This Day In History: Nixon Asks Congress For More Aid For Cambodia (1970)


On this day in history, President Richard Nixon goes to Congress and asks them to support his plan for Cambodia. Nixon sought more funds for the Cambodian government to help them in their war against Communist. In total, he seeks 150 million, of which two-thirds would be in the form of military aid.  The American government was very worried about the growing strength of the Communists in Cambodia. By 1970 they had virtually surrounded the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and had laid siege to other major urban centers. The Cambodian Communists were backed by the North Vietnamese and were known as the Khmer Rouge.

Nixon hoped that the funds would be used to shore up the government of Lon Nol, who was a loyal ally and  a committed anti-communist. Lon Nol was a former general who had come to power through a coup, he was far from a democrat and his only virtue in the eyes of Washington D.C. was that he was a fighter and would resist the communists until the end. Lon Nol’s forces (FANK) was engaged in  multi-front battles with the communists. They were losing badly to the Communists in the countryside and they were also slowly losing the support of the population.

US planes in action over Cambodia

The previous April Nixon had secured some funding for the Cambodian government. The Congress was not too keen to help the Cambodian government, which was after all, unelected. The financial aid for the anti-Communist Cambodian government was supplemented by other American aid. Nixon ordered air support for the FLANK army. There were regular bombing raids on the Khmer Rouge and these inflicted heavy casualties on the communists. The bombing raids which also killed many civilians made the western-backed government very unpopular and helped to boost support for the Khmer Rouge.

The Nixon administration also sent special forces to train and instruct the Cambodians and they, also probably took part in covert operations. The full extent of their involvement was kept secret.

The efforts of the Nixon administration were to prove to be all in vain. The Khmer Rouge gained in strength, despite continuing American support and increased air strikes.  By 1974, the Americans were disengaging from South East Asia and the began to reduce their support for Lon Nol. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured the capital of the country after the collapse of the Cambodian government.  In the aftermath, of the capture of the capital, Pol Pot the leader of the Khmer Rouge tried to create a communist utopia and he ordered all the population to live in villages in the countryside. This, together with a reign of terror that involved killing all those who opposed the communists left an estimated two million people dead.  The Vietnamese government was so appalled by the behavior of the Khmer Rouge that they invaded Cambodia and drove the Khmer Rouge into the jungle, where they waged a guerrilla war until the 1990s.