When the commander in chief decided it was time to take back Baghdad from the terrorists, past reminders about the pitfalls of urban guerrilla warfare were dismissed as not applicable. The average length of a post-World War II insurgency: seven years.
At the height of the terrorist campaign against Unionist loyalists and the British Army in Northern Ireland, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) never had more than 300 guerrillas/terrorists in the field. This small number kept half the British Army pinned down for 30 years (1968-97). It enjoyed the financial support of countless Irish-Americans. Finally, outwitted by superior British intelligence, Sinn Fein, the IRA’s political wing, tired and a deal was negotiated. But it is yet to be fully implemented.
Iraq has a tad more than 300 terrorists spreading death and destruction: It is closer to 20,000 with scores of arms caches left by the Saddam Hussein regime, many of them unguarded because the U.S. did not field sufficient troops to secure all the sites that sheltered some 600,000 tons of arms and ammunition throughout the country.
In 1954, six months after the French defeat at Dienbienphu and the loss of Indochina, 11 Algerian nationalists attacked a post office to get a little seed money to start a revolution against French control. Algeria then was not a French colony, but an integral part of metropolitan France.
The leader of this new band of terrorists was Ahmed Ben Bella, who became the first president of Algeria. Terrorism soon spread throughout the North African territory. Eight years later, President Charles de Gaulle conceded independence, but not before (1) the fall of six French governments; (2) the collapse of the Fourth Republic returned Gen. de Gaulle to power; (3) a mutiny of five French generals seized power against Paris, which almost provoked civil war in France; (4) 30,000 French men and women and 1 million Algerians were killed; (5) 800,000 French settlers (Pied-Noirs) were driven into exile (only 30,000 chose to stay); (6) Algerian auxiliaries of the French, known as Harkis, were hunted down by the thousands and killed by the first independent Algerian government (a few aging Harkis and their families still live on the dole in France).
Sir Alistair Horne’s “A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954-1962,” first published in 1977, and now out of print, has become the read of choice for many U.S. military officers serving in Iraq. The few paperback copies still available have been selling for up to $265 per copy. But Mr. Horne recently published an updated edition of his universally acclaimed history, which should have been mandatory reading for the civilian and military leaders who opted to invade Iraq — and to walk the cat back to what was once a strong Iraq under pro-Western management (which ended in 1958 with the assassination of King Feisal and his strongman Prime Minister Nuri Said).
Had France been willing to concede Algerian independence at the outset, war could have been avoided, a friendly government installed, and 1 million settlers could have stayed. Mr. Horne’s meticulous study of a watershed conflict is not a recipe for winning the war in Iraq. But he does demonstrate how to lose it.
Adnan Pachachi, the old (83) wise man of Iraq, who served as foreign minister (1965-67) and is now a member of the new Iraqi parliament, demonstrated this week how not to lose it. To begin with, he recommended major changes in the 5-month-old Iraqi government still trusted by President Bush. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s team, said Mr. Pachachi, “includes many ministers with close links to the militias, the death squads and other terrorist groups.” In a Financial Times piece, Mr. Pachachi added, “We would delude ourselves if we believed such a government could be effective in fighting terrorism and sectarian violence.”
A hard-nosed geopolitician, Mr. Pachachi advocated negotiations with insurgents who are willing to be integrated in the political process, as well as quid-pro-quo talks with Iran, Syria and other neighbors with a view to ending their interference. But this can only happen, he explained, “with a competent government untainted by militia connections and enjoying the people’s trust,” which could clean up the security forces.
With the Iran-backed and -funded Shi’ite militia now in the driver’s seat, a withdrawal of the U.S.-led coalition forces would quickly translate into a meltdown of law and order and the disintegration of a unitary state into feuding fiefdoms ruled by warlords. Militia armies would be at each other’s throats.
Mr. Pachachi says it is time to update the composition and mandate of the multinational forces by bringing in fresh troops from Asian, European, Arab and Muslim countries. After what the leaders of these new prospects have been watching 24/7 on CNN, FOX, BBC and Al Jazeera, one would have to conclude the chances of new military participants range from zero to nil.
Victory, as the president defines it, means an Iraqi government that could lead, restore essential services and sustain itself. A purge of Mr. Malaki’s ministers working both sides of the street would seem a sensible next step.
Whether expressed on a Sunday talk show by former Republican Secretary of State and NATO Supreme Commander Alexander Haig or by former Democratic National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the grim conclusion was the same: Mr. Bush’s determination to hang tough in Iraq until final “Victory” is no longer possible.
Key Arab ambassadors to the U.S. privately now say U.S. defeat in Iraq is unavoidable unless the Bush administration mobilizes the full panoply of Arab diplomatic support. Negotiations with Iran are long overdue. Tehran still holds the whip hand in Iraq.
What is the diplomatic price for learning to live with Iran’s nuclear ambitions? And North Korea’s? Russia and China are indispensable players in this game of nations. Looking strong in Washington no longer makes up for thinking weak abroad.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.