Editor’s Note: Read Max Boot’s post here, and Herman’s original article here.
At one level Max is perfectly right: every war is sui generis and comparisons between them are bound to distort or ignore important differences. Iraq in 2007 is not Algeria in 1957, or even Vietnam in 1967. Yet the sequence of shifts in tactics in combating a terrorist insurgency, and the interplay between the military and political fronts, seem to me strikingly similar. Hence my article, and hence the lessons to be learned from how the French managed to win on the battlefield but lose at home.
All the same, I think Max may be over-stressing some of the differences between Iraq and Algeria. For starters, I’m not sure whether describing the FLN guerrillas of the 1950′s as “nationalists” or “secularists” in contrast to today’s al Qaeda makes sense. In fact, our recent experience with al Qaeda figures like Zarqawi sheds a lot of light on what made men like Ben Bella and Boumedienne and Belkacem Krim really tick. Essentially, they were power-hungry nihilists willing to use any ideological excuse in order to pull down the existing order and grab power for themselves and their followers. In the 1940′s, they looked to Jerusalem’s Mufti and the Nazis for inspiration; in the 50′s, they mouthed pan-Arabist slogans in order to get support from Egypt and Tunisia. Yet once in power, the different factions within the FLN turned on each other; and the ultimate winner, Boumedienne, proceeded to declare Algeria an Islamic state and to punish women for not wearing the veil!
Nor was the FLN any less inchoate or disorganized than today’s Iraqi insurgency, especially in Algeria’s rural areas, where Galula had to develop his tactics. It certainly followed the same pattern, with the murder of moderates and with a handful of committed terrorists using family and clan connections to intimidate an entire village or neighborhood into supporting (or at least acquiescing to) their attacks on government forces.
Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.
Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.
Passover begins on Monday evening. This weekend is an excellent time to read up on the holiday, and COMMENTARY’s archive is the most lucid entry point, as well as the most accessible (both physically and spiritually). A terrific introduction that lays it all out is Theodor Gaster’s “What Does the Seder Celebrate?”
Many anecdotal accounts of the seder have appeared in our pages, too. Leslie Fiedler wrote about a “Seder in Rome” in 1954, and Sidney Alexander wrote about Passover in Venice in 1951. Closer to home, perhaps, is Morris Freedman’s “Grossinger’s Green Pastures,” the fabled Catskill vacation resort and site of many 20th-century American Jewish seders.
If scholarly is what you have in mind, COMMENTARY published (March 1953) selections from an 11th-century commentary on the Song of Songs, a biblical text attributed to King Solomon that is read at the synagogue during Passover. The commentary is by Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, better known as Rashi. A more recent meditation on the same biblical book is “Levels of Love,” which appeared in COMMENTARY’s April 1958 issue; this essay is by Abraham Isaac Kook, the first chief rabbi of the Jewish return to the land of Israel. Still more recent, not to say with-it, is Hyam Maccoby’s “Sex According to the Song of Songs” (June 1979).
Finally, if you think that the Wall Street Journal’s kosher wine lists are a modern invention, check out “Wine Like Mother Used to Make” (May 1954), which begins: “Kosher wine, once bought exclusively by Jews and only during Jewish holiday seasons, seems on the way to becoming as popular as the cola drinks.” Indeed. And if you think Passover nouvelle cuisine is really nouvelle, read Ruth Glazer’s review of “The Jewish Festival Cookbook” (March 1956). Glazer opens: “Not the least of places in which the Jewish revival has caused added bustle is the kitchen.” To quote from a different book by King Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun.
In his article in the April issue of COMMENTARY, Arthur Herman has provided a valuable service by increasing awareness of David Galula and the French experience in Algeria. I agree with much of what he has to say but feel compelled to register some disagreements as well.
First, a minor peeve: I dislike the breakdown of warfare into four generations—a conceit launched by William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation and picked up by Herman in this article. “4GW” theorists, as they are known in military circles, posit that insurgency has now replaced traditional “maneuver” warfare, just as in World War II maneuver warfare replaced industrial warfare. The reality is considerably more complex: maneuver warfare still exists (an example: the three-week U.S. blitzkrieg to Baghdad in the spring of 2003), and terrorism and guerrilla warfare, though growing in importance, are nothing new—they date back to the dawn of warfare. This isn’t meant to deprecate the importance of low-intensity conflict; rather to suggest that it isn’t new and it isn’t necessarily the sum of all warfare today. (Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College, London, has written a good refutation of 4GW theory.)
This is a relatively minor matter of categorization. A more serious flaw with Herman’s article is his presupposition that the U.S. will have the same level of purely military success that the French had in Algeria. Maybe so, but there’s little evidence of that yet. Even with the small successes that General Petraeus has registered with the initial stages of the troop “surge,” Baghdad remains infinitely more dangerous than Algiers ever was. We are not close to military victory in Iraq—certainly not as close as the French were in Algeria in the late 1950′s.
