US lawmaker Dana Rohrabacher, who once said “Hun Sen is a corrupt, vicious human being” and described the premier as one of the “leaders of the Cambodian genocide”, is being considered for the role of US secretary of state by president-elect Donald Trump, a report said yesterday.
The article, published in the “Washington Secrets” political gossip column in the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner newspaper, said an anonymous source had named Rohrabacher – a known Trump backer – as a contender to replace current Secretary John Kerry as America’s top diplomat.
“With confirmation concerns increasing for president-elect Trump’s top two picks to run the State Department, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton, top officials are now considering California Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a top House foreign policy expert,” the column said.
It did not offer more details about the source or about how seriously Rohrabacher was being considered. It said only that his name had been put forward after concerns emerged that Giuliani and Bolton could face trouble being confirmed by some Senate Republicans.
Rohrabacher, whose congressional district has many Cambodians, had been floated as a possible vice president for Trump, with a Salon columnist in July calling the pair “a match made in twisted-politics heaven” due to their fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s own fondness for Putin led Hun Sen to endorse him before last week’s election, saying he could help avoid war. Yet the premier has had less love for Rohrabacher, a longtime opposition ally who after the 2013 election called on him to stand down.
However, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said the government would have no issue if Rohrabacher was appointed secretary of state because he would have to put the Trump administration’s foreign policies ahead of his own interests.
“I think Dana Rohrabacher’s stance will not be inflexible. If he serves as the US secretary of state, he must follow the president’s policies, and therefore he cannot be an absolutist and follow his ideas that have conflicted with Cambodia in the past,” Eysan said.
“Even though in past he had bad views about the Cambodian prime minister, when he has a new president, he must follow the new president,” he said.
Kem Monovithya, the opposition’s deputy public affairs director and a daughter of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has long been close to US Republicans such as Rohrabacher, said his appointment as secretary of state – if made – would be welcomed.
“He’s been very vocal in supporting democracy here, and has a great relationship with CNRP leaders,” she said.
Rohrabacher, a speechwriter for late US President Ronald Reagan and current chair of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs subcommittee for Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats, has been one of the most aggressive critics of Hun Sen over the past 20 years.
In September 1998, he introduced a controversial resolution to the US House of Representatives aiming to secure “the indictment of Hun Sen for genocide and crimes against humanity before an international tribunal” due to his time with the Khmer Rouge.
The year before – and just a month after Hun Sen ousted Norodom Ranariddh as first prime minister in the 1997 factional fighting in Phnom Penh – one of Rohrabacher’s top aides described Hun Sen as a “dictator”, “triggerman for Pol Pot” and “war criminal”.
Rohrabacher himself told the Los Angeles Times in 2005 that he worried the US State Department, which he would lead if appointed by Trump as secretary of state, was being too cautious with Hun Sen and should worry less about protecting stability in Cambodia.
“The State Department quite often will worship at the altar of stability and not consider liberty and justice as part of the equation,” Rohrabacher said, telling a reporter that when “you talk about a dictator like Hun Sen, you don’t want stability, you want change”.
During the July 2013 Cambodian national election campaign, Rohrabacher told a US congressional hearing titled “Cambodia’s Looming Political and Social Crisis” that “Hun Sen is a corrupt, vicious human being who has held that country in his grip for decades”.
“It’s time for Hun Sen to go,” he said.