Skip to comments.New Book Demolishes Arab Armies of Sand
Posted on 04/14/2019 11:37:31 PM PDT by robowombat
New Book Demolishes Arab Armies of Sand
Arab armed forces consistently underperformed, and underperformed in the same ways time and again, regardless of who they fought or where, the state of their politics, or the relative state of economic development between them and their foe. So concludes scholar Kenneth M. Pollack in his magisterial book on the cultural roots of disastrous post-1945 Arab military performance, Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness.
Pollack presents an encyclopedic, withering critique of Arab militaries across decades in numerous varied conflicts, to substantiate the conclusion that:
Arab militaries were consistently crippled by passive and unimaginative tactical leadership, an inability to conduct effective air operations, and badly distorted flows of information across their chains of command but especially at tactical levels. Arab cultural preferences also hindered their combined arms operations, weapons handling, and maintenance.
Beginning with Israels humiliating rout in the 1967 Six Day War of numerically overwhelming Arab armies massed for Israels predicted destruction, Pollack repeatedly details an almost unbroken litany of Arab military disasters. For example, during the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq lost 36 aircraft to just 1 Coalition fighter shot down, and many of the Iraqi pilots were killed not by Coalition missiles or gunfire but because they flew into the ground. As he himself indicates, these results would be comical were the consequences not so grave.
No matter how hard Arab militaries tried to overcome these culturally derived problems, the most they could do was to mask them for some time in certain situations, Pollack notes. The most notable historical example is Egypts surprise attack against Israeli positions along the Suez Canal in the 1973 October War. After Herculean preparations, the Egyptian assault across Suez on October 6 was a stunning success. Thanks to outstanding feats of logistical and combat engineering support, Egypt crossed tens of thousands of men and thousands of vehicles over the Canal.
Egypt initially enjoyed strategic surprise, massive advantages in firepower, numbers, and technological surprise. Yet these factors could only produce only a modest military accomplishment: crossing the Canal and holding two small bridgeheads no more than about 8-12 kilometers deep for about two weeks. Thereafter, Israeli prowess in modern combined arms maneuver warfare devastated the Egyptians and their Arab allies.
Pollack refutes varied theories that locate Arab military weakness outside of Arab culture, such as the decades-old idea that its all the Soviets fault because (actually only to some extent) Arab militaries followed Soviet doctrine. After in World War II successfully devising a system meant to win despite limited tactical abilities, the Soviet system was tailor-made for the Arabs, he observes. Meanwhile, the Korean War in the 1950s and the Cubans fighting the South Africans in Angola during the 1980s demonstrated the effectiveness of the Soviet way of war. Although both the North Koreans and Cubans relied heavily on Soviet military methodsfar more heavily than any of the Arab militaries at any timethey fought markedly better than the Arabs, Pollack notes.
Pollacks analysis of how the Chadians mounted on Toyotas crushed in 1986 a Soviet-style mechanized Libyan force demonstrates that underdevelopment need not prevent martial success. Similarly, China in 1950 was considerably more backward than the Arab states in 1960 when China entered the Korean War against a well-armed American-led coalition. Only one-quarter to one-third of the Chinese infantrymen even had rifles. The vast majority went into battle with only grenades, he writes, yet Chinese military performance was first class in every category.
Politicization is another problem that afflicts militaries under non-democratic regimes both within and without the Arab world, Pollack states. Thus before the 1973 war, Syrian dictator Hafiz al-Asad could identify only five generals he trusted to command divisions, so he only created five divisional commandseven though his army was so big it really needed twice that many. Yet during the Vietnam War South Vietnamese forces were riddled with politics like end-stage lymphoma, but fought far more effectively than Arab militaries.
Pollack shows that the
most important problems that Arab militaries have experienced in battle since 1945 derive from behavioral patterns associated with Arab culture .It is striking how much the Arab armies and air forces have performed in keeping with those patterns of culturally regular behavior identified by anthropologists, sociologists, cultural psychologists, and other experts on Arab society.
Pollack, for example, observes that military politicization evinces that a highly valued trait of Arab society is group solidarity and loyalty. If a leader comes to power of any kind in the Arab world, it is expected that he will bring his relatives, clansmen, tribesmen, and coreligionists/co-ethnicists in with him and give them plum positions. This happens across the Arab world in every organization imaginable.
Additionally, across scholarly literature about Arabs the behavioral emphasis that comes up most frequently is the promotion of conformity to group norms, Pollack writes. If you do any reading about organizations in the Arab world, whether government bureaucracies, factories, universities, corporations, or small businesses, the word that keeps coming up over and over again is authoritarian. Arab militaries are no exception, and this authoritarianism stifles the initiative that makes militaries like those of America and Israel so successful.
Accordingly, Pollack examines that Arab educational systems historically have relied almost entirely on passive learning techniques, specifically rote memorization. This reflects the fact that the educational system of all the Arab states still derives ultimately from the Quranic schools. Therefore he quotes a Palestinian Muslim professor who states that the Islamic tradition holds that learning is fixed. My students resist going beyond the book, any book. Arab military training then often corresponds to what a Soviet pilot who had trained Iraqi pilots noted, namely that Iraqi training exercises were jokes: canned operations in which everything was scripted.