The New York Times recently ran a story revealing that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice favor the closing of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. My friend David Rivkin has now co-authored an article with Lee Casey in the Wall Street Journal arguing in favor of keeping terrorist suspects locked up in Gitmo. My heart is with Rivkin and Casey, but my head tells me that Gates and Rice are probably right at this juncture.
On the merits, Rivkin and Casey have, to coin a term, a slam-dunk case. Terrorists captured on the battlefield can’t be treated with the niceties of normal criminal law. Even if there isn’t sufficient evidence to convict “beyond a reasonable doubt,” some terrorists are so dangerous that they need to be locked up anyway. And Gitmo is as good a place as any to keep them confined. It’s on a U.S. naval base but beyond the jurisdiction of domestic criminal law, and the facilities there are now as nice as any in a domestic prison.
The Pope says that hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.” In a Lenten homily at a Roman parish on Monday, reports Richard Owen in the London Times, “Benedict XVI said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to ‘admit blame and promise to sin no more,’ they risked ‘eternal damnation—the Inferno.’”
That the Pope believes in hell may not strike most people as surprising. But when was the last time you heard a senior Catholic churchman talk about it? The last Pope, John Paul II, was much influenced by the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was a universalist—that is to say, he believed that Christ’s salvation was universal. According to that view, if there is a hell, it is empty. In coming to this conclusion, Balthasar (whom John Paul II promoted to cardinal) was influenced by Edith Stein, the Jewish convert who became a Carmelite nun and was murdered at Auschwitz. She was later canonized by John Paul II as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her view was that God’s love is so great that it embraces even the most obdurate sinner. As she perished in a man-made simulacrum of hell, a place of mass torment beyond anything conceived by the ancient or medieval imagination, Edith Stein’s words carry considerable weight.
The often percipient Andrew Sullivan was up too early when, at 6:15 yesterday morning, he posted an attack on my attack on Zbigniew Brzezinski’s attack on the “war against terror.” Sullivan said he found it “depressing that Josh retreats to anti-Carter arguments and ad hominem slurs instead of addressing the fiasco that neoconservatives have helped engineer in Iraq.”
As it happens, I have addressed that very subject. In the February issue of the Foreign Service Journal I wrote:
Bush has gotten himself and our nation into trouble in Iraq. For that, he and those of us who extolled his actions deserve to take our lumps. . . . But . . . that does not prove that Bush’s overall strategy of promoting democracy or his decision to treat terrorism as a matter of war rather than law enforcement were wrong.
Brzezinski’s article, however—and here’s where Andrew needs to rub the sleep from his eyes—was not about Iraq. It was about the war on terror. “Terrorized by ‘War on Terror’: How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America” was its title. Whatever you think now about Iraq, the question Brzezinski posed was whether our problems with terrorists are essentially self-inflicted and exaggerated or whether there is a real and menacing enemy out there. Andrew has trumpeted his own reversal on Iraq. Does he also repudiate his support for the war on terror?
Joshua Muravchik wrote what I thought was a sharp and sensible item about Zbigniew Brzezinski here yesterday. Others disagree. Andrew Sullivan called Josh’s posting a “brutal, personal attack.” Andrew then proceeded to note that he is still waiting “for one leading neocon to examine some of the premises that led us into what is clearly a bloody and endless trap in Iraq.”
To paraphrase Josh, this is rich. Actually, it is not just rich, it is a parfait on top of tiramisu.
Leading neoconservatives have been examining the premises which led us to topple Saddam Hussein longer than Andrew has been lambasting conservatives—and avidly flagellating himself—for supporting the war.
Monday’s New York Times highlighted one of the many ways that existing models of medical insurance are beginning to come undone. In this case the subject was long-term-care insurance, which is supposed to help cover the exceedingly high cost of intense chronic care required by some elderly Americans—especially those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. As policy-makers have looked at the economic forecasts for old-age health care in the past few decades, they have increasingly used tax incentives and other spurs to encourage middle-aged and older Americans to buy such insurance.
Insurance companies at first jumped right into the newly burgeoning field, but as the years have passed and more patients have made claims, insurers have come to realize that the economic model of long-term care does not work like the rest of their business: demographic changes mean much more demand than originally anticipated, costs are enormous and stretch on for years, and the normal insurance premium structure is often not adequate to make such insurance a profitable enterprise. Several of the biggest early players have suffered mightily. Conseco, which at one point was the leading insurer, actually went bankrupt.
contentions would like to welcome as a guest blogger Wilfred M. McClay, holder of the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a veteran COMMENTARY contributor. His most recent book is Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past (Eerdmans). He’ll be blogging from Rome, where he is spending a term as senior Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Rome. Wilfred brings with him tremendous erudition and a distinct voice, and we’re delighted to have him.
