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.