In the field of international relations, there is not always a clear distinction between "good guys" and "bad guys." The complex interplay among national interests, resource scarcity and even gaps in cultural understanding among other variables tend to complicate these sorts of black-and-white distinctions... most of the time.
Sometimes, however, it is clear who the "bad guys" are, typically ruthless, power-drunk, genocidal despots who imprison, assault, torture and even kill their own people. Throughout modern history, these sorts of regimes seemingly do everything in their power to render themselves international pariahs, but instead find support in their global partners.
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But who would ever back such a brutal government? Well, it turns out the United States has, repeatedly, as Laura Ling explains in this video.
Take Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader responsible for the deaths of up to a quarter of Cambodia's 7 million people in the late 1970s.
First, a bombing campaign launched in Cambodia during the Vietnam War led to instability that created a vacuum for the Khmer Rouge's ascension to power. The United States even encouraged China to support the despot simply to thwart the influence of Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Later, after the exile of Pol Pot, the United States clandestinely funded the former dictator and his supporters to the tune of $85 million in payments.
And Pol Pot is by no means some isolated beneficiary of U.S. support of a foreign dictatorship.
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A decade earlier, in 1967, Major General Suharto ascended to the presidency of Indonesia. By the time he was on top, Suharto had already made his bones, figuratively and pretty much literally, with the United States as a ruthless anti-Communist .
In 1965, in repelling a coup by the Indonesian Communist party, Suharto and his forces led "one of the worst mass murders of the 20th century, along with the Soviet purges of the 1930s, the Nazi mass murders during the Second World War, and the Maoist bloodbath of the early 1950s," in the words of a 1968 CIA study titled, "Indonesia - 1965: The Coup That Backfired (PDF)."
"Backfired" is a bit of an understatement for the as many as 1 million Communists -- or simply suspected Communists -- killed and a further 1.5 million imprisoned. During the genocide, the United States allegedly provided economic, technical and military support to the Indonesian government in its hunt for suspected Communists.
Americans are rightly proud of their past, but to advance toward a better future, sometimes we have to take a closer look at the darker chapters of our history. Laura Ling has more.
-- Talal Al-Khatib
The Washington Post: Why the World Should Not Forget Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields of Cambodia
Human Rights Watch: Indonesia/US: Seek Justice for 1965-66 Mass Killings
BBC: Profile: Guatemala's Efrain Rios Montt