When it comes to cultural exchange programs for academics, my reflexive attitude tends to be very much like my attitude toward the institution of tenure: it’s probably a bad idea in many cases, for most people, but if it’s going to exist . . . well, I shouldn’t deny myself the benefits. Thus I’ve come to Rome, under the auspices of the Fulbright program, for a semester of teaching and lecturing. I am not sure whether five months spent living in Rome and traveling around Italy will make me a better professor, but the experiment seemed worth conducting. So I have taken it on—strictly, I will have you know, in the severe spirit of disinterested scientific inquiry, a spirit I bring with particular asperity to my examination of Italian foods and wines.
I am teaching the history of American religion to graduate students in an American-studies program, and can report that the level of interest in the subject is extremely high. I had not really wanted to spend so much of my time teaching about American religion, but my Italian hosts insisted otherwise, and now I understand their wisdom.
Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”
This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”
• Thornton Wilder has become a man of two books. Our Town continues to be revived and The Bridge of San Luis Rey read, but I’ve yet to see a professional production of The Skin of Our Teeth or The Matchmaker (which is now known mainly as the source of Hello, Dolly!) or heard anyone mention any of his other novels in conversation (though I read Heaven’s My Destination many years ago). Hence it is with no small interest that I’ve spent the past week reading Thornton Wilder: Collected Plays and Writings on Theater (Library of America, 871 pp., $40). I haven’t always been impressed with the Library of America’s editorial decisions, but Wilder was an obvious call, and J.D. McClatchy, who recently turned Our Town into an opera libretto for Ned Rorem, was exactly the right man to edit this extremely well-chosen collection of Wilder’s theater-related output. McClatchy’s annotations are copious and exemplary—I’d like to see him write a Wilder biography—and it was shrewd of him to include the screenplay of Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, for which Wilder, it appears, was mainly responsible.
The sorry spectacle of Israel’s political system going through one financial scandal after another—the latest involves finance minister Abraham Hirchson, accused of embezzling large sums of money when he headed an HMO in the 1990’s—is more than just an embarrassment. Coupled with the growth of organized crime and frightening rumors of its inroads into politics and law enforcement, these scandals are making Israelis feel these days as if they were living in a Jewish Sicily.
Is it that bad? Probably not, although it’s hard to say. Corruption in Israel is something that, even today, you’re far more likely to read about in the newspapers than to experience personally. Israel is still a country whose citizens assume, when dealing with government officials, the police, or business contacts, that they are facing someone honest. It’s not some third-world state or banana republic where you routinely slip money into your car registration papers when you’re asked for them by a traffic cop, leave a gift on the desk of the official you’ve applied to for a building permit, or promise a kickback to the executive you’re negotiating a contract with. But then again, I don’t suppose that routinely happens in Sicily, either.
Many of the commenters on my earlier post ¡Viva la Inmigración! take me to task for not distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration. The former is commendable, they suggest; the latter, despicable. This antipathy toward lawbreaking is understandable, if sometimes overly zealous. I mean, c’mon: among all the problems we face—from paying for the baby boomers’ retirement to defeating al Qaeda—how high a priority should we assign to the “problem” of millions of people wanting to move here to take jobs that few if any Americans are willing or able to perform? Even if you do think this is a major problem—and I admit that a small portion of the immigrant population consists of criminals and freeloaders—the question is, what do you do about it?
The immigration restrictionists want to erect ever more formidable defenses along our border to keep immigrants out and to send the authorities out to round up and ship home all the illegal immigrants already here. I don’t think either of these approaches is a very realistic solution to the immigration “problem.”
On Friday, March 23, Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, gave a speech before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. He took the Council stingingly to task:
Six decades ago, in the aftermath of the Nazi horrors, Eleanor Roosevelt, Réné Cassin, and other eminent figures gathered here, on the banks of Lake Geneva, to reaffirm the principle of human dignity. They created the Commission on Human Rights. Today, we ask: What has become of their noble dream?
In this session we see the answer. Faced with compelling reports, from around the world, of torture, persecution, and violence against women, what has the Council pronounced, and what has it decided?
Nothing. Its response has been silence. Its response has been indifference. Its response has been criminal.
Two weeks ago the New York City Board of Education announced that it would be establishing a new magnet high school to teach Arabic culture and language. A week later, the BOE revealed plans to place the school within an existing elementary school; the resulting hue and cry from concerned parents put an end to that. But the city is set to go ahead with the project as soon as it finds a physical space.
One goal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (for such is the school’s name) is to recruit enough native Arabic speakers to comprise 50 percent of the student body. It seems perverse to take immigrant students, who most need immersion in the language, culture, and values of the United States, and teach them more about the culture from which they came. As leading education historian Diane Ravitch told the New York Sun, “It is not the job of public schools to teach each ethnic group about its history.”