Sunday, February 26, 2006

Rummy: Insurgent Insights?

Back on Valentine's Day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was touring North Africa and decided to hold up Algeria's experience in the 1990s as an example of what it takes to defeat an insurgency. Referring to his talks with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Rummy said, as if this were a revelation, insurgency is "economic and it's political and it's cultural and I was musing as he talked, that ... it's instructive for us to recognize that the struggle we're in is not unlike the struggle that the people of Algeria went through and that it takes time -- a long time -- and it takes patience."

In Algeria in the 1990s it also took government death squads, fake guerrilla units that were as dangerous as the real ones, years of terror when no one could be sure of the real sources. (Bouteflika is a front for the mysterious military establishment generally known as "Le Pouvoir.") But most importantly, the Algerian experience has to be seen as a model for how badly democracy can go wrong, or, rather, be made to go wrong. It was dictator Chadli Benjadid's decision to hold popular elections -- then the military's horror as Islamists swept the polls, and their panicked cancellation. France, Europe and the United States stood by while the generals ousted Benjedid and annulled the elections, much as the West and Israel would like to do with the Hamas victory in the Palestinian territories. The direct result: armed insurrection and the growth of a group called the GIA and its spinoffs, which were much more radical than the Islamists who had nearly won a victory at the polls, and which eventually became key elements in the loose-knit Al Qaeda networks of Europe. The Algerian war, which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, was the direct result of botched demorcay.

Not the kind of model I would cite, but maybe Rummy has in mind some unknown unknowns...

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