Did America back the Khmer Rouge? Whilst denied by the USA, there is no historical doubt that the USA not only supported the Khmer Rouge politically, but also financially, militarily and by proxy.
The coup of 1970
King Sihanouk led the Kingdom of Cambodia until his overthrow by the Lon Nol regime in 1970. He had tried to forge a neutral path, but on doing so made concessions to the North Vietnamese, who would transit through Cambodia on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The coup that brought Lon Nol into power was supported by the CIA, with the Khmer Republic as it was now known being extremely unpopular.
During this period the US dropped more bombs on Cambodia than on Japan in the whole of World War 2. Now whilst this was not directly supporting the Khmer Rouge, scholars generally agree that the devastation this caused pushed people towards the rebels, led by the Khmer Rouge. Although it should be acknowledged that many peasants thought that they were fighting for their King rather than a communist government, despite the fact that at the time they were one and the same.
The regime of Democratic Kampuchea
During the regime of Democratic Kampuchea millions were killed during the period known as the Killing Fields. During this the time the main backers of the Khmer Rouge and DR were the Peoples Republic of China. In the political context of the time this meant that the US were happy to have a regime that was anti-Soviet and turned a blind eye to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. My enemies enemy is my friend and all that. Whilst not acid support, it was de-facto support.
1979-1982 – Khmer Rouge
After the Vietnamese liberated the county the Khmer Rouge carried on the civil war with the support of China. During this time western governments continued to recognize Democratic Kampuchea as the legitimate government of Cambodia in the UN. It is therefore undeniable and documented that between 1979-1982 the US supported the Khmer Rouge politically.
The Coalition Government of Kampuchea
At the behest of China King Sihanouk and Republican Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front (KPNLF), led by Son Sann.
The president of the coalition was Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the prime minister was the KPNLF leader Son Sann and the foreign secretary was PDK leader Khieu Samphan.
By far the strongest fighting unit was the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea. Officially the US supplied the forces of Sihanouk and the KPNLF, but in reality these armies were extremely weak, so the aid as per the Reagan Doctrine mostly ended up with the Khmer Rouge/
During the time the and up until 1991 the US voted in favor of the Khmer Rouge dominated CGDK government keeping its seat at the UN.
Remember ISIS? America was technically funding the “democratic opposition”, except they didn’t exist and the money went to Jihadis. Remember Afghanistan? If history teaches us anything it is that governments will always continue to make the same mistakes.
American support by proxy
American policy towards the Khmer Rouge policy was best summed by the national security director, Zbigniew Brzezinski, in an interview with Elizabeth Becker: “I encouraged the Chinese to encourage Pol Pot.” .
To quote in full;
“I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot. I encouraged the Thai to help the Khmer Rouge. The question was how to help the Cambodian people. Pol Pot was an abomination. We could never support him. But China could.”
He later added the US “winked publicly” as China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge.
There are numerous other transcripts that show similar comments and confirm this as policy.
From the outside America could pretend it was not supporting the Khmer Rouge, but in reality it was exactly what they are doing. Thankfully in Cambodia some amount of peace was achieved in spite of America, but one merely has to look at Afghanistan to see how wrong this policy can be.
Margaret Thatcher and the Khmer Rouge
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan had extremely similar views on economics and dealing with enemies, policies that we are still living with after 30 years of them both leaving office.
Margaret Thatcher said the following on a program for kids called Blue Peter. Just to reiterate, this was a program for KIDS.
The following is the most telling quote.
“Well, that is what I am assured by people who know. So you will find that the more reasonable ones of the Khmer Rouge will have to play some part in the future government, but only a minority part.
I share your utter horror that these terrible things went on in Kampuchea, the United Nations could not do anything about them, none of us could do anything about them, they were absolutely terrible. But then I think all of a sudden it burst upon the world what was happening and then the relief planes flew into Thailand with the food for the refugees that were flooding into Thailand and it really was a great big United Nations effort.”
She went on to add that Britain would not give aid directly to the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea, because it did not recognize it. The US, UK and the west duly denied any foreign aid to the country in the name of Cold War politics, duly helping to continue the suffering of the Cambodian people.
You can see the Blue Peter interview in full here. Truly scary stuff.
Modern arguments between China and the USA over their legacy with the Khmer Rouge
In 2019 both China and the USA decided to argue in a tit for tat retconning of their histories with the Khmer Rouge, with the war being fought over Facebook.
So classics from this being the USA saying “The USA didn’t overthrow Sihanouk in 1970” and the Chinese replying “No it was the CIA”. All rather amusing as an outsider, but in reality both sides have simply rewritten their histories to downplay their involvement with the Khmer Rouge. Whilst the Cambodians have to face their past on a daily basis the main players of the Cold War simple deny what happened. And remember this is not a “fake news” Donald Trump type thing, this has been US policy a long time before the Orange one entered office.
To read about the spat in full click here.
I will do a pice about this particular spat soon, but for now it makes sad, if not interesting reading.
Did the US support the Khmer Rouge? Yes they did, covertly, overtly and publicly and no amount of retconning history will ever change that.