Monday, January 24, 2005

Chomsky's classics

As I said previously, One of Chomsky's early classics is supposed to be 'American Power and the New Mandarins'. I managed to get it from my local library. It was re-published a couple of years ago, but they had the original edition of 1969. Here is the opening paragraph of 'The Logic of Withdrawal' from April 1968 (the gist of this I remembered):
International affairs can be complex, a matter of irreconcilable interests, each with a claim to legitimacy, and conflicting principles, none of which can be lightly abandoned. The current Middle East crisis is a typical, painful example. American interference in the affairs of Vietnam is one of the rare exceptions to this general rule. The simple fact is that there is no legitimate interest or principle to justify the  use of American military force in Vietnam.
A pretty polished paragraph. Anyway, I haven't read that yet, but I have read 'Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship' (reproduced here, without the footnotes). It certainly does seem more closely argued than his later work. 40 pages or so deal with the Spanish Civil War, centring on a critique of a book written 'within the consensus'. One small point on attitudes in Britain:
In 1934 Lloyd George stated that "in a very short time, perhaps in a year, perhaps in two, the conservative elements in this country will be looking to Germany as the bulwark against Communism in Europe.... Do not let us be in a hurry to condemn Germany. We shall be welcoming Germany as our friend." (Page 100)
The reference to 'conservative elements' makes it seem unlikely that sympathy for Hitler's regime reflected Lloyd George's own views.

On boycotts

During the Palestinian elections earlier this month, it was mentioned on BBC WS that Hamas were claiming that people who did not go to the polls were in effect voting for them. Of course, how you vote should remain secret, but whether you vote or not is fairly public knowledge. Nobody was suggesting though that Hamas would kill Palestinians who voted. In Iraq, it's different. From  The New York Times 20 Jan 2005  ('Logistical Challenges Remain Before Iraqis Cast Ballots'):
The voter will mark at most one box on each sheet, then fold them, walk to a ballot box and drop them in. Just before, a ballot box officer, in one of the most significant steps of the day, will apply a ruddy indelible ink to one finger of the voter to prevent him or her from voting twice.

Mr. Valenzuela said that because the mark could expose a voter to insurgent violence, the commission considered using ink that could be seen only with an ultraviolet lamp. But aside from the technical pain involved, this "invisible" ink was rejected when the Iraqis on the commission said that establishing the vote as visibly untainted by fraud was the paramount consideration - even if the mark depressed turnout.
It should be remembered though that the intimidation is only affecting parts of the country, one of them being Baghdad. Even C4 News, among the usual gloom, last week showed a large rally of a Shi'a party in the south. In contrast to places where candidates cannot even reveal their names, the FT reports (22 Jan) that in Basra there is a lively political scene.


In the FT Magazine (15 Jan), Igal Sarna writes of the Palestinian Kung Fu team on its way to a competition in North Korea via China - Freedom Fighters (Link - subscribers only). On arrival in Beijing, they are asked where they are from:
"Palestine," answered the kung fu team.
"Pakistan?" asked the Chinese.
They had never heard of the place.
"Isra-eel," tried the team members. This, too, meant nothing to the policemen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


I don't know if any women read this.. . Toxic Breast Milk? :

I sent my breast milk off to be tested for certain flame retardants called PBDE's, reputed in some press reports to be ''the next PCB,'' a class of industrial chemicals banned in the late 70's. ... one thing became clear to me: we live in a flame-retardant nation. The reason is polyurethane.  ...  It has just one problem: it's highly flammable.

[The Swedes found that] from the early 70's, when they first appeared commercially, to 1998, levels of PBDE's in breast milk were doubling every five years, a rate unmatched by any known chemical in the last 25 years. ... When European scientists first saw the test results of American women, they thought there must be a mistake. Our levels were 10 to 100 times higher than those of women in Europe and Japan.

''No one at this time knows at what levels nursing is not the best approach and in fact becomes harmful to babies, but such levels must exist.''

Florence Williams' article is still available here.

Iraqi Bloggers Central
Iraq the Model
Martini Republic
Baghdad Burning
Free Iraqi
Two more things from the latest NYT magazine, on taxes and Social Security -  Breaking the Code  and  A Question of Numbers, The conservative New Deal:
But in this 70-year struggle, no other conservative has ever come as close to transforming the program as George W. Bush. ...

[His reform] could do more to reverse the New Deal, and even the Great Society, than Goldwater, Stockman and Reagan ever dreamed of. 
I forgot to give this link when I mentioned the blogs from Iraq  before. More on this here: American Iraqi Blog Provokes Intrigue - (see table right).

