Alistair Horne: In French interview he says he's not sure what Bush could learn from his book about Algeria





Will a book about the Algerian War show George W. Bush a way out of the conflict in Iraq? Over three years after the Pentagon screening of The Battle of Algiers by Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, the American President admitted in mid-January that over the Christmas holidays, he read carefully the 1977 book, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York Review Books ) written by historian Alistair Horne . The latter offered a copy of the book's new edition to Henry Kissinger, about whom he is preparing a biography. The former Secretary of State then sent a copy of the book to Mr. Bush, insisting that he read it immediately.

The saga of a handful of Algerian maquis (rebels), poorly armed but using the weapon of terror brilliantly, who defeated the French military which was at the time one of the strongest in NATO, remains the prototype of a war for national liberation, insisted the author, after receiving Le Monde in his house in Turville, a small village located close to Oxford. While refusing to imprison himself in paradigms of the past, in the forward to the 2006 edition, this specialist of French contemporary history highlights four commonalities between the Algerian War and the current situation in Iraq.

First of all, in regard to French military superiority, the NLF (National Liberation Front) concentrated its attacks on local police forces, government administrators and senior officials. This resulted in a drop in morale and an increase in defections, which forced the French Army to protect them rather than chase down the rebels.

Secondly, the porousness of the Moroccan and Tunisian borders facilitated the transfer of weapons to the NLF. Today in Iraq, Syria and Iran play this role.

Third, the use of gegene (French military slang meaning electrical torture) badly shook national unity. According to Alistair Horne, the torturous acts committed at the Abu Ghraib prison and which were revealed in 2004, had the same negative impact.

Lastly, in his eye, the problem of troop withdrawal from Iraq arises in similar fashion.

At the Pentagon on April 19 2005, Sir Alistair was carrying out research on Henry Kissinger. He was to have lunch with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who canceled at the last minute. The author left him a copy of his book, in which he highlighted the important passages. The reply of Mr. Rumsfeld was immediate: As you know, the United States doesn't practice torture in Iraq. The historian responded with another letter, in which he insisted on the immoral, counter-productive and catastrophic aspect of such abuses as far as the media is concerned. The American Secretary's reply, which was just as immediate, was sibylline [prophetic]: "You and I are of the same opinion."

What surprised me was the rapidity with which he replied, considering his job and how busy he must be. Evidently, I struck a nerve, indicates the historian, who says he's unaware of any lessons Bush could draw from his book.

[Click here to listen to the interview.]



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