Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Foreign interference: enough is enough

Foreign interference: enough is enough

Foreign interference: enough is enough

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,

31).

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