Ford, Carter and Cambodia: US foreign policy and the Khmer Rouge

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Date
2015
Authors
O'Donoghue, Barbara
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University College Cork
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Abstract
This thesis is an investigation into the US response to the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1974 and 1981. It argues that the US experience in the Vietnam War acted as a causal factor in the formulation of its Cambodian policy during the presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. From taking power in April 1975 to their removal by the Vietnamese in January 1979, the Khmer Rouge initiated a revolution unrivalled in the 20th Century for its brutality and for the total eradication of modern society. This thesis demonstrates that the Ford administration viewed Cambodia only as it pertained to their strategy in Vietnam and, following US disengagement from Indochina all but ignored the atrocities occurring there as they instead pursued informal relations with the Khmer Rouge as a means of punishing the Vietnamese. The Carter administration formulated a foreign policy based on human rights yet failed to adequately address the genocide that occurred in Cambodia due to its temporal and regional proximity to Vietnam. Instead, this collective reluctance to reengage with the region and the resulting anti-Vietnamese attitude reinforced Brzezinski’s broader global strategy that allied the US with China in support of an independent Cambodia to further isolate Hanoi. Thus this thesis argues that the distorting impact of the Vietnam War, as well as global Cold War calculations, undermined any appreciation of the Cambodian conflict and caused both administrations to pursue policies in Cambodia that ultimately supported the Khmer Rouge regime. This project incorporates declassified material from the Ford and Carter Presidential Libraries, supplemented by the material from the National Archives and Library of Congress, and relevant newspapers and periodicals. It demonstrates that the limitations placed upon US foreign policy by their experience in the Vietnam War may be used to reveal unexplored elements in US-Cambodian relations.
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Keywords
History , Cambodia , Khmer Rouge , US foreign policy , International relations , Vietnam War
Citation
O'Donoghue, B. 2015. Ford, Carter and Cambodia: US foreign policy and the Khmer Rouge. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.