Lend Bush Jnr a hand: Mail a copy of Gone With the Wind to the White House or Crawford Ranch Print E-mail
 Thursday January 18 2007

Original at : Wednesday January 17 2007

An untutored educator in chief

By Maureen Dowd

Washington: Being President can be really, really hard. “Sometimes you’re the commander in chief,” W. explained to Scott Pelley on 60 Minutes. “Sometimes you’re the educator in chief, and a lot of times you’re both when it comes to war.” President Bush has been dutifully making the rounds of TV news shows, trying to make the case that victory in Iraq is “doable.” He thinks the public will support the Surge if he can simply illuminate a few things that we may have been too thick to understand. For instance, he says he needs to “explain to people that what happens in the Middle East will affect the future of this country.” Yes, Mr President, we get it.

He also told Jim Lehrer that in 20 years, radical Shias could be warring with radical Sunnis and West Asian oil could fall into the hands of radicals, who might also get weapons of mass destruction. So after scaring Americans into backing the Sack of Iraq by warning that radicals could get WMD, now he’s trying to scare Americans into supporting the Surge in Iraq by warning that radicals could get WMD. So many deaths, so little progress.

It’s unnerving to be tutored by an educator in chief who is himself being tutored. The President elucidating the Iraqi insurgency for us is learning about the Algerian insurgency from the man who failed to quell the Vietcong insurgency. During his 60 Minutes interview, Mr Bush mentioned that he was reading Alistair Horne’s classic history, A Savage War of Peace, about why the French suffered a colonial disaster in a guerrilla war against Muslims in Algiers from 1954 to 1962.

The book was recommended to W. by Henry Kissinger, who is working on an official biography of himself with Mr Horne. Mr Horne recalled that Dr Kissinger told him: “The President’s one of my best students. He reads all the books I send him.” The author asked the President’s foreign affairs adviser if W. ever wrote any essays on the books. “Henry just laughed,” Mr Horne said.

It seems far too late for Mr Bush to begin studying about counterinsurgency now that Iraq has cratered into civil war. Can’t someone get the President a copy of Gone With the Wind? Maybe it was inevitable, once W. started reading Camus’ L’Etranger, set in Algeria, that he would move on to Mr Horne. As the Washington Post military correspondent Tom Ricks wrote in November, the Horne book has been an underground best-seller among US military officers for three years, and “Algeria” has become almost a code word among counterinsurgency specialists for the mess in Iraq.

The Pentagon screened the 1966 movie The Battle of Algiers in 2003, but the commander in chief must have missed it. I asked Mr Horne, who was at his home in a small village outside Oxford, England, what the President could learn from his book.“The depressing problem of getting entangled in the Muslim world,” he replied. “Algeria was a thoroughly bloodthirsty war that ended horribly and cost the lives of about 20,000 Frenchmen and a million Algerians. There was a terrible civil war. ...De Gaulle ended up giving literally everything away and left without his pants.”

President De Gaulle had all the same misconceptions as W., that his prestige could persuade the Muslims to accept his terms; that the guerrillas would recognise military defeat and accept sensible compromise; and that, as Mr Horne writes, “time would wait while he found the correct formula and then imposed peace with it.” Mr Horne also sees sad parallels in the torture issue: “The French had experience under the Nazis in the occupation and practised methods the Germans used in Algeria and extracted information that helped them win the Battle of Algiers. But in the long run it lost the war, because it caused such revulsion in France when the news came out, and there was huge opposition to the war from Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.”

In May 2005, Mr Horne gave a copy of his book to Rummy, with passages about torture underlined. “I got a savage letter back from him,” the author said. The best thing now, he said, is to try to “get around the mullahs” and “get non-Christian forces in there as quickly as possible, mercenaries. As Henry said the other day, if only we had two brigades of Gurkhas to send to Baghdad.” Meanwhile, maybe W. should move on to reading Sartre.

No Exit, perhaps.