When a high-ranking French leader suggested in a private meeting that President George W. Bush consider Algeria as a model for a staged disengagement from Iraq, the president reportedly listened, no doubt with that dazed attention span of a windshield wiper. Bush was said to have assured his European petitioner that he just happened to be finishing a book on the Algerian War.
When told of this exchange, I raised a chuckle from my French source by declaring that Bush surely was not reading Camus on Algeria. (Rumors have circulated that Bush recently read Camus' "The Stranger.") The book that the president read on the Algerian War, it turns out, was "A Savage War of Peace," by Alistair Horne. As unlikely as it seems, Beltway reporters circulate as gospel truth that Bush read his way through this 600-page classic examining France's colonialist war against nationalist rebels in Algeria from 1954 to 1962.
The Algerian War took the lives of at least a million Muslims, uprooted French settler-colonists, known as pieds-noirs, and, according to Horne, collapsed the Fourth Republic and wrecked six French governments. Finally, President Charles de Gaulle took the bold stance of ordering a French withdrawal from Algeria.
The lesson Bush apparently draws from Horne's exhaustive study, according to Irwin Stelzer of the Weekly Standard, is that despite the price in blood and treasure, France didn't stay the course long enough in Algeria. This is not exactly what the high-ranking French official had in mind when offering up Algeria as a model for America's disengagement from Iraq.
Perhaps it is Vice President Dick Cheney, the likely war decider, who should be made to consider Algeria. During his Middle East visit last week, with a drive-by in Iraq, he seemed more to be contemplating the fantasy of "Brigadoon."
Near Tikrit, Cheney told U.S. troops that he sympathizes with their hardship-extended tours, which in some cases are indefinite, if not terminal. They were, he said, "vital to the mission" in Iraq. Speaking in the mess hall of desert Camp Speicher, the Road Warrior spoke about duty to a few thousand brave men and women of honor who partake in their country's benefits and now its dire obligations, serving and sacrificing because they were called upon.
Cheney never honored such a call to duty. Five times, as a fit and able young man eligible for the military draft, he hid first behind his college studies, then his obligations as a new father. Perhaps I should admit here that as a father of two months, I was headed for Saigon, but this is not my brief against Cheney. Of the 16 million Americans who sought military deferments, few were granted five, and none went on to brazenly help the commander-in-chief lead the United States into an utterly senseless war - as if Cheney were the reincarnation of Alexander the Great.
On the eve of the invasion in March '03, this genius, whose study at the Yale lamp was too critical to be interrupted by service, declared on "Meet the Press" that the people of Iraq "will welcome us as liberators." After two years of getting attacked as demon invaders, Cheney saw light at the end of the tunnel he'd not foreseen. "The level of [military] activity that we see today," he told CNN in May, '05, "will clearly decline. I think that we are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency."
Two years after the "last throes," here was Cheney last week forced to get real in Tikrit with the troops bearing up under the burden: "Conditions around here have gotten a lot worse."
Still, with the American public dead set against the war, and Congress coming around, the Road Warrior of Brigadoon twisted the arm of the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Cheney wants al-Maliki to make nice with the Sunnis and to correct the Bush administration's mistakes of its de-Baathification program by allowing Saddam Hussein's civil servants to return to their posts.
Oh, yes, and Cheney wants an Iraqi law ensuring fair distribution of revenues to all parties, including the United States. That would be revenues from oil.
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.