Bret Stephens: From WikiLeaks to the Killing Fields





[Mr. Stephens writes the Journal's "Global View" column on foreign affairs.]

Innocent civilians become the tragic casualties of war. Insurgents plant thousands of IEDs. Special-ops teams hunt down insurgents. The Taliban may have a few Stinger missiles. Pakistan plays a double game with the Taliban. The U.S. government can't keep its secrets. The New York Times has about as much regard for those secrets as a British tabloid has for a starlet's privacy. The Obama administration blames everything on Bush.

Is any of this news? Not exactly.

Still, you'd be forgiven for thinking it is, given the Pentagon Papers-style treatment now being accorded to the WikiLeak of 92,000 classified documents on the Afghan War. John Kerry says the documents "raise serious questions about the reality of America's policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan." WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sees "evidence of war crimes." A Time magazine columnist, making explicit the comparison with the Vietnam War, offers that the leak underscores "how futile the situation in Afghanistan is."

We'll see about that. In the meantime, take note of another item in the news: Yesterday's conviction by a U.N. tribunal of former Khmer Rouge prison commandant Kaing Guek Eav—better known as "Comrade Duch"—to 19 years in prison for his role in the Cambodian genocide. Remarkably, Duch is the first senior Khmer Rouge official to be convicted for the crimes of Pol Pot's regime, more than three decades after it was evicted from Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian genocide is especially worth recalling today not only for what it was, but for the public debates in the West that immediately preceded it. "The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns," said then-congressman, now senator, Chris Dodd, by way of making the case against the Ford administration's bid to extend military assistance to the pro-American government of Lon Nol.

In the New York Times, Sydney Schanberg reported from Cambodia that "it is difficult to imagine how [Cambodian] lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." Mr. Schanberg added that "it would be tendentious to forecast [genocide] as a national policy under a Communist government once the war is over."

A year later, Mr. Schanberg was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, though not for tendentiousness.

All in all, America's withdrawal from Southeast Asia resulted in the killing of an estimated 165,000 South Vietnamese in so-called re-education camps; the mass exodus of one million boat people, a quarter of whom died at sea; the mass murder, estimated at 100,000, of Laos's Hmong people; and the killing of somewhere between one million and two million Cambodians.
Now we have the debate over Afghanistan. Should America begin to withdraw, and if so, how soon and by how much?..


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Serge Isaac Baruch - 10/27/2010


What a staunch defender of Pol Pot and Ho! Hanoi Jane's incarnation?

Mr Scherban is a Communist, that's pretty clear - not even a crypto-communist, but old fashioned, primitive Bolshevik, and to that a hysterical one.

Using his own vernacular, it has little, if any relevance to the question whether he is any of the communist parties' cardholder. He pretends to be historical, but his propagandist rant in the worst traditions of Stalinist leaflets lacks any basis in fact, and indeed at least primitive logic.

No wonder that Bret Stephens totally ignored Scherban's tirade; actually, a button with just one word on it - IGNORE! - is the only reply this follower and feeble imitator of Eric Hobsbawm deserves.


Arnold Shcherban - 8/3/2010

which challenged the validity of the essential conclusion made in your article.


Arnold Shcherban - 7/30/2010

The gist of the author's argument is that despite of the aggressions, war crimes committed by the US political and military leadership and by US troops and the troops of their local allies, which caused horrendous social, economic, and political havoc and combined many hundreds of thousands (or millions) lives already perished on both sides in their results, even more lives have been lost and would have been lost on the departure of the complete withdrawal of the US troops and elimination of any US military presence in the affected countries.
As an example, the author uses the figures for the victims of the regimes, that succeeded Americans and their puppet regimes in Vietnam and Laos, and Cambodia.
However, whether or not those figures are correct or exaggerated has little, if any relevance to the legality and morality of the above mentioned actions of the US political and military leadership.
What is crucial in the decisions on withdrawal is the admittance (regardless of how late) of the US guilt and, at the least, partial remedy for the affected people on foreign lands.
What guilt one may ask?
The guilt of starting the wars of aggression, invading and occupying or mercilessly air-bombing the countries that not only did not attack the US
territory or its troops beforehand, but constituted virtually zero threat to the US national security, without even being asked for invasion by people living there.
The guilt of installing and supporting
brutal regimes there that were culpable in deaths of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and essential robbery of those countries' reserves.
What would the most democratic, peaceful, and humane country of the world - the USA - do, if (God forbid) many of its citizens together with some foreign invader not only helped to maintain brutal military or civilian regimes that oppressed millions of common American folks, but
killed hundreds of thousands of other Americans?
Does the author try to tell me that
victorious new regime would not prosecute and put to death those traitor killers.
How about that young American that just for fighting US aggression in Afghanistan(without killing no American soldier) along with Taliban
got 40(!) years in prison?
It's more than many murderers (non-traitors) get for killing one or two US citizens.
So, the real dilemma is: do we, as a nation, have (according to all our national ideals) a responsibility to stop killing foreign people in Iraq and Afghanistan and stop devastating their lands for the benefit of the US elites now, or do we have to continue in the same pattern (up to indefinite future), just because of the possible crimes that the unfriendly to us regimes MAY commit against their own folks after our departure?

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