LESSONS FROM ALGIERS

Adam Shatz writes: Recently the Pentagon screened Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 The Battle of Algiers for a group of forty officers and civilian experts, on the theory that the film’s highly praised quasi-documentary realism would help them understand urban guerrilla warfare in Iraq. But a better analogy to the situation in today’s Iraq is Israel’s predicament in southern Lebanon in 1982. After winning the gratitude of much of the Shiite population for rooting out the PLO, Israel decided to effect “regime change,” creating an army of collaborator-militias and carrying out sweeps. The result was the emergence of Hezbollah, a guerrilla organization that carried out a disciplined and highly effective struggle against the Israeli occupation, ultimately forcing Israel to withdraw. But even if the The Battle of Algiers analogy isn’t perfect, it’s still worth contemplating. The French officer who leads the battle in Pontecorvo’s film is Colonel Mathieu, an urbane, charismatic veteran of the Resistance, loosely modeled on Jacques Massu, the commander of the French forces in Algiers. In his efforts to quell the insurgency, Mathieu introduces a reign of terror, killing, torturing and humiliating Algerians. Journalists raise objections at press conferences, but Mathieu puts them in their place, much as Donald Rumsfeld does today. Mathieu “wins,” but, as Pontecorvo reminds us, five years later Algeria achieves independence, thanks to the tenacity of the Algerian people but also to Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who, after years of insisting he would never “abandon” Algeria, finally decided that France had much more to lose by staying than by leaving. He had to summon enormous courage to do so, overcoming the objections of a furious settler lobby and the warnings of timid colleagues who told him, as neocons do today, that he mustn’t “cut and run.” Rather than study the methods of Mathieu (whose contrite real-life model, Massu, repudiated torture before his death last year), the Pentagon would be better advised to study de Gaulle’s example and set a rapid timetable for withdrawal.

ANYONE FOLLOWING THE MONEY?

In an interview with the Associated Press on September 18, Senator Edward Kennedy charged that a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office showed only about $2.5 billion of the $4 billion now being spent monthly on the Iraq occupation could be accounted for. He said he believed much of the unaudited money was “being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops.” For daring to criticize the President, Kennedy came under fire from a well-drilled squad of GOP senators, but his office has already released figures showing how foreign aid is being used to attract support for the occupation, including troop contributions present and future, by countries like Turkey, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan. Kennedy and fellow Democrats should hold hearings on the extent of the Administration’s use of diplomatic baksheesh.

THE ORWELLIAN MR. DELAY

Matt Bivens notes that Senator Kennedy’s interview, cited above–in which he also called the war in Iraq a “fraud” cooked up in Texas for political advantage–outraged House majority leader Tom DeLay. Previously DeLay fretted about Democrats’ committing a hate crime by daring to oppose a radical right-wing judicial nominee who is Hispanic. Now, in the wake of Kennedy’s remarks, DeLay is worried that the Democrats haven’t been hateful enough. As he puts it, “It’s disturbing that Democrats have spewed more hateful rhetoric at President Bush than they ever did at Saddam Hussein.” Perhaps the Democrats could satisfy DeLay by taking a leaf from George Orwell’s 1984 and organizing a Saddam Hate Week (read Matt Bivens’s latest “Daily Outrage” on this website).

THE ISRAELI PEACE MOVEMENT TAKES FLIGHT

A group of twenty-seven active reserve pilots and former pilots in the Israeli Air Force have signed an open letter declaring that they will no longer take part in the assassination campaign in the occupied territories: “We, veteran and active pilots alike, who served and still serve the State of Israel for long weeks every year, are opposed to carrying out attack orders that are illegal and immoral…. We, who were raised to love the State of Israel and contribute to the Zionist enterprise, refuse to take part in air force attacks on civilian population centers…. These actions are…a direct result of the ongoing occupation, which is corrupting all of Israeli society.” The move, taken by a group regarded as the elite of the military, should give new encouragement to a refusenik movement that has fallen out of the headlines in recent months.

JOHN LOWENTHAL

John Lowenthal, who died on September 9 in London, was a lawyer, teacher, musician, Nation friend. In 1980 he made the film The Trials of Alger Hiss, and he championed Hiss until the end. In June, dying of cancer, Lowenthal testified in a London libel suit brought by Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB agent and author, with Allen Weinstein, of The Haunted Wood. Lowenthal wrote an article in the journal Intelligence and National Security disputing Vassiliev’s claim that evidence in KGB files proved Hiss was a Soviet spy, code-named “Ales.” Vassiliev sued the publisher of Intelligence and National Security, claiming he was libeled in Lowenthal’s article. After hearing Lowenthal’s testimony, a London jury found his criticisms not libelous and found for the defendant.

NATION NOTES

Two Nation articles have been chosen for Project Censored’s Top 25 Censored New Stories of 2002-2003. They are: “Afghanistan Imperiled” by Ahmed Rashid (October 14, 2002) and “An Uneasy Peace” by Jan Goodwin (April 29, 2002).

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

When the Senate Finance Committee was in the process of voting down an amendment that would have added $11.25 billion for childcare to welfare reform over the next five years, Senator Rick Santorum argued that the government shouldn’t coddle welfare mothers. “Making people struggle a little bit is not necessarily the worst thing,” he said. Maybe Santorum should tell that to the Pentagon.