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The long war.

America's war in Indochina ended almost ten years ago, as frightened diplomats and weary soldiers escaped in their helicopters hours before revolutionary armies entered the various capitals of the peninsular states. But for many of the peoples of the region, the long war is still raging. China began pressing Vietnam from the north almost as soon as the Americans retreated from the south. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge triumph became a monstrous caricature of revolution, which destroyed still uncounted millions in a reign of terror. The Vietnamese, fearful of the threat posed by the neighboring holocaust, invaded to stop the killing and restore some semblance of civilized government to the devastated country.

There is order now. The killing fields have been cleared, mass starvation has ended and the memory of terror is slowly dimming. But the war continues. The Vietnamese are, after all, invaders and historical enemies of the ethnically distinct Cambodians. No matter how beneficial their initial mission, the Vietnamese are unwelcome strangers in the Cambodian countryside, and their client government in Phnom Penh cannot command a national consensus. Several groups of armed rebels--widely disparate in terms of their ideology, international backing and constituencies--continue to fight the government and the Vietnamese from bases along the Thai border, and it was against the biggest of those camps that the Vietnamese launched the latest of their annual dry-season offensives.

The complexity of Cambodian politics and the necessity of the Vietnamese rescue mission do not negate the anguish of a country still struggling to carve out its own destiny. but sympathy for Cambodia should not obscure the responsibility of the United States for the disasters in Indochina. The current film The Killing Fields and William Shawcross's earlier, important study of U.S. policy there, Sideshow, make clear that the reckless bombing and brutal war America waged against Cambodia so disrupted its history and rent its social fabric that catastrophe was inevitable. Afterward, when regional stability and national security could have led to a reasonable recovery, successive U.S. Administrations worked for exactly the opposite purpose.

Henry Kissinger's "China card," played vigorously by George Bush when he was the American envoy to Beijing, is now a permanent stratagem in President Reagan's Far East policy, and he uses it specifically against Vietnam. The Washington-Beijing alliance lets China supply the Cambodian guerrillas with hardware while the United States funds both the political and military activities of the rebel camps. The U.S. refusal to normalize relations with Vietnam and to give Hanoi the aid promised in the peace agreements, as well as Washington's continued support for the remnants of Pol Pot's murderous regime, make Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia unlikely.

In fact, despite President Reagan's ritual condemnations of Vietnamese operations in Cambodia, U.S. policy effectively prolongs the occupation. Once again, the key to peace in Indochina is to be found in Washington. Ten years ago, it was the decision of the United States to leave Vietnam that led to the cessation of hostilities. Now, a decision in the White House to remove the pressures on Vietnam from all sides could bring peace to a ravaged land.

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Title Annotation:Cambodia
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jan 12, 1985
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