The presidential elections in Iran are due on 17 June, according to The Guardian last week. More on Iran: U_S_ Is Punishing 8 Chinese Firms for Aiding Iran -

'The Power of Nightmares' is repeated again this week. 'Best of all, by the end of the third part..., you may find yourself a lot less worried about global terrorism,' says David Butcher in the Radio Times. How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb. And I thought it was all about making us even more worried about the manipulations of our leaders.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The end of the world

War Blogs from Iraq: Invaluable Source of News, via. From the same source, 'Through a Crystal Ball, Darkly - A Journalist Waxes Future Visions' by Amir Taheri. Anthony Cordesman has a new study on Iraq for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (via the FT, 8 Jan)...

 Something I heard on BBC WS a couple of days ago, though maddeningly I couldn't find anything online: Iran and Russia have agreed a deal with Tajikistan  to develop its electricity-generating capacity. I did though come across this, which I remember reading at the time: 'What is to be done?' from Mar 2004.

13 Jan - Bernard Guetta was talking about this this morning : Facing Facts About Iraq's Election . It is a long editorial. Here are the two concluding paragraphs:
Mr. Bush does not need to call for a postponement of elections himself. He simply needs to take the pressure off the Iraqi authorities, and let them know they have the power to make whatever decision is best for their country. Some members of the interim government, including people close to Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, have shown some interest in putting off the voting if there is a chance of winning more Sunni participation, and others are said to be leaning that way in private.

The run-up to the election is taking place at a time when there's speculation about whether President Bush intends to use the arrival of a new, elected government as an occasion to declare victory and begin pulling out American troops. If such an idea is lurking in even the most remote corner of Mr. Bush's mind, he should at least do everything within his power - including welcoming a postponement - to prevent those elections from being something more than just the starting gun for a civil war.
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti in The Guardian ...
The southbound junction of the M42 and M6 toll in England: if you arrive at most times of the day, you won't see a problem, but at peak times it's a bottleneck. Obviously, everything has been done to favour the private (toll-paying) side over the public (toll-free) side, but in some ways it is self-defeating. A concrete barrier between the two extends so far that, with traffic trying to merge left towards the M42 and traffic trying to merge right towards the M6, there is not enough time for it to sort itself out before queues are met at another junction on the M42 further on. It still saves time though if you are heading for M6 south / east.

The Channel Tunnel experience has disabused us of the idea that privately financed projects could magically solve the problem of major infrastructure improvements costing more or taking longer than planned. What they really do is allow them to be de-politicised - so that decisions to build new roads are made solely on the basis of commercial considerations.
Only heard about this at second hand -BBC2's Horizon on the dimming effect. Sounds like the end of the world in a hundred years or so. Or at least the end of human life on this planet. At least for almost all of us. Link here. ... Thinking about a mail-shot we do - use email where possible and reduce use of paper. More junk mail received -  straight to recycling.

15 Jan - the Horizon programme's on again tonight 20:10.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The 3 dots (Part 2)

Why though should Chomsky distort Kennan's views in the way he did? After all, Kennan did oppose the Vietnam War quite early and, writing in 2002 (he celebrated his 100th birthday last year), also opposed the looming Iraq War.

Part of the answer is that What Uncle Sam Really Wants seems to have been written for the particularly simple-minded and the other two online works I mentioned make a bit more effort at serious analysis. But it is necessary to look a little deeper.

Chomsky is no Stalinist, unlike John Pilger with his praise for the Soviet-backed regimes in Afghanistan, or George Galloway with Iraq. Some of his ideas are similar to those of the Trotskyist (*)  James Burnham who wrote that German Nazis and Soviet communists were both part of the new managerial class which was even taking over in 'capitalist' America. For what Burnham wrote in the early 1940's, admittedly, I only have Orwell's word, but in general that tends to be good enough for me. Thus, Chomsky writes:

Gorbachev's moves ... were undertaken in an effort to drive the cruel and inefficient centralized state constructed by Lenin and his successors towards economic and social change... (Ch3)

