Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ridiculed U.S. President Barack Obama for his decision on Thursday to authorize airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq, recalling the failure of such tactics by the U.S. in Cambodia during the 1960s and 1970s.
Mr. Hun Sen, who as a Khmer Rouge Eastern Zone soldier was a target of similar U.S. airstrikes along the Vietnamese border before the fall of Phnom Penh in April 1975, said that such bombardments have little impact on dedicated infantry.
“Iraq has welcomed Obama commanding these airstrikes,” Mr. Hun Sen told the crowd at a graduation ceremony for students from Phnom Penh’s Norton University.
“I don’t want to say something to Obama, but your excellency…these airstrikes were used a lot in the Indochina Wars, but in the end, Lon Nol’s soldiers still collapsed, and U.S. soldiers were withdrawn, while the ambassadors ran away from the Khmer, Vietnamese and Laotians,” Mr. Hun Sen said.
Mr. Obama on Thursday authorized airstrikes in Iraq for the first time since the U.S. withdrew combat troops from the country in 2011. The strikes are intended to prevent the fall of U.S.-friendly Iraqi Kurdistan to Islamic State militants.
Mr. Hun Sen belittled the value of air-to-ground strikes.
“If airstrikes could curb everything, we wouldn’t have to form infantries,” said Mr. Hun Sen, continuing his broadside on the U.S. reliance on aerial bombardments.
“Let’s remember, those who command infantry will be strong. For airstrikes, their heads aren’t fastened to the sky and feet aren’t on the ground,” he said. “If they stay too low, you will be shot, and you can’t do anything if you stay too high.”
“It’s impossible to use airstrikes to support infantry.”
During the Second Indochina War—called the Vietnam War in the U.S. and the American War in Vietnam—U.S. B-52 bombers carrying out covert operations dropped almost 2.7 million tons of ordnance on Cambodia in an attempt to flush out communist insurgents as they moved toward Phnom Penh and Saigon.
The campaign failed to stop the Cambodian and Vietnamese communists from seizing power, with both storming to victory in April 1975, forcing the U.S. out of Indochina.
By January 1979, the Vietnamese communists had overthrown their Cambodian counterparts—the Khmer Rouge—in a swift military invasion and installed a new regime. Mr. Hun Sen, who had fled to Vietnam in 1977 to escape purges within the Khmer Rouge, was named foreign minister.
Mr. Hun Sen on Monday called on the international community to move away from its habit of turning to military intervention when faced with problems or instability.
“We must find reforms for the next generation to avoid problems. I don’t agree with foreign intervention,” Mr. Hun Sen told the students, before making an apparent reference to the political deal he cut last month with the opposition CNRP.
“I need to negotiate between Khmer and Khmer, and I need the Khmer King because the person who stamps the stamp and is the biggest person is not the U.N. secretary general, the foreign embassies, foreign presidents, but the King,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen, who next year celebrates 30 years as prime minister, last week counseled a different group of university students to take note of what has happened to Libya and Iraq since former leaders Muammar el-Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein were deposed, noting that both countries have since fallen into chaos.
Mr. Hun Sen concluded his speech Monday by again asking students to pay close attention to international events, even if acts of foreign intervention were misguided.
“Some issues are for other countries, but they are also lessons for us,” the prime minister said. “We must learn from our past.”
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