from the book

The CIAs Greatest Hits

by Mark Zepezauer


In 1955, when CIA intervention in Cambodia began, there was no communist threat to rationalize it. Sandwiched as he was between two US client states, Thailand and South Vietnam, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the popular sovereign of Cambodia, had one overriding goal-to keep his country from becoming involved in the Vietnam War. To that end, he stuck tenaciously to a policy of neutralism from 1955 to 1970, accepting aid from both communist and capitalist states but criticizing each on occasion.

Sihanouk dismissed as fraudulent CIA documents that predicted imminent Communist aggression against him, but the plots and coup attempts by US-backed factions were all too real. In his memoir, My War with the CIA, Sihanouk alleges at least two assassination plots against him. There were also numerous incursions by Thai, South Vietnamese and US troops, a 1958 CIA-backed coup attempt and countless "accidental" bombing runs into Cambodian territory. Sihanouk's unwillingness to join the crusade against Communism made him the CIA's enemy.

Perhaps the final straw was when Sihanouk denounced US military incursions into Cambodia at a major press conference (dutifully, the US media barely mentioned his charges). In March 1970, Sihanouk was deposed by a CIA puppet named Lon Nol, who immediately began committing Cambodian troops to the war in Vietnam.

With Sihanouk out of the way, war quickly engulfed Cambodia. US bombing intensified near the Vietnamese border, driving North Vietnamese and NLF troops deeper into Cambodia. From 1969 to 1975, US bombing killed 600,000 Cambodians and created a full-scale famine.

Not surprisingly, forces opposed to Lon Nol's regime grew rapidly. In 1975, one of them, the Communist Khmer Rouge, took power (before Lon Nol, they'd been a tiny, marginal group).

As depicted in the film The Killing Fields, the Khmer Rouge carried out many atrocities, executing probably between 100,000 and 350,000 people. For propaganda purposes, Western reporters inflated the total by adding famine deaths to it.

The Khmer Rouge's hideous crimes didn't prevent the CIA from supporting it after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, and for many years thereafter. As the Arabs say, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."

CIAs Greatest Hits

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