For all the talk about free enterprise, 'business circles have long taken for granted that the state must play a major role in maintaining the system of private profit' (Deterring Democracy, Ch4). 'Current U.S. economic problems derive from the relatively free and open character of the society, which precludes the more efficient fascist-style methods that are now hailed as a triumph of free enterprise and democracy' (Ch3). Chomsky quotes John Lewis Gaddis on 'the primacy that has been accorded economic considerations [namely, state economic management] ', with his own input in brackets (Ch1). Writing about the end of the Soviet Union: 

the immediate destruction of the incipient socialist tendencies that arose during the ferment of popular struggle in 1917 has been depicted by the world's two great propaganda systems as a victory for socialism. For the Bolsheviks, the goal of the farce was to extract what advantage they could from the moral prestige of socialism; for the West, the purpose was to defame socialism and entrench the system of ownership and management control over all aspects of economic, political, and social life. The collapse of the Leninist system cannot properly be called a victory for socialism, any more than the collapse of Hitler and Mussolini could be described in these terms; but as in those earlier cases, it does eliminate a barrier to the realization of the libertarian socialist ideals of the popular movements that were crushed in Russia in 1917, Germany shortly after, Spain in 1936, and elsewhere, often with the Leninist vanguard leading the way in taming the rascal multitude with their libertarian socialist and radical democratic aspirations. (Ch 12)
The good and few may be the gentry or industrialists, or the vanguard Party and the Central Committee, or the intellectuals who qualify as "experts" because they articulate the consensus of the powerful (to paraphrase one of Henry Kissinger's insights). They manage the business empires, ideological institutions, and political structures, or serve them at various levels. (The good and few, 1991)
Chomsky, however, does not share Burnham's 'instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment'. If US power is the dominant force in the world, he seeks to criticize its exercise at every turn.

Thus, the peace between Croatia and Serbia at the Dayton accords demonstrated that 'the U.S. understands only force' and is therefore to blame for the Kosovo crisis (Crisis in the Balkans, 1999). Kosovo still has problems, of course, but think how much of the analysis in this piece is irrelevant, less than 6 years after: look at Serbia first, but also Croatia, Turkey, the Kurds,  Iraq - then the US was criticized for preferring 'stability' - and Sierra Leone.

A favourite construct is the 'boundaries of dissent': on Central America in the 1980s, for example, the US 'elite', or mainstream, are described as agreeing that the ends of US policy are good, the only disagreement being about means, with the non-interventionist, isolationist side (confusingly called 'liberal') allowed to argue that there are not sufficient of the national interests involved to be worth the 'blood and treasure'. Without even trying, it can be seen that this is nonsense. The Fromkin and Chace article on Vietnam that I referenced in the previous post cites the views of Robert E. White, a former ambassador to El Salvador, at a conference on Vietnam in 1983:

He was sure that the forces the United States opposed in Central America were authentically and indigenously revolutionary, while the forces we supported no longer represented the region’s realities—if indeed they ever did.

If openly fascist regimes in far-eastern 'capitalist' countries are more efficient, quite why in the US the elite prefers to impose control by hidden persuasion - and how it manages to be the dominant power all the same -  is never explained.

(*) Chomsky would describe himself not as a Trotskyist, but as a libertarian socialist, since Trotsky was equally to blame as Lenin in 1917; but the popular movements in Spain, whose suppression he relates Orwell describing, were often Trotskyist. 

Burnham is also mentioned in  'Trotskyism to Anachronism ' , on neo-conservatism and its rise and  fall (writing in 1995).

The 3 dots

From his latest interview, Christopher Hitchens talking about Noam Chomsky (via SIAW):
I recently looked up some of his old polemical classics - on the Vietnam war, for example, and on East Timor and on Sharon's conduct in Lebanon in 1982 - and found them still to be highly cogent and lucid.
Chomsky's early classics unfortunately do not seem to be available online (*). I have looked at Necessary Illusions, 1989 and Deterring Democracy, 1992. There was plenty about Central America in the 1980s, but not much about Vietnam, or Indochina as foreign policy experts tend to describe the issue. I did find this bit: U.S. bombing  'contributed significantly to the rise, and probably the brutality, of the Khmer Rouge' (NI, Ch 5 ). But I will come back to Chomsky later.

The archives of Foreign Affairs are quite illuminating: here, for example, is Foreign Policy and the Democratic Process: Is a Foreign Policy Consensus Possible?, Fall, 1978.

