RAOUL Jennar's 'why doesn't the international community do something?' comment (PP
Post, 3-15 May, p.9, "Cambodia's future: hate, fear and blood? ") reminds
me of a conversation with a Cambodian acquaintance during my last pre-revolutionary
visit to Phnom Penh in the summer of 1974, Lamenting the economic breakdown, the
violence in the city caused by undisciplined Lon Nol soldiers, the floods of refugees
caused by American bombing, the uncertain fate of the city after the expected victory
of the communists, whom all by then knew to be fellow Khmer, not the 'North Vietnamese-Viet
Cong' of Lon Nol propaganda, and above all the gross incompetence of the Phnom Penh
government existing only because of American support, he asked me: "Michael,
why doesn't the CIA do something?".
My answer was something like, "Dear friend, don't you think the CIA has done
enough?". His plea reflected a widespread problem among Cambodians, and an attitude
prominent in all Cambodian regimes except Democratic Kampuchea [the Pol Pot regime]
and the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), a belief that in the end Cambodia can
and must be saved by the intervention of some great outside friend.
That, however, is not what I wish to discuss here, but rather Jennar's implicit
plea for an international intervention justified by the terms of the Paris Agreement,
and to which I would respond, "Dear Raoul, don't you think the international
community has done enough?", enough, that is, in bringing Cambodia to the situation
which I, along with him, deplore.
It was the international community which destroyed the PRK-SOC [State of Cambodia]
administration, which in its 12 years from 1979-1991, and in the face of great obstacles
placed in its path by the international community, was making progress if not directly
to full democracy, at least to the "modernization and democratization of many
social...relations", which UNTAC Cambodia expert Stephen Heder called a prerequisite
for "the task of building democracy"(PP Post, 24 Feb-9 March 1995, p. 19).
Contrary to the correct view of Benny Widyono (PP Post 16-29 May, p.8) many of
his most influential UNTAC colleagues considered that their task was indeed "to
wipe out communism" - at least the SOC variety, though not that of the Khmer
Rouge - and not just to "bring peace and national reconciliation".
Having undermined the SOC, the international community refused to attempt any
action to forestall disruptive activity by the most dangerous of the Cambodian parties,
the Khmer Rouge. As Heder has written in a recent book ("Propaganda, Politics,
and Violence in Cambodia", edited by Heder and Judy Ledgerwood), he had discovered
by early 1993 that the KR were implementing a policy of genocide against Vietnamese,
yet UNTAC refused to give warning to the public, and even refused to move their troops
to avert a massacre which their "excellent intelligence" knew was in the
offing ( Benny Widyono, ibid. )
The international community also, in pushing Cambodia into an extreme free market
which the country could not handle, went far toward destroying the economy and creating
a horrendous wealth gap which can only contribute to further political destabilization.
Jennar himself, in his work and publications in 1992 and 1993, called attention
to other undesirable interventions of the international community, including an American
project to buy off enough CPP deputies to give Funcinpec a clear majority in parliament
(Jennar, "Cambodian Chronicles" 10 ).
Perhaps Jennar's blowing the whistle on that caper helped to ensure that it did
not come to pass.
It is not clear what Jennar is now asking for - I suppose not the dispatch of
international troops to impose domestic peace; perhaps, implicitly the blocking of
the "millions of dollars" of international money spent "every month",
or perhaps only more international moral support for those "genuine democrats
within the Cambodian political parties". There is plenty of international experience,
however, to show that too blatant outside support for even genuine democrats in developing
democracies can be counterproductive, and here again, I would respond, "don't
you think the international community has done enough?".
As I read the Phnom Penh Post, though, I see some areas in which the international
community could be more active, if not in directly building democracy, at least in
contributing to a more peaceful, lawful society, a precondition for democracy.
On page 16 of the same issue of the Post, in "Hitman on the run" Imran
Vittachi wrote that "post UNTAC Cambodia...has attracted Europeans who have
brought with them the baggage of past convictions or criminal records... have opened
up bars, cafes, and hotels which serve as fronts..." In the language of Jennar,
it is time for the embassies of the complaining international community to stop hiding
"behind the classical duty of non-interference", and take strong measures
against immigration to Cambodia of their own undesirable citizens. This includes
not only gangsters, but NGOs whose purposes reflect more the interests of their own
societies than Cambodia, and in the case of the United States, semi-official American
democracy teachers so insensitive as to bring in Central American death-squad organizers
as representative democrats (see my recent article). In regard to logging, more pressure
could be put where it could do some good, on the immediate buyers, to help stem the
flow of Cambodian timber to Thailand (as Global Witness pointed out to us in December,
there are already US laws which authorize stronger intervention against the Thais
in this matter, but they are not being applied).
Some of the governments of the international community might also review their
policies on dual nationals participating in foreign governments. Some of Cambodia's
leading politicians might behave more responsibly if they did not have the escape
route of powerful Western countries' passports. The demand from certain quarters
that Cambodian politicians should declare themselves fully Cambodian is quite reasonable.
And in this connection those members of the international community who fantasize
that Cambodia's problems would end and full democracy would bloom if only power could
be taken by one of the prominent westernized anti-Communists, should heed the advice
of Machiavelli on "the danger of trusting to the representations of men who
have been expelled from their country", for with "their vain hopes and
promises....their extreme desire to return to their homes...they naturally believe
many things that are not true, and add many others on purpose; so that, with what
they really believe and what they say they believe, they will fill you with hopes
to that degree that if you attempt to act upon them you will incur a fruitless expense,
or engage in an undertaking that will involve you in ruin" (Discourses, II,