I was pretty much determined to let the question of Ralph Miliband and Pol Pot lie. Blog spats are generally pretty unpleasant and tend to degenerate into a mush of claim, counterclaim and obfuscation. But along comes Brad DeLong , of whom I’ve generally had a good opinion in the past. Unfortunately Brad lets his rage and disgust overcome his critical faculties whenever certain key figures come into view (Paul Sweezy, Gunther Grass and Noam Chomsky, to name but three).
It seems Kamm complained about the late Ralph Miliband’s support for Pol Pot.
Brad is then kind enough to quote, in extenso, the passage from Miliband that exemplifies this “support” (emphases added by me):
A subsidiary argument, which has sometimes been used to justify some military interventions, notably the Vietnamese intervention in Kampuchea, may be considered at this point. This is the argument that, whatever may be said against military intervention in most cases, it is defensible in some exceptional cases, namely in the case of particularly tyrannical and murderous regimes, for instance the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda and of Pol Pot in Kampuchea ….
The argument is obviously attractive: one cannot but breathe a sigh of relief when an exceptionally vicious tyranny is overthrown . But attractive though the argument is, it is also dangerous. For who is to decide, and on what criteria, that a regime has become sufficiently tyrannical to justify overthrow by military intervention? There is no good answer to this sort of question; and acceptance of the legitimacy of military intervention on the ground of the exceptionally tyrannical nature of a regime opens the way to even more military adventurism, predatoriness, conquest and subjugation than is already rife in the world today.
The rejection of military intervention on this score is not meant to claim immunity and protection for tyrannical regimes. Nor does it. For there are other forms of intervention than military ones: for instance economic pressure by way of sanctions, boycott and even blockade. Tyrannical regimes make opposition extremely difficult: but they do not make it impossible. And the point is to help internal opposition rather than engage in military ‘substitutism’. As noted earlier, there are rare and extreme circumstances where nothing else may be possible—for instance the war against Nazism. Hitler’s Third Reich was not only a tyranny. Nor was it merely guilty of border incursions against other states. It was quite clearly bent on war and the subjugation of Europe. But neither Uganda nor Kampuchea are in this order of circumstances…
Anyone see a problem with the claim that that amounts to “support for Pol Pot”?
What’s driving DeLong (and Kamm’s) animus here is actually the fact that Miliband’s view of the facts at the time appears to have been influenced by Chomsky, and past association with Chomsky is the mark of Cain. (Tacit exception granted for Hitchens C.)
Of course there were people, at the time, who opposed the Vietnamese invasion that overthrew the Pol Pot regime but who wielded more power and influence than the minor Marxist academic who is the object of Kamm’s and DeLong’s contempt. Who, for example? Well, one would be Senator Henry M. Jackson. I mention Jackson partly because Kamm is a founder member of the Henry Jackson Society, an odd British think-tank, named in the former Senator’s honour, that advocates a “robust” foreign policy. Jackson thought that the Vietnamese invasion was just one part of strategy of Soviet expansionism and that the US should have done more to oppose it. On February 4 1980 he wrote :
They [the Soviets] have heard very little from us as their Vietnamese surrogates have pressed in to Laos, into Cambodia, and threatened the borders of Thailand.
I’m sure that if you’re a serious student of international politics and history, as Kamm, for example, is, it is easy to explain why Miliband’s reluctant and considered view that intervention is, on balance, not to be supported is contemptible but why Jackson’s attitude that the US should have done more to oppose it is commendable.