One important article was written in 1947 by "Mr. X", who turned out to be the head of the US State Department's Policy Planning Staff, George F. Kennan. The article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct", set out the strategy of containment (link). Unlike the neo-cons (**),  Kennan did not ignore the sources of Soviet weakness:
Much has been done to increase efficiency of labor and to teach primitive peasants something about the operation of machines. But maintenance is still a crying deficiency of all Soviet economy. Construction is hasty and poor in quality. Depreciation must be enormous. And in vast sectors of economic life it has not yet been possible to instill into labor anything like that general culture of production and technical self-respect which characterizes the skilled worker of the west.
Russia will remain economically as vulnerable, and in a certain sense an impotent, nation, capable of exporting its enthusiasms and of radiating the strange charm of its primitive political vitality but unable to back up those articles of export by the real evidences of material power and prosperity.
Kennan also wrote, in PPS/23:
We should cease to talk about vague and—for the Far East—unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization.
Wikipedia, apparently following Noam Chomsky here and  here (more from here, and here), quote this as:  'A document written by Mr.Kennan which states: "We should cease to talk about vague and. . . unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization." ', creating a general from a specific ( 'In the face of this situation we would be better off to dispense now...' - my emphasis). That was just one of Chomsky's sets of dots that accomplish the task. See also - A response.... After that, it is difficult to rely too heavily on the credibility of Chomsky's writing.

To get back to Kennan's point, note too that it is based on an assessment of economic realities: 'The greatest of the Asiatic peoples—the Chinese and the Indians—have not yet even made a beginning at the solution of the basic demographic problem involved in the relationship between their food supply and their birth rate.'

From Vietnam: The Retrospect:..., David Fromkin and James Chace, Foreign Affairs, Spring 1985.  (The first of the authors is not to be confused with David Frum of 'axis of evil' fame):
Closely allied with the theory of global containment is the so-called domino theory, according to which Southeast Asia was a region such that if one country fell to communism, the effect would be to knock down the countries around so that they would fall to communism too. C. L. Sulzberger of The New York Times employed a different metaphor and pictured America’s Asian and Pacific allies as being caught in a giant nutcracker between Red China and radical Indonesia. ...

Some of those most involved in sending American troops to Vietnam, however, argue that this is precisely because America won its anti-domino, anti-nutcracker victory two decades ago. Up until 1965, leaders of the domino countries—Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and even India—are said to have privately told the American government that it was vital for the United States to stay the course in Vietnam so as to save them from being crushed between China and Indonesia. In 1965-66 the arms of the nutcracker fell off: a new anti-communist government took power in Indonesia and destroyed the communist party in that country, while China withdrew from world affairs and concentrated her energies on the convulsions of the Cultural Revolution. In his 1967 memorandum, Secretary of Defense McNamara stated that, "To the extent that our original intervention and our existing actions in Vietnam were motivated by the perceived need to draw the line against Chinese expansionism in Asia, our objective has already been attained."
Similar analysis by McGeorge Bundy follows, cited by Chomsky in Rethinking Camelot, Ch1,  (1993). Comparing Vietnam with Iraq, John Lewis Gaddis says recently:
Historians now acknowledge that American counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam were succeeding during the final years of that conflict; the problem was that support for the war had long since crumbled at home. Military learning is also taking place in Iraq, but the domestic opposition is not even approaching Vietnam-era proportions: 2004 was nothing like 1968.
According to 'Vietnam: The Retrospect:...', Nixon and Kissinger believed that they had 'succeeded in negotiating a satisfactory end to the war'. Rather, it was Congress that pulled the rug away. 'In his 1983 Wall Street Journal article, Nixon wrote that, "Between 1973 and 1975, Congress cut the arms budget for South Vietnam by 76 percent. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, doubled its shipment of arms to North Vietnam."... Ellsworth Bunker, U.S. ambassador to Saigon, said that by the end of 1972, "we had achieved our objective, made it possible for the South Vietnamese to defend themselves." ' Fromkin and Chace comment:
Many of us would agree with Mr. Nixon that the regimes America supported in Indochina were less bad than the regimes America opposed; as a moral matter we were right to choose the lesser of two evils. But there is a practical side to the issue too, and it can be expressed simply by saying that we want to win. What was wrong in backing a weak, corrupt, inefficient regime against a brutally powerful, fanatically puritanical, ruthlessly efficient adversary was that our side was likely to lose.
Having learned in 1966 that the enlarged war to which he had just committed the United States suddenly had become unnecessary, should [the President] have recalled the American armies and brought them home? Would that not have inflicted a damaging blow to American prestige?
Henry Kissinger writes in his memoirs,
For nearly a generation the security and progress of free peoples had depended on confidence in America. We could not simply walk away from an enterprise involving two administrations, five allied countries, and thirty-one thousand dead as if we were switching a television channel. . . . As the leader of democratic alliances we had to remember that scores of countries and millions of people relied for their security on our willingness to stand by allies. . . . We could not revitalize the Atlantic Alliance. . . . We would not be able to move the Soviet Union toward the imperative of mutual restraint. . . . We might not achieve our opening to China. . . .
And, Mr. Kissinger added, we might not have succeeded in our Middle East diplomacy if world confidence in America’s willingness to honor all of its international engagements were to be weakened or lost.
The article then puts alternative views to this argument. I would like however to point out a recent parallel here. When, in early 2003 with over 100,000 US troops on its borders, the Iraqi regime began to partially comply with demands for UN weapons inspections, why was the US not satisfied with this? It seemed to me that this too came down to a matter of prestige: only total victory was sufficient.

