Forget Cambodia

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While I had warned that the Bush administration might come to regard Syria's behavior in Iraq as similar to Cambodia's behavior during the Vietnam War, it's a bit jarring to see that precise terminology now being used by U.S. officials. A New York Times piece today on growing tension between American and Syrian troops along the Syrian-Iraqi border, has this passage:

Increasingly, officials say, Syria is to the Iraq war what Cambodia was in the Vietnam War: a sanctuary for fighters, money and supplies to flow over the border and, ultimately, a place for a shadow struggle.

One might want to recall that American intervention in Cambodia was a disaster for the Cambodians, while doing virtually nothing to advance American interests. William Shawcross told the sordid tale in Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia. One reason the North Vietnamese weren't disturbed, but the Cambodians were, is that as American and South Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in April 1970, the North Vietnamese simply moved westwards, deeper into Cambodian territory.

Such a scenario wouldn't hold in Syria, not least because the insurgents entering Iraq from Syria are not a conventional military force. As U.S. officials mention Cambodia, they should (and maybe are) thinking of what the Turks did to Syria in 1998, when Turkish special forces routinely deployed deep into Syrian territory to attack bases of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) of Abdullah Ocalan, particularly in the Kamishli area. At the time, the Syrians were using the PKK to ratchet up pressure on Turkey for a host of reasons, including a more equitable sharing of the Euphrates waters. The Turks threatened to attack Syria and then-President Hafez Assad buckled. Turkey then imposed the onerous Adana Agreement (in fact negotiated by the late Ghazi Kanaan, though signed by a more senior general), and Ocalan was forced to leave Syria, to be later captured in Africa by the Turks. That ended Syrian support for the PKK.

Whether the Bush administration can pull this off in Iraq is an open question. But Cambodia is hardly the model to emulate. No one has any interest in seeing Syria descend into the chaos of post-invasion Cambodia, which led to the takeover of power by the murderous Khmer Rouge. The Assads are not guarantors of stability, on the contrary, but what comes afterwards should be prepared very carefully.

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  1. Great book. Shawcross of course approved of the invasion of Iraq.

    …but what comes afterwards should be prepared very carefully.

    HA HA HA HA!!! The hubris of you people! You’d make most 19th century boosters of “white man’s burden” blush. (A phrase used by many apologists for imperialism based on a serious misunderstanding of Kipling’s poem.)

  2. Dear lord, Nixon’s Operation Menu was such a bad idea, I can only hope today’s policy makers draw the right conclusions…..

    http://www.vietnamwar.com/Timeline69-75.htm

    ……the bizarre thing is Cambodia had offered Johnson the right of “hot pursuit” of NVA and VC, but he turned it down. Didn’t want a wider war. Then along comes Nixon who takes Pentagon itchiness to get at the Bamboo Pentagon (they were jsut certain there was one, somewhere, in the Cambo jungle) and turns it into a secret bombing campaign intended to scare the North Vs into making concessions in Paris.

  3. Yeah, that “prepared very carefully language” use the passive voice in a way that arouses more suspicion than confidence.

  4. 30 years from now, the Democratic candidate running against George P. Bush (Jeb’s son) will be an Iraq veteran. He’ll talking about his war record, and how he spent his Christmas in Syria. And everybody will doubt his story.

    And the sad thing is that this guy will actually expect us to care about what he did in Iraq, when what he should be talking about is his plan to end our occupation of Haiti, and ending the market-distorting stem cell subsidies that are making health care more expensive.

  5. thoreau, do you think that our robot leaders will allow humans to run for office? I always figured that they’d institute some sort of benign dictatorship. That, or slaughter us with Terminator-like finesse.

  6. In the best possible scenario, “carefully prepared” refers to building the capacity of Syria’s own opposition and resistance groups, to take the lead both in the liberation of their country, and the governance of it post-liberation.

    Sort of like we did somewhat with the Northern Alliance and exile opposition in Afghanistan, and as we did not at all in Iraq. If we’ve learned anything from Iraq, it’s that the military defeat of a dictators’ forces is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for the liberation of country, nor of the removal of a para-military threat against us and our allies.

