The Phnom Penh Post apparently has something of a tradition of conducting shallow
and non penetrating interviews. John Brown's tepid, timid, and at times fawning questions
(ending with a gratuitous quasi-apology) and John Sanderson's self-serving, self-justifying,
and at times disingenuous responses are rather reminiscent of Nate Thayer's interview
of Khieu Samphan. Sanderson's comment "That is, if there are any KR when you
get there" continues his own tradition of minimizing the Khmer Rouge threat;
in some of his earlier statements, he also repeatedly predicted the imminent cooperation
of the KR. No doubt his latest comment will be of great comfort to the families and
friends of the many people killed by the KR and to the many still living victims
of the KR's actions since UNTAC's arrival, as well as to the hundreds of thousands
of Khmers still living under KR domination.
Sanderson claims that if UNTAC had forcefully confronted the KR-in other words, fully
and properly enforced the Paris Peace Agreement-there would have been no election.
Bull. If the KR were such a minimal threat, as Sanderson repeatedly claimed, then,
as a minimum, they could (and should) have been driven out of the areas they controlled.
Indeed, had the KR been forcefully confronted early on, they might well have decided
to comply fully with the Peace Agreement. Thus, rather than having no election, as
Sanderson claims, there very likely instead would have been an election in all of
Cambodia for all Cambodians, perhaps even with the participation of all four factions.
After engaging in some distorted and illogical rationalization, Sanderson finally
alludes to a major excuse-perhaps the major excuse-for UNTAC's immoral and shameful
failure to forcefully confront the KR, when he says that UNTAC's military employees
were sent to Cambodia only to be peace keepers. Yasushi Akashi recently was slightly
more candid and straightforward, at least in this matter, he was quoted in the semi-English
language publication The Cambodia Times as saying that he did not have "the
kind of troops" to engage the KR in combat operations. True, a significant portion
of UNTAC's military component consisted of what were primarily palace guards, coup
troops, shake-and-bake militiamen, for-display-only mannequins, and assorted other
pseudosoldiers. Taking their cue from Sanderson, the primary concern of many of them
appeared not to be peacekeeping (and certainly not peacemaking or protecting the
Khmer people), but rather keeping themselves in one piece. To be sure, UNTAC did
include a number of real soldiers in all ranks up to and including brigadier general,
and these professionals were prepared and able to carry out whatever military tasks
might have been required of them. However, had the decision been made to forcefully
confront the KR, UNTAC's ersatz soldiers from bottom to top would have had to be
replaced by additional genuine soldiers. Sanderson's characterization of such a logical,
realistic, moral, determined, and courageous decision as "idiocy on a grand
scale" is a characterization one would expect from a mealy-mouthed, spineless
politician-not from a soldier.
Stating the obvious, he admits: "I haven't placed emphasis on my command function."
Yes-and more and better leadership of UNTAC's military component would certainly
have reduced the whoremongering, rape, drunkenness, drug use, waste, fraud, abuse,
theft, black-maketeering, and other disgraceful misconduct which all too often characterized
all too many of Sanderson's subordinates.
Brown's snide question "Why are there such low [Khmer] casualties?" echoes
UNTAC's repeated scorn and criticism of Khmer soldiers, of course, rather than UNTAC's
kevlar-helmeted, flak-jacketed, bunkered-in, and hunkered-down self-preservationists
who primarily protected the May election. Having spent an extensive amount of time
as a soldier participating in front-line combat operations with Khmer soldiers against
other Khmer soldiers (the KR), I can assure Sanderson and Brown that Khmer soldiers
are quite capable of conducting effective, intensive, and courageous combat operations
against a deadly and determined enemy. The same statement cannot be made honestly
about a number of UNTAC's employees wearing military costumes.
UNTAC was an extensive and extortionately expensive undertaking which was largely
squandered by those who directed and implemented it, including John Brown's interviewee.
Having assiduously avoided fulfilling UNTAC's obligation to forcefully confront the
KR, John Sanderson now doesn't hesitate to tell others (the Cambodian government
and the United Nations) that they must confront the KR and the KR's supporters. While
UNTAC's long-term results are not yet clear (and may never be fully clear), it is
crystal clear that, in no small part due to John Sanderson, the Cambodian people
and the Cambodian government are still left with the difficult and dangerous task
of dealing with a still viable Khmer Rouge armed force led by the perpetrators of
the worst genocide in the history of the second half of the Twentieth Century.
- Robert Vogel, U.S.A.