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Southeast Asia Policy is Not So Simple



To the Editors of The Crimson:

U.S. policy in Southeast Asia was bad. Fear of the Soviet Union led us to ignore rights issues and oppose the Vietnamese-installed government in Cambodia.

In arguing the above, John Cloud's opinion piece ("Finally, Hope in Southeast Asia," November 17) oversimplifies U.S. policy towards Cambodia in the 1980s. Cloud is, of course, justified to say that our policy overlooked human rights concerns; indirect military support and direct diplomatic support for the genocidal Khmer Rouge is unforgivable.

Yet, the United States' alternative course of action should not have been recognition of the forcibly installed Cambodian government.

In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. For the following nine years, more than 200,000 Vietnamese troops occupied the country and kept the governemnt in power. Two years ago, most of the Vietnamese troops left Cambodia, but the current Hun Sen regime is still heavily dependent on Hanoi.

Vietnamese involvement in Cambodia cannot simply be seen as a better alternative to the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian people themselves--whose point of view Cloud ignores--were happy to see the Khmer Rouge go, but were less enthusiastic about the Vietnamese presence; ethnic tensions between the two peoples have always been high.

Furthermore, other Southeast Asian nations were alarmed by Vietnam's 1979 invasion and feared further expansionist action. Thailand, Laos, Burma and others took a strong stand against Vietnams's action, and supported the rebel coalition, which includes the Khmer Rouge.

Was the U.S. wrong to help bolster the Khmer Rouge? Of course. Was the U.S. wrong not to recognize the Vietnamese-installed Cambodian government? No. We cannot overlook the fact that a historically hostile Vietnam took over Cambodia.

Unfortunately, the Cold War never allowed the U.S. to oppose the Vietnamese-backed government in any constructive way; rather than backing the Cambodian rebel group--which was dominated by the Khmer Rouge--the U.S. should have recognized neither side and supported a peace process. But then again, the world was a different place 10 years ago.

Peace plans in Cold War-infused Third World conflicts were unheard of. Cloud's larger point remains valid. Before we get nostalgic about Cold War stability, we should remember the millions of lives that were lost in Third World proxy battle. Now that the Cold War is over, the U.S. should put its priorities back in order. David L. Weller '92

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