Half-Turn on Cambodia

April 14, 1991

The administration's suspension of $7 million in aid to non-Communist rebels in Cambodia sends the right message, at least to Congress. The administration is carefully studying whether the U.S.- aided forces cooperated militarily with the Khmer Rouge, which the U.S. is sworn not to help. In fact, they have no military significance except alongside the stronger Khmer Rouge. The administration is slowly discovering what its critics know.

Message aside, however, the loss of even this minor aid is harmful to Cambodian people, whose crops and roads and schools have been destroyed by U.S.-aided insurrection and who might have benefited from this aid, small as it is. The U.S. should be helping the people, including those in camps operated by the movements of Prince Sihanouk and Son Sann. But the U.S. should not be helping those movements to fight the government of Hun Sen, the only Cambodian force fighting the Khmer Rouge, which committed massive atrocities when in power in the 1970s.

A peace plan the administration supports would bring a cease-fire, interim government and elections under United Nations supervision. This would probably materialize faster if the U.S. did not treat the Hun Sen regime as the Communist puppet of the Vietnamese puppet of our Soviet adversary. The Hun Sen regime is guilty of these origins, but can best be seen as a reformist regime increasingly independent of a Vietnam independent of the Soviet Union, which the Bush administration now regards as a partner not an adversary.

American contact hastened the transformation of communism in Eastern Europe and would work the same way in Vietnam and Cambodia. It is time to recognize that the Khmer Rouge is a greater threat to the life and happiness of Cambodian people than the Hun Sen regime, and that successful insurrection against it can lead only to Khmer Rouge rule. If the U.S. truly supports a settlement, it should hold out no hope for protracted conflict, and push its clients into that settlement.

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