  7. thoreau,

    That candidate will say he recalls hearing President Lieberman over the radio during his first trip into Syria, but Lieberman will not have become president until his second trip into Syria.

    Your candidate is clearly some sort of sociopath, who is even now plotting his Manchurian-Candidate rise to absolute power.

  8. To clarify: the “should be prepared very carefully” is not an underhanded plea for the U.S. to reshape Syria’s future, and certainly not an echo of “white man’s burden.” What it does mean is that the international community, and the U.S. in particular, should be careful in addressing a post-Assad political environment in Syria, because the consequences of mistakes there could be very dangerous. After all, Syria’s future is now being shaped by a bevy of international decisions–American, European, Arab and other, as well as decisions at the United Nations.

    My idea is not particularly original, or that controversial, so there is no need to read too much into it. I’ll save my hubris for better.

  9. thoreau, don’t blame me; I’m voting for Kodos.

  10. All of which is true except the part about careful planning for the future, which the present admin has shown no capacity for. Unless Condi rises to it and somehow convinced others.

    The end is nowhere in sight.

  11. No offence, joe, but we didn’t do shit to help the Northern Alliance until after 9/11 – in fact, it was our money (funnelled through ISI) that bankrolled the early years of the Taliban (just as our money had mostly supported Islamists rather than secularists through the whole resistance.) The US has a consistent record of dropping its local proxies as soon as its immediate goal is achieved (in that case, the Soviet withdrawal), leaving said proxies in the lurch. Hell, we’re doing the same thing to Afghanistan AGAIN – now that the Talibs are beaten down, we’re letting the situation slide so that we can focus on pissing away all our resources in Iraq.

    This isn’t necessarily the *wrong* thing to do, but it does have a cost – everyone’s real reluctant the next time we come around looking for proxies.

  12. Chelsea Clinton 2032!

  13. “Your candidate is clearly some sort of sociopath, who is even now plotting his Manchurian-Candidate rise to absolute power. That candidate will say he recalls hearing President Lieberman over the radio during his first trip into Syria, but Lieberman will not have become president until his second trip into Syria.” – joe

    My crystal ball can provide even more detail than joe’s can:

    From the shoe-box sized room in the elderly planned care facility, which stands on the eminent domain-acquired land where his home once stood, joe will be vehemently posting to HNR to rhetorically defend said sociopath as the last hope for America.

    At least that’s what he’ll be doing when he’s not trying to physically defend himself from the illiterate, mentally ill, 250 lbs. former gang-banger he is required to share his universal health care-funded room with.

  14. No offense taken, peachy. You are correct on all accounts.

    Nonetheless, our belated embrace of them is a pretty good model.

  15. Santayana had it exactly wrong: In order to make the same mistakes over and over again, you need to remember the past.

  16. This is a continuation of the Israeli government first foreign policy that included the invasion of Iraq.

    Raimondo has been hep to the fact that the cross hairs are on Syria for some time now and he has been predicting military action by our government against that nation. This is a continuation of the Israeli government first foreign policy that included the invasion of Iraq.

    Raimondo has been hep to the fact that the cross hairs are on Syria for some time now and he has been predicting military action by our government against that nation. Here is some of his latest on the matter:

    Next Stop: Syria
    The neocons aren’t through with us-not by a long-shot

    http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=7249

    Perhaps if protest, we can stop it before it starts.

  17. The U.S. has a piss poor record when it comes to helping people of other nations when they are being repressed. For godess’ sake, the U.S. insisted that Pol Pot be part of Cambodia’s coalition government.

    I’m a proud citizen of a country that always seems to support or put into power the most ruthless thug on the block. Too bad they won’t make our own dear, sweet Ruthless emperor for life somewhere.

  18. Whoa! Sorry about that, the cyber meat grinder must have gotten to my comment. My points are a discernable subset. IOW, you know what I meant.

