Naranhkiri Tith, Ph.D.
Sihanouk is well known for his ability to survive. But, what is less known is the reason why he was able to survive with the political upheavals in Cambodia during the last 30 years. The other question is while Sihanouk was able to survive but at what cost to the Cambodian people.
For instance, Sihanouk had allied himself with the murderous Khmer Rouge thus allowing these Cambodian communists to commit one of the worst atrocities in human history. Although he had always denied that he was the one who legitimized the Khmer Rouge by shifting the blame to others, especially to the United States bombing in Cambodia in the late 1960s, his collaboration with China on the one hand, and the Khmer Rouge close alliance with China on the other hand make it difficult to support Sihanouk's denial, as former US Congressman Steve Solarz has rightly pointed out that while the US bombing of Cambodia was a factor in the success of the Khmer Rouge in taking power in Cambodia, Sihanouk giving support to this group of mass murderers was a powerful signal to the rally of Cambodian peasants to the Khmer Rouge. Solarz namely said that:
"The fact that Sihanouk joined forces with the Khmer Rouge gave Pol Pot an opportunity to recruit much more effectively among the peasantry because he could recruit in the name of the prince. My guess is that had as much if not more to do with the ultimate success of the Khmer Rouge than the American bombing."
More recently, he again allied himself with another group of pro-Vietnamese communists under Hun Sen and the CPP, thereby legitimizing this Vietnamese-puppet regime and thereby allowing them to plunder the natural resources of Cambodia. This, in turn, makes Cambodians as one of the poorest people in the world, despite an enormous amount of assistance amounting to an average of US$ six hundreds millions per year generously given to Cambodia by the international community since 1991, and to open the door for Vietnamese illegal immigration with the collusion and support of Hun Sen and his CPP.
The question is why did Sihanouk act in this manner, which may have saved Sihanouk's prestige or political power, but at a high cost to the Cambodian people. The answer can be given by looking at Sihanouk's motivation behind these apparent contradictory alliances.
Sihanouk always thinks that he and he alone can protect Cambodia's interests and independence. At the same time, he never separates his personal interests and those of Cambodia. Because he always considers Cambodia as his private domain.
In addition, from carefully studying Sihanouk's practice of political maneuvers, one can observe that Sihanouk always believes in his own ability to out-smart his opponents. In so doing, he believes that he has a "win/win" strategy. For instance, he did not hesitate to ally himself with his worst enemies like Pol Pot or Hun Sen, because he was certain that he would be able to out-maneuver them. However, if for some reason he could not out-maneuver them, Sihanouk had a back-up strategy, which was to make sure that no other politicians in power were allowed succeed.
By doing so, he thought he could show the Cambodian people and the world that he is the only one who could solve the Cambodian problem.
I hope the following excerpts from a selected group of experts in Cambodian affairs would explain what I was trying to analyze in this introduction Sihanouk's mercurial behavior and chameleon-like politics and its deadly impact on the life of the vast majority of the Cambodian people.