Viet Nam or Algeria?

Arthur Herman has an article in Commentary comparing and contrasting the situation in Iraq with that in Algeria during the Algerian War of Independence. I commend it to your attention. Hat tip: memeorandum.

I don’t have a great deal to say about it—I’ll leave that to those with more knowledge of those events than I have but I certainly hope the comparison is not too close. It’s 45 years after that War and Freedom House continues to classify Algeria as “Not Free”.

5 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m not sure freedom has ever been a goal for any of the external or internal powers in Algeria (France, the National Liberation Front, the Soviet Union, the Islamic Salvation Front). So I don’t think the Freedom House report card is fair.

    I think Herman stretches the analogy by describing the situations in Algeria and Iraq as ideological struggles. In Algeria, the insurgents united around the anti-colonial, socialist, revolutionary banner of the National Liberation Front. A unified, ideological struggle doesn’t reflect the far more complex situation in Iraq. I think there are a lot of implications from this, both favorable and unfavorable. But if the FLN is al-Qaeda in the analogy, I think its unlikely that withdrawal from Iraq will come about in a U.S. / al-Qaeda treaty of mutual cooperation.

  • Queer article, starting with the indirect implication (“moderate Muslim leaders” – apparently that is meant to mean pro-French) that FLN and associated movements represented a fringe or immoderation.

    Much support had turned to the FLN and armed struggle precisely from originaly fairly pro-French and even integrationist sources who saw the French checkmate extension of civil rights to the majority of the native / indigenous (i.e. non-European settler) population.

    The discussion of Galula (indeed the characterisation) strikes me as … rather spun.

    The conclusion by General de Gaul was really very simple – military suppression was not achieving anything long term, the moment military and secret police action was removed, bang…. Blaming the defeat on Leftist Catholic priests and Sartre was and is rubbish of the worst self-decieving kind. De Gaulle, had he wanted to, could have overcome domestic opposition had it been worth it.

    Overall, the author strikes me as mendacious.

    The mention re Freedom House simple is nonsensical, what the bloody fuck does that have to do with anything?

    Re Iraq, nice theory however it is abundantly clear the Americans lack the skills in human resources (i.e. skills in winning the population) to pull it off. You’ve lost. I suppose it will take several more tens of billions of dollars for this to sink in.

  • I should add that the characterisation of the FLN as a Totalitarian Band is itself political spin.

    There were a number of tendancies, but the war itself produced much of the nasty, secretive politics and habits that after a brief period post-independence produced a typical post-colonial dictatorship system, but in Algeria with a particularly military dominance.

    Indeed reflecting on what I know of the intellectual evolution of the principals of the Algerian independence movement, this highlights the fundamental dishonesty and delusion of this analysis – the self-delusion that there is someone to step in.

    In both Iraq and Algeria, the “occupying power” has no strong, solid natural ally among the local population. This contra the British in Malaysia (and of course w/o the interesting ethnic dynamic). Kurds are the closest thing, but a despised minority in many ways, with enclave aspirations, not national. The Shia are not the Chalabi dream, but Sadrist to Islamist in majority, and none are particularly trusting or have real genuine relationships with the Americans (who lack the language and cultural skills to build such). There is no way to resolve US goals and objectives (truly resolve, not play pretend as the Americans like to do, in a queerly Frenchlike manner of letting their rhetoric self-decieve).

    In Algeria the situation might be said to be similar, as there was no way to resolve the political issue by the time fighting broke out – due to French rejectionism one might add – as Algerian mass demands for rights conflicted with French rationales for staying in Algeria. Suppression was, in many ways, pointless, as it would simply delay and fester, and radicalise over the long run. As it did, in fact, given the political position of the FLNs surviving leadership post-1962 was far more radical and secretive than the pre-conflict tendancies that gave rise to it. There was no possible point of compromise. French rule’s political logic was unsustainable, the “band” merely demonstrated this. Military victory in a battlefield sense is rather besides the point.

  • (Followed the link here from Aqoul.)

    I agree with The Lounsbury that this is a very odd article — the author seems to have missed the point entirely of the battle of Algiers. Of course it was won militarily, but morally, even more so than politically, it was a dismal failure, and contributed to France’s loss more than anything. And the “unconventional methods” so praised in the article consisted essentially in strapping captured rebels to chairs, beating them, raping them, killing them etc, for information on their organizational structure — rest assured that that is already being done in Iraq (Abu Ghrayb comes to mind). They worked well on the field, but destroyed support for the war in a (reasonably) liberal and free society at home — just as they would in Vietnam for the USA, some years later. That may be the most important lesson to draw: modern democracies simply can’t fight as dirty as their less liberal predecessors used to, so it’s idiocy to willingly put yourself in a position where you’d have to.

    The overall comparison between Iraq and Algeria is of course also pretty weak. Sure, there were Muslims and Arabs in both countries, but that doesn’t make the power balance or political context similar. Iraq was not colonized by the US for 124 years prior to the present violence, and there are not two-three millions of armed, radical and right-wing American settlers who’ve been born and raised in the country, and refuse to either leave or give up ethnic dominance. (Imagine the Baath being led by inbred dixie refugees from 1865, and you come closer.)

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