The Foreign Service Journal, May 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2018 51 Ben Barber has written on foreign affairs since 1980 and has published in various outlets including The London Observer, USA Today, The Baltimore Sun, The Toronto Globe and Mail, The Huffington Post, McClatchy News and other publications. He was State Department bureau chief for The Washington Times, which nomi- nated him for the Pulitzer Prize for a series on the Hmong in Laos, Thailand and the United States. From 2002 to 2010 he was a senior writer for USAID. His photojournalism book, Groundtruth: Work, Play and Conflict in the Third World (2014), is available on Amazon. A uthoritarian rule is spreading among Southeast Asian nations today. InThailand, Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia, a new breed of autocrat is taking root. It seems that the old “domino theory” is finally playing out; though not the original domino theory, which served to justify U.S. intervention in Vietnam. According to that theory, if we failed to win the war in Vietnam, communism would spread from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to take over U.S. allies from Bangkok to Singapore and Jakarta. Authoritarianism Gains IN SOUTHEAST ASIA A new breed of autocrat seems to be taking root in Southeast Asia today. Is the “domino theory” finally playing out? BY BEN BARBER ON DEMOCRACY FOCUS Today’s dominoes are not allies of Beijing or Moscow; nor do they practice central state economic planning. They are crony- capitalist, one-party states. They grow like bamboo, which spreads it shoots underground, past fences and across property lines and borders. Tough, flexible and expansive authoritarian regimes such as Vietnamhave inspired former U.S. allies in Southeast Asia such asThailand and the Philippines to stifle the press, curb democracy and quell critical voices that embarrass those in power. In the shadow of China’s rise to world prominence during the recent period, elected leaders, independent courts, rule of law, religious tolerance and protection for minorities are being threatened or dispensed with in many Southeast Asian countries. After Vietnam The United States poured two million American troops into Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from 1965 to 1975, leaving 58,000 Americans dead and estimates of from 1.4 to 3.5 million civilian and combatant deaths in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Presi- dents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon told us that we had to keep doubling down on troops, weapons and air power to prevent the dreaded domino effect, which would end our way of life. Advised by Gen. WilliamWestmoreland and other hawks during the VietnamWar, successive presidents vowed to bring