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Friday, August 24, 2007

On wrong side of history: Bush's Vietnam analogy incorrect

By ROBERT BUZZANCO

However, U.S. is making the same errors in Iraq

In his continuing attempts to justify escalation of the war in Iraq, President Bush has resorted to historical analogy, warning that a hasty retreat from the Middle East would trigger a bloodbath as it did in Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1970s. Not only is the comparison faulty, it is historically inaccurate.

"In Cambodia," Bush said, "the Khmer Rouge began a murderous rule in which hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died by starvation and torture and execution" and "in Vietnam, former allies of the United States, and government workers and intellectuals and businessmen were sent off to prison camps, where tens of thousands perished. Hundreds of thousands more fled the country on rickety boats, many of them going to their graves in the South China Sea."

Bush and defenders of the current war and Vietnam ignore crucial aspects of history, however. Vietnam by 1975 had been wracked by a brutal fratricidal war for over a quarter-century, and recriminations were unavoidable, and made inevitable by the nature of the U.S. intervention and occupation of the southern half of Vietnam.

His analogy of Cambodia is more off-track. The Khmer Rouge slaughter was not caused by the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina in 1973, but by the U.S. escalation of the war and intervention into Cambodia in the years prior to that time. The United States had been conducting a "secret war" kept secret from the American people but not from the Cambodians on the receiving end of B-52 strikes since the later 1960s. In April 1970, then, Richard Nixon authorized what he called an "incursion" of Cambodia on the pretext of destroying the headquarters for Vietnamese Communist military operations there, the so-called COSVN, or Central Office for South Vietnam.

A month earlier, however, in March 1970, the United States had facilitated the ouster of the Cambodian head-of-state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and replaced him with a weak but pliable politician named Lon Nol. At this time, the Khmer Rouge was a small splinter group of the far left, without much popular support or military power. But the U.S.-sponsored coup, and the subsequent invasion in April, proved to be a great blessing to the Khmer Rouge. With Sihanouk, who had tried to remain neutral in the larger Indochinese conflict and thus was not preventing either the Vietnamese Communists or the U.S. from operating in Cambodia, out of the way and Lon Nol, perceived as a "puppet" of Nixon, in office, there was no middle ground in Cambodia. As a result, the Khmer Rouge soared in influence and popularity by exploiting the heavy-handed American political and military intervention.

By the mid-1970s, as the U.S. air war against Cambodia continued, killing hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge was well-positioned as the anti-American and anti-Lon Nol alternative, and so was able to swarm into Phnom Penh and establish a regime in April 1975, and then unleashing a genocidal wave of killings that lasted until the Vietnamese intervened and ousted the Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in January 1979. Even after that ouster, however, the United States continued to work with the Khmer Rouge, supporting covert operations against the Vietnamese-supported new government in Phnom Penh and even, in the Ronald Reagan years, supporting the Khmer Rouge claim to Cambodia's seat at the United Nations.

Now, as in the Vietnam era, the United States finds itself in a similarly intractable position. By intervening in a country that was not stable to begin with, putting a government into power that is derided as a U.S. client regime, heightening internal struggles, this time between Shiite and Sunni, taking sides in a civil war, causing massive destruction, and continuing to fight amid escalating bloodshed abroad and popular protest at home, the Bush administration is making many of the same errors that the Johnson and Nixon administrations did during the Vietnam War. While there does not appear to be a genocidal Khmer Rouge-type group lurking in the background and ready to cause incalculable terror, there is no question that the various armed groups that have emerged in Iraq since March 2003 are certain to persist and cause greater mayhem and death, perhaps throughout the entire Middle East.

So Bush's analogy is not only incorrect, but exposes the perhaps unavoidable fate facing the United States in Iraq. Continuing this war amid the daily deterioration will only prolong the time it will take to rebuild Iraq and try to heal the hatred and fear that now engulfs it. The sooner the United States begins a timely withdrawal from Iraq, the sooner the Iraqis themselves can begin to sort out their problems, and hopefully prevent a repeat of the killing fields of Cambodia.

Buzzanco is professor and chair of the Department of History at the University of Houston. He is also author of "Masters of War: Military Dissent and Politics in the Vietnam Era and Vietnam and the Transformation of American Life." Readers may e-mail him at buzz@uh.edu.

