Saturday, March 03, 2007

William Shawcross

I remember reading William Shawcross's book Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia shortly after it came out in 1979, a brutal indictment of U.S. policy in Cambodia. Essentially (bear in mind I read the book twenty-five years ago) it painted a picture of a peaceful and essentially apolitical Cambodia dragged against its will into political and military conflict by Nixon, Kissinger and the United States. The bottom line: the United States created the Khmer Rouge, or at least gave them traction, and was responsible for the horrors there. The book was passionate, brilliantly argued, and extremely well written.

I have seen reports over the past several years of Shawcross's conversion, although I have not followed them closely. Having recently read Mark Moyars's magnificent Triumph Forsaken, however, I followed the links of a recent Power Line post, "Killing Fields Then and Now," that referred to Shawcross and an article he published in the Times of London, "Remember: for Cambodia read Iraq." I figured this was an opportunity to find out where thirty years had brought him.

The answer, it turns out, is a very long way. He now says that, "Given the catastrophe of the communist victories, I have always thought that those like myself who were opposed to the American efforts in Indochina should be very humble." But I was particularly taken by the sentences that followed:
I also think it wrong to dismiss the US efforts there as sheer disaster. Lee Kuan Yew, the former longtime Prime Minister of Singapore, has a subtler view. He argues that, although America lost in IndoChina in 1975, the fact that it was there so long meant that other SouthEast Asian countries had time to build up their economies to relieve the poverty of their peasants and thus resist communist encroachment — which they probably could not have done had IndoChina gone communist in the 1960s.

It is eerie how precisely Professor Moyar's book corroborates Shawcross's statement. Had the United States abandoned Vietnam in, say, 1964 or 1965, there is little doubt that the dominoes would have fallen: at the very least, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and (the big prize) Indonesia. John Kennedy made a disastrous decision in failing to halt the coup against and murder of Ngo Dinh Diem, and Lyndon Johnson, dealt a bad hand, tragically chose to fight a limited war rather than destroy North Vietnam as he should have. But even that limited war, which held off Communist victory for ten years, until we chose to abandon even that effort, delayed the North Vietnamese victory until Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in the region had achieved sufficient stability to withstand the shock of abandonment and defeat.

A recent National Review column on Shawcross, "The Shawcross Redemption," quotes a left-wing journal labeling him as "a fellow-traveler of U.S. imperialism, a committed Euroskeptic, a powerful advocate of pre-emptive war, and an apologist for monarchy and inherited privilege." Congratulations, Mr. Shawcross, you must be doing something right to merit such a frenzied and incoherent denunciation. Welcome aboard.

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