  19. Michael Young,

    …the “should be prepared very carefully” is not an underhanded plea for the U.S. to reshape Syria’s future…

    Then why is that you only mention the Bush administration as the source of change in the write-up?

    …and certainly not an echo of “white man’s burden.”

    Actually, the language you use is a mirror-image of the “civilizing mission” rhetoric that 19th century imperialist ranting was soaking wet with. For an example of such language, see Adas’ Machines as the Measure of Men or many of the 19th century European travel narratives of Africa, etc.

  20. saw-whet,

    The Youngs of this world appear to be rather ignorant of the abysmal nation-building record we have.

    thoreau,

    Well, we tend to invade Haiti every few decades, so you are likely not far off.

  21. joe,

    With due respect, while Afghanistan showed that direct defeat of a dictator’s forces is not sufficient for peaceful transition, it did not show that it is not necessary, and neither did Afghanistan.

    But then, the collapse of the Soviet Union did.

    To all, that’s not to claim that what happened to the Soviet Union should be considered likely in any particular time period. But it does show that military intervention to effect regime change is not necessarily necessary, technically speaking…

  22. People are so worried about the Robots of the Future. I am happy to say that post 2040 we will be the robots. Bring on the Singularity!

  23. rob-

    The only reason joe will be afraid of his roommate is that he won’t be able to afford the stem cell therapies that would make him as strong as a 30 year-old. Our stem cell subsidies, coupled with heavy tarriffs and quotas on imported stem cells, will mean that we’ll be stuck with expensive domestic stem cell treatments instead of cheap stem cells imported from Pakistan’s biotech industry.

  24. joe – I wonder what will happen in the various ex-Commie countries where the US has recently been supporting the opposition… will we stick with them if things go wrong? And this is actually a matter of personal interest, as my father is deeply involved in setting up the technical side of the impending Azeri election.

  25. Peachy, I haven’t kept up with the Azerbaijan situation. What is there that we want to steal, I mean fairly trade for. Is it just their proximity to the Middle East? And didn’t the Dictator-for-Life over there make Parade Magazine’s Prick-of the-Year list?

  26. Oil, of course – the Caspian is bubbling with it, and the big question has been who’s going to get a hold of it (a bad neighbourhood, with Iran and Russia right there). The formidable old dictator went belly up in late ’03, and his rather-less-formidable son “succeeded” him in a very iffy election… a situation not terribly unlike Syria post-Assad. The US has to toe a careful line, with three different issues to watch
    – we want a government that is favourable to our oil companies
    – we also would prefer a government that isn’t a bunch of thugs (that whole “spreading democracy” thing)
    – and finally, we would like a legitimate election
    (ditto the above)

  27. As a VN veteran who was even part of a little incursion into Laos, what happened in Cambodia is a total mystery to me.

    The plight of the US in Iraq strikes me on many levels as a repeat of VN, but Cambodia?
    I’m not ready to comment upon.
    And Cambodia as Syria is three bridges too far.

    I will say this: Michael Young would like to get into Condi’s knickers??
    All this Nixonian Monopoly is so Kissingeresque, and a game played exclusively by Secretaries of State and egghead Presidents, which lets Bush out.

  28. Shawcross has pretty much revised and (generally) repudiated his main thesis in Sideshow. I.e., American bombing drove the N.V. deeper into Cambodia and further destabilized the government which permitted the Khmer Rouge to come to power.

    And he’s now a strong supporter of the Iraq war.

    SMG

  29. Perhaps if protest, we can stop it before it starts.

    Unless someone produced compelling evidence of an impending Syrian attack on American civilians, I find it hard to imagine a situation in which the American people would support an expansion of the Iraq War to include Syria.

    …I suspect the American people just want it over already.

    P.S.

    “Increasingly, officials say, Syria is to the Iraq war what Cambodia was in the Vietnam War: a sanctuary for fighters, money and supplies to flow over the border and, ultimately, a place for a shadow struggle.”

    Isn’t Saudi Arabia a sanctuary for fighters, money and supplies, etc.?

  30. and the bushies have such a great record on post-war preparation!