(*) My old copy of Fontana Modern Masters on Chomsky suggests  'American Power and the New Mandarins'.  All I could find online was this conservative critique. 'As a tenured professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he has enjoyed a privileged position from which to launch his anti-American polemics.' This rather makes Chomsky's point for him, about suppression of dissent by economic means.

(**) 'they ignored the Soviet economy, even after one of their own, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had begun warning of its deterioration.' See 'Trotskyism to Anachronism: The Neoconservative Revolution', John B. Judis, Foreign Affairs, July/August 1995


We have heard a lot about neo-conservatism, of course, over the last three years. Neo-liberalism is a term often used to avoid the confusion between the different meanings 'liberal' has in the US and France, say. 'Neo-Christianity' was used by William Empson in 'Milton's God' (revised ed. 1965). He wrote of the neo-Christians:

they boast of the morally disgusting aspects of the religion, which more traditional Christian writers have often been anxious to hide or explain decently.

When I see something by Adam Curtis or John Laughland, though, the expression that comes to my mind is one that Orwell used: neo-pessimists. The word did not really catch on. It did not help that Orwell used it to refer to two different (if in his mind related) groups: here to refer to power worshippers such as James Burnham; elsewhere to refer mainly to conservative Christian writers such as T. E. Hulme, T. S. Eliot and Malcolm Muggeridge. This, however, is still worth quoting:

The danger of ignoring the neo-pessimists lies in the fact that up to a point they are right. So long as one thinks in short periods it is wise not to be hopeful about the future. Plans for human betterment do normally come unstuck, and the pessimist has many more opportunities of saying ‘I told you so’ than the optimist. By and large the prophets of doom have been righter than those who imagined that a real step forward would be achieved by universal education, female suffrage, the League of Nations, or what not.
The real answer is to dissociate Socialism from Utopianism. Nearly all neo-pessimist apologetics consist in putting up a man of straw and knocking him down again. The man of straw is called Human Perfectibility. Socialists are accused of believing that society can be—and indeed, after the establishment of Socialism, will be—completely perfect; also that progress is inevitable. Debunking such beliefs is money for jam, of course.

The answer, which ought to be uttered more loudly than it usually is, is that Socialism is not perfectionist, perhaps not even hedonistic. Socialists don’t claim to be able to make the world perfect: they claim to be able to make it better. And any thinking Socialist will concede to the Catholic that when economic injustice has been righted, the fundamental problem of man’s place in the universe will still remain. (As I Please, 24 Dec 1943)

Monday, January 10, 2005

Strings attached

4 Jan, from BBC WS: food aid can create a parallel distribution system, undercutting local producers. This can be avoided if food is sourced from local sources, but the US mandates that all aid should be grown by American farmers, 50% should be processed and packaged in the US and 75% should be delivered by US-flagged ships wherever possible.


Poppies need 10 times more labour hours than wheat, but they bring in 30 to 40 times the net profit.
Chris Horwood, from Afghanistan (FT Magazine, 18 Dec).


8 Jan, article in The Daily Mail: Africa needs a new imperialism (from the English-speaking countries only of course), citing Niall Ferguson and unspecified pieces in Foreign Affairs.

Kenan Malik, 'Are Muslims Hated?', on C4, takes the secularist line (I only saw the last 15 minutes).


10 Jan : I have commented here on the Newsweek article.

Update(24 Feb):  Since CetP seems to have done some sort of clear out of his comments, I will republish here:
Surely like most critics of the war (or French people), you would agree that we are already a long way down the slippery slope? And I don't find your citation from Orwell very apposite.

Quite apart from the risk of American counterstrikes (and errors therein), support by the Sunnis for the insurgency is not 'cost-free': they complain that the elections will not be fair, given the security situation, but by supporting the insurgency, the minority are depriving themselves of representation.  

