Karl D. Jackson of the National Security Council wrote a book called "Cambodia 1975-1978, Rendezvous with Death," a harrowing account of the literal and ferocious Maoists who murdered more than one million countrymen and tortured, maimed and starved countless others.
Jackson is, nonetheless, a formulator of a policy that acquiesces in the presence of the Khmer Rouge in government councils. It would almost seem the author had not read his own book.
Some bemused observers think that Jackson, an erstwhile professor at Berkeley, is another academic proving his toughness -- like Walt Rostow, resident hawk of the Johnson years -- at the expense of Asian peasants.
The administration has had trouble defining its policy toward Cambodia, and more defending it. Secretary of State James A. Baker III said at the outset of the Bush regime that "we accept the Khmer Rouge as a fact of life." But after a spate of eviscerating editorials and sounds of revulsion from the rest of the world, he protested that we would never countenance their return to power. On the other hand, we will never accept the continuation of the regime headed by Hun Sen, the prime minister put in place by Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia in 1978. It is an event the administration seems to equate with the Holocaust.
We all know what the United States does when it wants a certain party kept out of government. The Nicaraguan model is vivid. We raised an army to dislodge the Sandinistas. We waged an unrelenting propaganda campaign against Daniel Ortega, and we lavishly financed his rival, Violeta Chamorro.
We have done none of those things to exterminate the Khmer Rouge, nor are we likely to. The only morality our position requires is the characterization of Hun Sen by a White House official as a former Khmer Rouge commander "with a lot of blood on his hands -- he carried out pogroms in the east, while Pot Pot did them in the west."
"The administration says its bottom line is 'No more Khmer Rouge,' but its real bottom line is 'No Hun Sen,' " says Rep. Chester G. Atkins (D-Mass.), who has Cambodian constituents and has fought to stop the flow of military supplies to the non-communist resistance, which shares them with the Khmer Rouge.
Lately, Australia has been working on a peace initiative that would bring in the United Nations to create and operate an interim Cambodian government while organizing an election. That scheme would require Hun Sen to step aside. An alternative plan calls for a Supreme National Council of 12 members: six for Hun Sen; two for Prince Norodom Sihanouk; two for Son Sann, another anti-communist, and two for the Khmer Rouge. Apparently, we could go for either of these schemes.
We have been conspicuously less receptive to other regional initiatives. In fact, we treat them as we did Central American "meddlers," like Costa Rica's former president Oscar Arias.
The Japanese put a toe in the water, inviting representatives of the Khmer Rouge, the prince and Hun Sen to Tokyo. Sihanouk and Hun Sen agreed to a cease-fire, but the Khmer Rouge said no. The State Department pooh-poohed the idea as unworkable.
Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan of Thailand, who set out 18 months ago to end the war, has been put down hard. He first offended in 1989 when he recognized Hun Sen and received him in Thailand with honors. For this effrontery he was bawled out by George Bush at Hirohito's funeral.
On his recent visit, he was denied an appearance before a joint session of Congress. It was Congress's loss -- he is a funny and ebullient speaker -- and he got no White House dinner. He was being punished, it seems, for forgetting his place. Unabashed, he proposed making the refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border neutral. This idea also got a sneer from State.
At his press club speech, Chatichai was asked if he thought the United States should lift its economic sanctions against Cambodia. He replied cryptically, "I believe the war is over."
That is not the Foggy Bottom view. Not only have we refused to recognize Cambodia, we adamantly reject the idea of recognizing Vietnam. The British, coping with the flood of boat people into Hong Kong, have begged us to "normalize" so that conditions in Vietnam would be more palatable. But we are in cement. Not until Vietnam contributes to a "comprehensive settlement" in Cambodia will we budge.
And in another exercise in having it both ways, we alone oppose involuntary repatriation of the refugees, and at the same time refuse to take in any more except for certified "political refugees."
It seems a perfect time for everyone to read Karl Jackson's book and rediscover what it's all about in Southeast Asia.