Our Cambodian Interests
REPORTS FROM CAMBODIA last week merely confirmed what has been long suspected: The United States is still heavily involved in illegal military support of the foundering Lon Nol regime--a blatant violation of Congressional action which bars military advisers and the direct involvement of any American troops in Southeast Asia.
Although the U.S. military attache in Phnom Penh denied any illegal activity, first hand press reports verified that at least one American officer was working in the field as a combat adviser and, for all intents and purposes, commander for the badly demoralized and disorganized government troops in Kampot, a key coastal outpost about 80 miles south of Phnom Penh.
The adviser was sent to Kampot when American officials in Cambodia decided that the situation there was becoming critical for the Lon Nol troops. In the past month, insurgent Khmer Rouge troops have moved within one mile of the city and captured its water supply and Cambodia's only cement factory. The population of the city has dropped from 50,000 to less than 20,000 in that time and almost all private shops and businesses have closed.
The reports brought angry reaction from congressmen last week, and 41 senators have co-sponsored a resolution by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) demanding a complete investigation of all U.S. military activity in Cambodia.
Cranston, a leader of last year's congressional campaign to end American military involvement throughout Southeast Asia, was right when he stated that Congress had "underrated the administration's cunning and determination to go its own way regardless of the law...We must continue to monitor the implementation [of the law] and police and publicize every violation."
No doubt the Nixon administration and the Pentagon will continue to allow and tacitly encourage U.S. military personnel to help prop up illegitimate and unpopular regimes in which the American government and economic interests have large investments. Junior Cambodian officers told American reporters last week that Americans frequently advise and plan strategy for Lon Nol troops all around beseiged Phnom Penh. Such involvement will probably increase as the Khmer Rouge assault intensifies and achieves more successes like this week's capture of the former royal capital of Oudong.
As long as the U.S. government continues to support the Lon Nol regime in Cambodia and the Thieu regime in South Vietnam, it must continue to offer covert military assistance to protect the billions of dollars in weapons and economic aid already being provided.
Congress must do more than police and publicize violations of the Cooper-Church amendment. Last week the Nixon administration asked Congress for $850 million in economic aid--an increase of over $200 million from last year--and at least the same $106 billion given in military aid last year to support the unpopular dictatorships and prevent Southeast Asia "from going Communist."
Congress should cut off all military aid to the Thieu and Lon Nol regimes and bring all United States military personnel home, allowing the United Nations forces to ensure that the people of Southeast Asia can choose their governments with no outside pressure. Only then will the American people be sure that the Pentagon and the White House are not blatantly defying the laws passed by Congress.