By the way, I heard that the PS (Francois Hollande) were criticising Chirac's advice to journalists not to go to Iraq, especially with the elections coming up (France Inter ( 10 Jan).
 01.11.05 - 1:43 pm
Emmanuel replied:
The Orwell citation was meant to reflect the "fight terror with terror" aspect of death squads (see Kleiman for more).

You're quite right on the (already) costly and self-defeating path chosen by (a certain portion of) the Sunni population. But remember that the Sunni minority consider it has very little to gain from the elections, and much to lose if a Shia gov't in Baghdad decide to play the ethnic card. And the chosen electoral system has done little, to say the least, to allay those concerns.

Concerning Hollande : you heard right. See Le Nouvel Obs', for instance (you read French, don't you?).
01.11.05 - 5:24 pm
From the 2nd link:
[Bremer's] aides say the decision was urged on him by United Nations experts who argued that there was no other way to ensure elections quickly.
 NYT - U_S_ Is Haunted by Initial Plan for Iraq Voting

2004 Highlights

or just an excuse to blog things I didn't get around to at the time

The European Social Forum was mentioned a couple of times on Harry's Place before they rightly described it as 'so-called' (The stench of betrayal, 16 Oct). I heard a little bit on the BBC World Service. One attendee said he was really looking forward to hearing John Pilger, George Galloway and George Monbiot (OK, it's not fair to classify  Monbiot with the others). Another said 'The Iraq war was an ecological disaster.' Not heard that one before.   (more here)


On a more serious note, Vladimir Putin, after Beslan: 'The weak are beaten'.


Not from 2004, but from a book published in 1999, which I happened to read last year,
Timothy Garton Ash's  'History of the Present'. Linguist Max Weinreich in 1945 : 'A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.'


I had a look at a weblog called susurration because it reminds me of something I read by Ralph (David's  Dad) Miliband. Sadly, it did not seem to have been updated recently. But it did give a link to a comparison between the US and Rome, which was interesting, if a little prone to fantasy when projecting into the future.   

Cato the Censor's "Carthago delenda est" reminds us what empires are like when they are really ruthless.

And I did get to find out what a meme really is (and how to spell 'susurration').

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Cambodia and Iran

I can't remember much from the time about the Vietnam War, but I do recall something by Noam Chomsky that said that whereas most foreign policy issues were very complex, this one was simple: there was no justification for the US intervention. Another theory went something along these lines: if China felt less pressure from the US in the South-East, it could turn its attention towards Russia (the Soviet Union); this would distract Russia, who would then - hey presto - be less of threat to Western  Europe. The only snag with this was that North Vietnam was not an extension of China, but looked more to Moscow for support.

For example, this from 1986: 'The Chinese, as "punishment" for Hanoi's invasion of Cambodia, launched a brief attack on several northern provinces of Vietnam in February 1979. Today Beijing still supports the rebel Khmer Rouge forces and maintains military pressure on Hanoi from its border with Vietnam.'

More recently, 'Pol Pot:  The History of a Nightmare' by Philip Short, reviewed by Justin Wintle (FT magazine, 6 Nov) describes the Khmer Rouge leaders - Pol Pot and others - 'who had swallowed, but never adequately digested, a Stalinist version of Marxism-Leninism while studying in Paris in the early 1950s.' Just like under Stalin, even top military leaders and party members were liable to be tortured and executed.

All told, somewhere between one-and-a-half and two million Cambodians died as a result of Khmer Rouge "policies" - out of a population that in 1975 numbered about seven million: quantitively far fewer than the victims of Mao Zedong or Stalin, but proportionately much greater.
The North Vietnamese and Viet Cong built sanctuaries across the border, inviting first South Vietnam, then  the US, to "widen the war", with devastating results. Suffering dreadful aerial bombardment, large swathes of Cambodia's peasant population were literally driven into the nascent Khmer Rouge's arms.
So now, maybe some parallels, if not very close ones, could be drawn with more recent events in the Middle East. Some are starting to think that the wrong country was targeted: Iraq does not appear to have been close to having nuclear weapons; Iran may be. A US intervention in one place (Vietnam / Iraq) leads to unforeseen consequences in a neighbouring country (Cambodia / Iran). On the other hand, the comparison could be made the other way: Iran was seen as the big danger in the 1980s, but in the event the Iraqi regime proved to be a greater threat to its own people (and the region).

Probably, the main lesson to be drawn is to avoid seeing one homogenous enemy, whether Communism or Islamism, and ignoring key differences.

Updated 4 Jan


The Hugh Grant character in Bridget Jones, asked about the situation in Chechnya:
- I couldn't give a f**k, Jones.