  31. “Unless someone produced compelling evidence of an impending Syrian attack on American civilians, I find it hard to imagine a situation in which the American people would support an expansion of the Iraq War to include Syria.

    …I suspect the American people just want it over already.”

    That may well be, but then why isn’t it over already? Why aren’t there even any real withdrawal plans? It seems to me, that the Bush administration will do whatever they can get away with, and worry about the opinions of the american people afterward.

    This being the case, I fear they will approach war with Syria the same way. Afterall, “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission”. We need to protest to whoever can still hear, and before it’s too late to avoid war with Syria, with the message “out of Iraq now”.

  32. That may well be, but then why isn’t it over already?

    Perhaps we’re hoping for an honorable withdrawal.

    It seems to me, that the Bush administration will do whatever they can get away with, and worry about the opinions of the american people afterward.

    I would expect an invasion of Syria to provoke an enormous reaction from congress. …I suspect that well’s run dry. The reaction to the Miers nomination would seem like nothing in comparison.

    …and, I suspect, the risk to the President would go beyond questions of political expediency. He might spend the last few years of his presidency as a laughing stock–like Jimmy Carter.

  33. SteveMG wrote: “Shawcross has pretty much revised and (generally) repudiated his main thesis in Sideshow. I.e., American bombing drove the N.V. deeper into Cambodia and further destabilized the government which permitted the Khmer Rouge to come to power.”

    Not true. Read his revised version of Sideshow and you’ll see it still remains one of his main arguments. As for his supporting the Iraq war, that’s for the moment irrelevant to his approach to Cambodia.

  34. Michael Young,

    As for his supporting the Iraq war, that’s for the moment irrelevant to his approach to Cambodia.

    Not really. As he has continually explained over the years, his views are colored by his vision of the U.S. as the great guarantor of a moral international order; thus the same approach informs his views on both subjects.

  35. Tom-

    I’d like to agree with you, and say that action in Syria would not be tolerated. However, I think it would depend on whether the US “merely” bombed some locations in Syria (like Cambodia) or if we instead went all-out and invaded Damascus.

    A “limited” bombing campaign would probably not phase most of the American people. I fear that a significant fraction of the public support for the war came not from fear of WMD or support for liberalization, but from an attitude that we must go over to the Middle East and kick some serious ass. Kicking Syrian ass? Totally cool.

    Of course, an occupation of Syria would be a totally different matter, and the public would of course oppose that….I hope.

  36. thoreau,

    I wonder what some folks think of Syriana? 🙂

  37. fyodor,

    “With due respect, while Afghanistan showed that direct defeat of a dictator’s forces is not sufficient for peaceful transition, it did not show that it is not necessary, and neither did Afghanistan.”

    Yeah, I really garbled the point I was trying to make. But, seeing as how at least one of those “Afghanistans” was supposed to be Iraq…tu quoque! Joe’ccuse! Heh.

    The point I was trying to make is that the military defeat of a dictators’ forces is not a necessary condition for his overthrow. No one militarily defeated the Romanian military. No one militarily defeated the Syrians in Lebanon.

    And you are also right that this point doesn’t follow from our experience in Afghanistan. I think my fingers were moving faster than my brain when I typed that.

  38. thoreau,

    “A “limited” bombing campaign would probably not phase most of the American people.” It would probably not phase most of the people crossing the borders to support the various insurgencies in Iraq, either.

    “I fear that a significant fraction of the public support for the war came not from fear of WMD or support for liberalization, but from an attitude that we must go over to the Middle East and kick some serious ass. Kicking Syrian ass? Totally cool.” I think the bloom is off that particular rose. Most Americans want their 2000 soldiers back.

  39. No one does not want 2000 American soldiers back, except the enemy they are fighting. That enemy wanted the war and we would have had it in Afghanistan or somewhere else if we had not gone into Iraq.

    This election shows we are winning and everyone should congratulate the US military, its coalition and Iraqi allies on their courage, planning and execution. The jihaids are on the run and I hope we are wise enough to let the military pursue them while they have the upper hand.