Arab military training and battlefield conduct also suffers from Arabic cultures emphasis on honor and shame, Pollack notes. In order to conceal mistakes that would result in shame, features of Arab culture encourage the individual to exaggerate, lie, and/or remain secretive. Therefore in 1973 Egyptian officers deceived the general staff that an Israeli counterattack across the canal involved merely a raiding company; only the army chief of staffs personal reconnaissance revealed the truth of multiple divisions.
Furthermore, scholars across disciplines have an undeniable consensus that Arab society, as it developed over the centuries, came to see manual labor as dishonorable, Pollack relates. This prejudice has inhibited the development of scientific and mechanical disciplines among Arabs, with baleful effects upon Arab care of military equipment. Thus Egyptian F-4 Phantom squadrons quickly became nonoperational in the 1980s, after cancellation of American maintenance contracts.
Pollacks masterful study of Arab militaries within a wide-ranging historical and geographical context across over 500 pages expresses his lifetime of wisdom on military matters. He provides essential reading for a critical understanding of Arab armed forces and the societies behind them. While military malfeasance will continue to bedevil Arabs for years to come, Armies of Sands solid scholarship will stand the test of time.
I think what the author misses is that the primary goal of an Arab army is the same as the goal of any army beholden to a king - to keep the king in power. All other goals, including victory over a foreign enemy, are secondary to this. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Battlefield victories are wonderful, but not at the cost of losing power.
So Egyptian and Syrian leaders hedged their bets by appointing only generals who were reliable. Note that Sadat lost power only when he was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Hafez Assad stayed in power until he died, in bed. Even Gaddafi, who lost the Toyota War, could only be ousted with the help of American airstrikes. And all three ruled far longer than any American president, post-22nd Amendment.
The difference between non-Arab and Arab armies comes down to one thing - we are drones, and they are not. Every Arab commander views himself as a potential king. Non-Arab soldiers just view themselves as cogs in a machine.
Well of course it’s not hard to last longer than any american president post 22nd amendment.
That’s why there’s a 22nd amendment :)
The rest of what you said was good but you lost me there.
Right. The Egyptian and Syrian leaders were forced to do so, because their societies have not been able to develop non-violent means of transferring power.
The West has been so successful because we are not constantly ebroiled in succession battles, where no one's property or person is safe.
Incest. Arab culture has long tolerated incest. Banging your sister and producing kids over several generations will produce generations of morons and idiots.
Re: Furthermore, scholars across disciplines have an “undeniable consensus that Arab society, as it developed over the centuries, came to see manual labor as dishonorable....”
Just days ago I read that the oil rich Persian Gulf nation of Qatar has more foreign workers than its native born population!
"Egyptian F-4...squadrons quickly became nonoperational in the 1980s after cancellation of American maintenance contracts."
Having been in the science of aircraft fleet maintenance most of my life, the weapons system maintenance deficiencies of Arabs has been baffling. I always assumed it was cultural in nature, now this book elucidates that.
Can't wait to read it.
The vast majority went into battle with only grenades, he writes, yet Chinese military performance was first class in every category.
Chinese dead and wounded totaled almost a million men. Thats hardly first class
I would be careful with this line of thinking. The 2006 Lebanon War was not the walkover that previous conflicts were.
Every military disaster starts with over-confidence.
After the ground war we spent most of our time clearing mines and unexploded ordnance. The Saudis were blowing themselves up despite numerous training sessions. A US educated officer came to us and said "Tell them Israel uses the 2.2kg Soviet anti-tank mine." (They don't). Suddenly, they were all paying attention and taking notes.
Just READ BETWEEN THE LINES. What is the author saying? Get it?
IIRC Mao inherited hundreds of thousands of soldiers he had been fighting against during their civil war. Doubting their loyalty to the new communist regime, he loaded them up and sent them to Korea. Problem solved. They were probably decent soldiers but without any equipment or adequate support there wasnt much doubt what would happen to them.
“Shhh, we are not supposed to mention the word “Consanguinity”.”
But we can, and should be asking Omar if she consummated her marriage to her brother, and if it was good for her.
In the Arab culture, those that are assigned to maintenance of equipment harken back to slaves that cared for the horses of the true warriors. Bottom line: you don’t want to be in a maintenance role as you are very badly treated.
Fascinating. This is totally contra Thomas Wictor and his “superhuman” Saudi elite troops theory.
Also this jibes with what I found in my own research in “America’s Victories: How the US Wins Wars,” first published in 2006, but it sounds like the author leaves out a lot of the “shame/honor” cultural weaknesses (as you mention).
And here in the West logistics and maintenance are king, (and very well compensated)
Actually I think all tribal based societies and cultures are like this. Look at Africa! I bet the same assessment can be made.
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