The Vietnamese government has locked down its borders with Cambodia and imposed a month-long entry ban for any foreign traveller — except accredited diplomats — as the country adopts measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
First, and perhaps the most fascinating mystery, is the near-total erasure of the Vietnam era,
and its vociferous doctrinal and policy debates, from the War on Terror international legal debate. The more one reads, the stranger it becomes—particularly once the invasion of Cambodia becomes publicly known in 1970, and the U.S. Department of State justifies the intervention in international legal terms. The doctrinal debate is eerily similar to those underlying key controversies between 2009 and 2018. The underlying law is, in many respects, largely the same. The contours of the international legal questions and their purported implications for the future disclose remarkable similarities. And yet, with the exception of that single footnote in the Al Aulaqi memorandum, there is almost no reference to the raging scholarly discourse that occurred barely two generations earlier. This would perhaps be understandable if I had gone deep into the national archives of, say, Bangladesh, and had found obscure texts that had never been published in English, or had never been made available in libraries or on the internet. But we are talking more or less about similar substantive debates occurring in similar journals by scholars contending with the same government offices. And it all just disappeared. Why?7
1. Kenton Clymer, The United States and Cambodia, 1969-2000: A Troubled Relationship(New York and London: Routledge, 2004)
2. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discusses the Khmer Rouge regime with Thailand’s Foreign Minister Chatichai, November 26, 1975
Kissinger: “You should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.”
3. Ford and Kissinger discuss Cambodia with Indonesia’s President Suharto, Jakarta, December 5, 1975
4. Former US National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, on China and the Khmer Rouge, 1979:
“I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could.” According to Brzezinski, the USA “winked, semi-publicly” at Chinese and Thai aid to the Khmer Rouge.
There are allegations that the United States (U.S.) directly armed the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian–Vietnamese War in order to weaken the influence of Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Southeast Asia. It is not disputed that the United States encouraged the government of China to provide military training and support for the Khmer Rouge and that the United States voted for the Khmer Rouge to remain the official representative of the country in the United Nations even after 1979 when the Khmer Rouge was mostly deposed by Vietnam and ruled just a small part of the country.
Additional alleged U.S. actions that benefited the Khmer Rouge range from tolerating Chinese and Thai aid to the organization (Henry Kissinger) to, according to Michael Haas, directly arming the Khmer Rouge. The U.S. government officially denies these claims, and Nate Thayer defended U.S. policy, arguing that little, if any, American aid actually reached the Khmer Rouge. However, it is not disputed that the U.S. voted for the Khmer Rouge, and later, for the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), which was dominated by the Khmer Rouge, to retain Cambodia’s United Nations (UN) seat until 1982 and 1991, respectively.