In his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama named former New Leftist Anthony Lake as one of his leading foreign policy advisors.
Lake served as a special assistant for national security affairs under President Nixon in 1969-70, but soon thereafter he stepped down from that post to protest the Nixon administration’s bombing raids in Cambodia -- raids that were designed to support the existing government against the power-grabbing efforts of Pol Pot and his bloodthirsty Khmer Rouge.
By 1972 Lake was an activist in Democrat George McGovern’s presidential campaign, whose platform was founded on the axiom that the military conflicts of Southeast Asia were rooted in the “arrogance of American power” rather than in Communist aggression.
During this period, many American leftists openly supported a Communist takeover in Southeast Asia. Among the most notable advocates of this position were the popular actress Jane Fonda and her husband Tom Hayden. With a nation deeply divided thanks to the pressures of the anti-war left and a Democratic Party that had turned its back on the war, Nixon was persuaded that the United States could neither win the war nor maintain its armies in the battle. In 1973 he signed a truce with North Vietnam that led to the withdrawal of all American forces. Nixon hoped the agreement would preserve the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam. But the North Vietnamese had no intention of observing the truce; neither did Pol Pot.
Months later, the American anti-war Left and its allies in the Democratic Party led by Senator Edward Kennedy brought down the Nixon presidency in the Watergate affair. That year’s midterm elections, which were held just three months after Nixon’s resignation, resulted in catastrophic losses for Republicans and ushered in a new group of Democratic legislators determined to undo the Nixon peace policy and surrender Cambodia and Vietnam to the Communists.
The first act of the newly elected Democrat Congress was to cut off funding for the governments of South Vietnam and Cambodia in January 1975. When Republicans warned that a Pol Pot victory would inevitably result in a Cambodian “bloodbath,” Lake and his fellow anti-war Democrats accused their critics of trying to stir up “anti-Communist hysteria.”
In March 1975 Lake wrote a Washington Post column titled “At Stake in Cambodia: Extending Aid [to the government] Will Only Prolong the Killing.” In that piece, he reaffirmed the Left’s position that the Khmer Rouge was not a totalitarian force, but rather a coalition of “many Khmer nationalists, Communist and non-Communist,” whose only ambition was to gain independence for the Cambodian people. He warned that if America were to alienate the Khmer Rouge, it would only “push them further into the arms of their Communist supporters.”
The Khmer Rouge, Lake conceded, “are indeed supported by Hanoi, Peking, and Moscow. But to the extent we know much about them, they include many Khmer nationalists, Communist and non-Communist. Once they gain power, we must hope for as much nationalism on their part as possible.” Calling for “an immediate, peaceful turning over of power” to Pol Pot, Lake backed the American cutoff of support for non-Communists, who he believed should be barred from playing any role in Cambodia’s new government. “Why should the Khmer Rouge agree to share power when they can expect to seize it?” he asked.
After U.S. funding was cut, the governments of Cambodia and South Vietnam were quickly overrun by the Communists. Cambodia fell on April 17, when Khmer Rouge forces took control of Phnom Penh. The South Vietnamese capital of Saigon surrendered thirteen days later and was immediately renamed Ho Chi Minh City, as the Communists proceeded to execute tens of thousands of Vietnamese while more than a million fled the country. During the next three years, the Communists killed nearly 3 million Indo-Chinese peasants in one of the most horrific genocidal campaigns in the recorded history of mankind.
Notably, Lake’s poor judgment cost him nothing politically. President Jimmy Carter appointed him to be the State Department’s Policy Planning Director from 1977-81. In the 1990s Bill Clinton named him as his National Security Advisor. And of course, in 2008 Barack Obama became the latest Democrat to hire Lake for his purported expertise in foreign affairs.
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