Over the weekend I visited the JFK Presidential Library, over on the other side of Boston. Aside from its eight dollar cost, it was a positive experience. Friends who served in the Algerian bureaucracy during the early 60’s, have told me that they considered the coolness in US-Algerian relations during the Cold War to be a combination of JFK’s administration’s (and at the time most Americans’) hypersensitivity to any talk of socialism or any contact with communist states or leaders and Ben Bella’s misreading of how the Americans would react to his visiting Cuba immediately after meeting with the Americans on his first state visit abroad. The Algerians thought it would show their even handedness and non-allied credentials. The Americans saw this as somewhere between a slap in the face and the formation of an Algerian Politburo.
JFK had early on advocated empathy for and solidarity with the Algerian nationalist movement, wholly for political reasons, leading some Algerians to believe that he would be a friendly international partner. While the meeting between Kennedy and Ben Bella went well (far better than Nasser’s visit to Algiers, which deserves a separate post for all its hilarity), the visit to Cuba destroyed any potential for warm ties. No mention of Algeria is made in the library’s exhibits. A beautiful gold (solid gold) purse given to Jackie Kennedy by King Hassan is on display. It is evidence of two things: 1) how the Moroccans viewed themselves, as a monarchy claiming descent from the Prophet Moh, with an especially aristocratic sense (as a friend remarked, imagine what it must have been like for Hassan to face the kind of attitudes evidenced especially by Boumediene, a republican peasant with no social credentials) and 2) a consistent Moroccan policy of wooing Americans with shiny things, be they palatial living quarters during state visits or solid gold purses.