He Also Thinks Saruman Was a Great Tactician

Salon has a great piece up on Sir Alistair Horne, who wrote numerous books on world history but one in particular, A Savage War of Peace, about the Algerian War of Independence that apparently is a favorite among the bush administration, though for all the wrong reasons:

Sir Alistair Horne may be the only author in the world whose books have been read and praised by George W. Bush, Ariel Sharon and  Robert Fisk. Not to mention by much of the senior military staff of the  U.S. Army,Middle East scholars, State Department policy wonks, and realpolitik statesmen. The distinguished British historian, author of 18 books, became the talk of the U.S. chattering classes when it was revealed that President Bush was reading his classic account of the 1954-1962Algerian War, “A Savage War of Peace.” Indeed, Bush was so impressed with “A Savage War of Peace” that he invited Horne to come to the White House for tea and a talk last Thursday.

[…] That “A Savage War of Peace” is on the Bush administration’s must-read list is one of the more remarkable intellectual ironies in recent years. Horne’s book recounts the inevitable defeat of a colonialist power at the hands of as mall but determined group of insurgents, the National Liberation Front, who effectively used terrorism to win their nation’s freedom –not exactly the sort of book you would expect Bush and his inner circle to curl up with. As Horne notes, the Algerian War “remains on the statute books as a prototype of the modern war of national liberation.” Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress guerrillas and Palestinian leaders both studied it, Horne points out. So did al-Qaida. And now, so has George W. Bush.

What the Bush administration is hoping to learn from Horne’s book,of course, is exactly the opposite of what Mandela and Arafat were looking for. The latter were searching for information that would lead to victory over occupying powers; Bush officials are looking for clues that will allow them to prevail over a stubborn insurgency, or failing that, find a viable exit strategy. But there do not appear to be many useful lessons in Horne’s book for Bush except “don’t.”

This touches on something that had occured to me a while ago, that Bush and the Neocons have deluded themselves into thinking that they are the perpetual underdogs. No matter that they wield world spanning power and the most advanced army in the history of mankind, they are the dark horse. The Dirty Dozen, fighting the whole Islamo-Nazi army with just a rusty bayonet and a hundred miles of concertina wire strung between their teeth. They redefine everything from this perspective, until the American puppet government in Iraq is a cadre of native-born freedom fighters, forged from the same mold as the Sons of Liberty while the “Insurgents” (implying that they surged in from somewhere outside Iraq) are the hegemonic occupying power, rather than the citizens of Iraq, fighting each other and the US for control of their homeland.

Given that “A Savage War of Peace” is being read as a mirror of the current war, what does Horne think are the parallels between Algeria and Iraq? “The first one is the difficulty of combating insurgents with a regular army,” he said. “Too heavy forces, too much collateral damage. The second is porous frontiers. In Algeria, they had Morocco and Tunisia on either side, so the FLN could stage raids and then go back across the border so the French couldn’t get them. Now you’ve got a similar situation in Iraq, with Syria and Iran. The third is the tactic of targeting local police. In Algeria, the insurgents were just a handful compared to what you’ve got in Iraq. They realized that they couldn’t beat the French army, so they attacked the local police who were loyal to the  French.This was enormously successful. The French had to take the army back from search and destroy missions to protect the police. So both the police and the army were neutralized. The insurgents in Iraq have copied the Algerian experience to great effect.”

And Bush seems to be reading between the lines, looking for coded instructions on how to win a war that, before it even started, could only at best, ever result in stalemate. Horne goes on to assert that withdrawal from Iraq will embolden the terrorists. The terrorists, meanwhile, are saying they’d like us to stay so they can kill more of us, so I’m not sure where that little nugget comes form, other than as a side effect from Stiff Upper Lip syndrome.

The whole argument against leaving, lest the situation in Iraq descend into Chaos is absurd. We already passed that floor and have crashed that elevator into the sub basement of dreaded anarchy and civil war. at this point, mere chaos would be an improvement.