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UN envoys slam Cambodia over genocide judge's transfer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Two U.N. envoys accused the Cambodian government on Thursday of interfering with the judiciary by transferring a top judge from the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal, which they said was a violation of the Constitution.

Yash Ghai, the U.N. secretary general's special representative for human rights in Cambodia, and Leandro Despouy, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, made their criticism in a joint statement.

They said the government's move to appoint You Bun Leng, one of two investigating judges at the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal, to head the Appeals Court is casting doubt on judicial independence in Cambodia.

Their criticism came amid mounting concern that You Bun Leng's transfer could also further delay efforts to convene the genocide trial. You Bun Leng has said he will not take up his new post right away to allow for a smooth transition.

The government has said that the new appointment is part of its agenda to reform the judiciary, and is separate from the tribunal.

The U.N. envoys agreed that reform is crucial for Cambodia.

"But it should not be undertaken at the expense of the essential protections ... that enable judges to administer, and be seen to administer, justice efficiently, impartially and fairly, free of political interference," they said.

They charged that the appointment violated the Cambodian Constitution, which states that all judicial appointments, transfers, promotions, suspensions or disciplinary actions are decided by the Supreme Council of Magistracy, the body that oversees conduct of judges.

But the council never met to decide on the appointment, which was approved instead by a royal decree. King Norodom Sihamoni signed the royal decree at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the envoys said.

According to the U.N. officials, that meant that You Bun Leng's appointment "was done at the request of the executive branch of government in contravention of the separation of executive and judicial powers specified in the Constitution."

Chief government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment.

The envoys' statement followed a recent appeal from the U.N. to the government to reconsider the judge's transfer, saying it could disrupt efforts to convene the long-awaited genocide trials.

After numerous delays, You Bun Leng and Marcel Lemonde, a U.N.-appointed judge, only recently began investigations of former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of crimes against humanity, genocide and other atrocities that resulted in the deaths of some 1.7 million people in the late 1970s.

The judges have so far indicted one of five suspects. Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, headed the former Khmer Rouge S-21 prison. The other four have not been publicly named and remain free in Cambodia.
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SMC to expand Vietnam venture; eyes brewery in Cambodia

MANILA, Philippines -- San Miguel Corp., Southeast Asia's largest publicly-listed food, beverage and packaging group, said Friday it was looking to expand its beer operations in Vietnam and is also studying the feasibility of putting up a brewery in Cambodia.

"The company confirms that it intends to expand its presence in the Vietnam market and that it is studying the feasibility of putting up a brewery in Cambodia," San Miguel said in a brief statement to Manila's stock exchange.

The company was asked to comment on local media reports Friday saying it would allot up to $8 million to expand the capacity of its Vietnam plant.

San Miguel beer division assistant vice president Benjamin Aton Jr. was also quoted as saying that a brewery in Cambodia might cost $16 million.

San Miguel did not give any financial details in its disclosure to the exchange.

The company will spin off its domestic beer business under San Miguel Brewery Inc. for an initial public offering possibly before the year ends.

San Miguel, which is 20 percent owned by Kirin Holdings of Japan, also plans to venture into other businesses such as power generation and transmission, water and other utilities, mining and infrastructure.

At 10:09 a.m., San Miguel's A-shares were down 50 centavos or 0.8 percent at P61.50. Its B-shares also fell 50 centavos or 0.8 percent to P63.00. -- Enrico dela Cruz

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Southeast Asian nations eye 11 new cross-border power connections

SINGAPORE: Southeast Asian nations will consider 11 new power grid projects as a step to increase the region's cross-border electricity connections, an ASEAN group official said Wednesday.

The proposals will be made Thursday by the Centre for Energy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, said Khoo Chin Hean, chief executive of Singapore's Energy Market Authority.

"I understand a draft (memorandum of understanding) is being considered," he said at a task force meeting ahead of Thursday's 25th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting in Singapore. Many of the connections would be for links within the Indochina region.

ASEAN comprises the 10 countries of Southeast Asia: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

The bloc currently has just two cross-border power connections: between Thailand and Malaysia and between Malaysia and Singapore.

The ASEAN Centre for Energy has been eyeing a regional power grid as well as a "trans-ASEAN" gas pipeline for several years.

Khoo said the Jakarta-based Centre for Energy has also identified seven new natural-gas pipeline projects for possible development — part of a long-held blueprint to strengthen the region's energy security.

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