  40. This election shows we are winning and everyone should congratulate the US military, its coalition and Iraqi allies on their courage, planning and execution.

    I don’t think anyone was talking about whether we are winning. …not directly anyway. …the question had to do with whether the American people–and congress–would support military action against Syria.

    P.S. You’d have to pay this patriotic American an awful lot of money to congratulate the Bush Administration for their planning of the Iraq war.

  41. buck smith,

    That enemy wanted the war and we would have had it in Afghanistan…

    We still have it in Afghanistan and we had there prior to the invasion of Iraq.

    …or somewhere else if we had not gone into Iraq.

    So, if we had not invaded Iraq we would over a hundred thousand U.S. soldiers somewhere else in the world invading a different nation? Is that what you are arguing? Color me incredulous, but that is not what would have happened at all.

  42. buck smith,

    That enemy wanted the war and we would have had it in Afghanistan…

    We still have it in Afghanistan and we had there prior to the invasion of Iraq.

    …or somewhere else if we had not gone into Iraq.

    So, if we had not invaded Iraq we would over a hundred thousand U.S. soldiers somewhere else in the world invading a different nation? Is that what you are arguing? Color me incredulous, but that is not what would have happened at all.

  43. buck smith,

    The jihaids are on the run…

    Not really. Well, yes, they are “on the run,” they are running into Iraq.

  44. “they are running into Iraq.” Yes, and the coalition and iraqi forces are killing them off there. Increasingly in Iraq the jihadis have to fight among a population hostile to their efforts against an Arabic-speaking security force that is backed with US close air support. The jihadis used to go to Afghanistan for training, now they go to Iraq and die.

  45. buck smith,

    Yes, and the coalition and iraqi forces are killing them off there.

    And in turn they continue to kill Iraqis, etc. in great swathes.

    I noticed that you avoided my other statements. I wonder why? 🙂

  46. buck smith,

    The jihadis used to go to Afghanistan for training, now they go to Iraq and die.

    Well, they were always willing to fight and die, so the situation has yet to actually change.

  47. Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Let’s sponsor a campaign encouraging young Muslim men to go fight the US in Iraq! Surely there must be some young men who are on the fence and not quite sure whether they’ll do it or not. Better that they go there and die than go somewhere else, or stay out of the field but find other ways to support the Jihad while alive.

    We could spend money on propaganda, plane tickets, even weaponry to encourage those who lack the equipment to follow through with it.

    What could possibly go wrong with this?

  48. thoreau,

    *smirk*

  49. Hey, I’ve got a great idea!

    That must have been the Bush Plan all along!

    …I knew they were doing something smart, I just didn’t realize what it was until now. …Trick muslim radicals to bog us down in a quagmire so that our military has lots of people to shoot at…it all makes sense now!

  50. Tom and Hakluyt-

    If you guys don’t like that idea, it’s only because you have a deep personal hatred for this President that blinds you to the brilliance of his plan.

    You guys obviously need some therapy, what with the obsessive way that you keep saying “Chimpler” and all that.

  51. I think we need a shorter term for the “let’s-trick-the-terrorists-into-bogging-us-down-in-a-quagmire” strategy. …you know, something like DDT or RDT.

    I wonder how many of the commenters that argue that the occupation is good because of all the benefits it brings to the Iraqi people also argue that the occupation is good because it attracts thousands of suicidal terrorists into the country.

    I’m not saying those things are mutually exclusive, necessarily, but I’d like to see a hawk square that apparent contradiction.

  52. So, does “Chimpler” mean “Chimp + Hitler?” 🙂

  53. Tom Crick-

    How about Flypaper Theory?

  54. So Buck, would you say that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, or would you say that we’re just about to turn the corner?

    Maybe we’re a about to turn a lighted corner, or maybe there’s a turn at the end of the tunnel.

    Either way, after having turned so many corners that I have motion sickness, our military finds itself in the most desireable of situations – no matter which direction they shoot in, there are insurgents to hit.

  55. How about Flypaper Theory?

    I like Flypaper Theory!

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