me, Vietnam was the lesser evil than Pol Pot to the extent that I would support their invasion of Cambodia, even though I wouldn't support their regime. Similarly, I think it is worth supporting Fatah over Hamas, even though they are horrible too. So, I guess I don't have a completely coherent position on this.
bob said…
That was a pathetic comment: I didn't make myself clear at all and unravelled the whole point of the post.

What I think I want to say is that an ethical, democratic foreign policy needs to be very clear in evaluating regimes, not simply into friends and enemies, but into degrees of friendship and enmity. It is worth practically bolstering Fatah's authority in Palestine in order to have a partner for peace dialogues, as a step towards a world where there is no Fatah. But we should be clear that Fatah cannot be endorsed.

Similarly, Vietnam's military intervention against Pol Pot was highly necessary, like Russia's Eastern Front against Nazism. But after the dust settles, regimes like Vietnam's or Stalin's must still be fought.

Does that make sense? Or is that sitting on the wall?
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