Alistair Horne: My history lesson in the Oval Office

Historians in the News

... In 1973 I wrote A Savage War of Peace; Algeria 1954-72, urged on by my publisher, ex-prime minister Harold Macmillan.

He liked the result; then, after publication by the family firm, to my utter amazement, I was invited to write his official biography. It was while studying American material in Washingon DC in 1980, through Macmillan, that I first met Henry Kissinger.

Two decades later, to my equal amazement, Dr Kissinger asked me to write his life. I accepted to do just one year of his monumentally documented career, 1973. Visiting Kissinger last autumn, I presented him a mint copy of A Savage War, in which I had contributed a new preface, relating the Algerian War to Iraq. A frequent visitor to the White House, he requested a copy be sent to President Bush.

A couple of months later George W brandished the book before CNN, declaring that he was reading it, and studying its lessons with benefit. There followed an invitation to the White House, which I was able to take up two months ago....

I was astonished at just how well the President looked, despite the constant nag of Iraq and terrorism; it was as if he had just come in from sailing round the Caribbean and in sharp contrast to the departing Jimmy Carter in 1980, haggard from dealing with the Iran hostages and his own inability to delgate.

In an earlier exchange of correspondence with the President, I had presumed to suggest that, in Iraq, he faced "perhaps the most daunting responsibility" of any US President since FDR, and in the Oval Office I threw out a remark of Harold Macmillan's: "You have no idea, dear boy, how lonely it is at the top."

The President parried laughingly, pointing at his aides: "You don't imagine I could be lonely with all these guys around me!"

He questioned me closely about the parallels between Iraq and Algeria. It was clear that he had read attentively what I had written....

Bush, an honourable man, might have made a good President - without Iraq. His fault was to heed too often the voices of the Zionist lobby in Washington. Never before has the Israeli tail wagged the American dog quite so vigorously; the results threaten to prove as disastrous for Israel as for the Western alliance....

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