They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Perhaps the expression would be better said, “those that do not understand history are doomed to repeat it” because the Bush administration studied the history of the Algerian War and apparently learned nothing.
There are many parallels between the two conflicts. So much so that Pentagon officials held a 2003 screening of the 1966 film, The Battle of Algiers.
"How to win a battle against terrorism and lose the war of ideas,” a flyer for the screening read. “Children shoot soldiers at point-blank range. Women plant bombs in cafés. Soon the entire Arab population builds to a mad fervor. Sound familiar? The French have a plan. It succeeds tactically, but fails strategically. To understand why, come to a rare showing of this film."
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger even recommended the book A Savage War of Peace by Alistair Horne to the president as a template for the Iraq conflict.
The similarities between the two conflicts are uncanny: in both instances a Muslim majority country sought to throw off the chains of a foreign oppressor through urban guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics. In both wars, the foreign occupier was by far the superior military power, yet were bogged down for years because they were unable to quell an insurgency motivated by nationalistic pride. Both conflicts attracted young, anti-Western warriors from the regions. Both military powers used torture yet denied it. Both Western powers ended up severely weakened by the conflicts after years of bleeding to death and to debt sustaining the unwinnable conflicts.
Eventually, after eight years, a total of 1.5 million Algerian deaths and 18,000 French military deaths, the Fourth French Republic actually collapsed. The conflict in Algiers nearly led to a civil war in France. The nation was saved by French President Charles de Gaulle, who ended the war, awarded Algeria with independence and brought the nation back from near ruin.
America’s situation in Iraq is much the same. For six years now the nation has been bogged down in the quagmire that is Iraq. We have not been able to defeat an insurgency determined to throw out an occupying force. The estimated number of Iraqis killed during the conflict ranges from 85,000 to over one million. Over 4,000 American service members have been killed in the line of duty. And, all told, the estimated cost for the conflict will be in the range of $3 trillion.
If the powers-that-be had understood history rather than just revisiting it, perhaps the nation would not be stuck in a predominantly Muslim nation in a war with no conceivable strategy to achieve victory. Much as France’s occupation of Algiers was a hopeless cause, so too is America’s occupation of Iraq. You cannot win an occupation. A war can be won, but not an occupation. Eventually, the French learned that time is on the side of the insurgency and decided to count their losses and move on before the conflict brought financial, social and political ruin to their country. When will America decide to do the same?