Prime Minister Gives Graduates Class in Geopolitics 101

Amid a dour assessment of the current geopolitical landscape, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday warned that only bad things follow when long-ruling strongmen are overthrown.

In the lead-up to last year’s national elections, which Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling CPP officially won amid reports of widespread fraud and irregularities, the prime minister repeatedly brushed off suggestions that he might go the way of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein or Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi and Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, two rulers swept aside by the Arab Spring.

He returned to the theme Monday at a graduation ceremony for Western University students on Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich island, this time to remind the audience of the violence that has followed the ouster of Middle Eastern and North African dictators, and to update the narrative with the latest developments in Ukraine and Syria.

“How has Libya gone after having no Qaddafi?” he asked rhetorically. “Now the Western countries have pulled their armed forces back. After the killing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, what has happened there? What has happened to Egypt? And what has happened in the Ukraine after the former president was toppled?”

To drive the point home, he moved on to Syria, where a drawn-out uprising against President Bashar al-Assad has allowed hard-line Islamic fundamentalists to gain a foothold not only inside Syria but now in Iraq, with plans to form their own state.

“Damascus is a city in Syria, and Baghdad is a city in Iraq,” Mr. Hun Sen said, giving the students a quick lesson on Middle East geography. “So part of Syria and another part of Iraq may become a state, and an autonomous Kurdish zone in Iraq could become a fourth country.”

“If it is like this, where is the world heading?” he asked.

Mr. Hun Sen said the troubles across the globe were enough to remind him of the Cold War.

“Now the game involves sanctions, fighting, arms sales and arms races. It is almost worse than the Cold War,” he said, adding that the situation was being complicated by rising powers such as China and India.

“The political landscape is changing and everywhere there are disputes over land, and problems between races and religions are happening in most places,” he added.

Mr. Hun Sen did not elaborate on where he thought the global geopolitical situation was ultimately headed.

The opposition CNRP, at which the prime minister’s talk of toppled dictators often appears to be directed, has dismissed Mr. Hun Sen’s warning as nothing more than fear-mongering meant to intimidate their supporters.

After the overthrow of Mr. Ben Ali in 2011, Mr. Hun Sen warned of a violent response if such events were to play out in Cambodia.

“If you want to have a strike as in Tunisia, I will close the door and beat the dog this time,” he said.

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