Comparing What We Didn't Do in Cambodia with What We Did Do in Iraq to Stop Genocide

Frida Ghitis, author of The End of Revolution: a Changing World in the Age of Live Television, in the LAT (Feb. 11 2004):

Just about the time that the White House announced plans for an investigation into faulty Iraq intelligence, my Cambodian friend Phead took me to visit one of the monuments to the victims of his nation's genocide. On the way to see the collection of human bones and skulls gathered from the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, I asked Phead what he thought about the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Phead, like other survivors of this country's almost incomprehensible tragedy, has plenty of reason to abhor war -- and to resent and distrust the United States. After all, Washington's Vietnam adventure provided the ferment for the Cambodian civil war that in the 1970s propelled to power the deranged regime of Pol Pot.

The U.S. had carpet-bombed Cambodia in an effort to root out Vietnamese fighters and their supply lines. By some accounts, the bombings killed more than 200,000 villagers. To this day, the scattering of unexploded American ordnance -- along with millions of land mines left by an assortment of armies -- continues to take limbs and lives.

In this atmosphere of chaos Pol Pot came to power, and in less than four years the Paris-educated leader and his followers pursued a Maoist utopia that pushed this country into a nightmare of terror, hunger and death. Other countries contributed to decades of bloodshed in Cambodia, but the main culprit was the demented Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge followers.....

Stopping the killing in Iraq has now become the argument of choice for defenders of that war. Politicians and historians will continue to debate the true reasons behind Washington's decision to target Hussein's regime. Standing in Cambodia's killing fields, what seems inexcusable is doing nothing to stop genocide.

The U.S. track record on stopping mass murders remains unimpressive. The U.S. -- and the rest of the world -- has looked the other way while hundreds of thousands were killed, most recently in places like Rwanda and Sudan.

The experience of Cambodia -- and Iraq -- points to the need for a clear policy spelling out what is to be done when a twisted dictator sets out to destroy his own people.

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