Skip to comments.Why Arabs lose wars
Posted on 08/28/2002 5:12:19 AM PDT by Valin
ARABIC-SPEAKING ARMIES have been generally ineffective in the modern era. Egyptian regular forces did poorly against Yemeni irregulars in the 1960s. Syrians could only impose their will in Lebanon during the mid-1970s by the use of overwhelming weaponry and numbers. Iraqis showed ineptness against an Iranian military ripped apart by revolutionary turmoil in the 1980s and could not win a three-decades-long war against the Kurds. The Arab military performance on both sides of the 1990 Kuwait war was mediocre. And the Arabs have done poorly in nearly all the military confrontations with Israel. Why this unimpressive record? There are many factors economic, ideological, technical but perhaps the most important has to do with culture and certain societal attributes which inhibit Arabs from producing an effective military force.
Including culture in strategic assessments has a poor legacy, for it has often been spun from an ugly brew of ignorance, wishful thinking, and mythology. Thus, the U.S. Army in the 1930s evaluated the Japanese national character as lacking originality and drew the unwarranted conclusion that that country would be permanently disadvantaged in technology. Hitler dismissed the United States as a mongrel society and consequently underestimated the impact of Americas entry into the war. American strategists assumed that the pain threshold of the North Vietnamese approximated our own and that the air bombardment of the North would bring it to its knees. Three days of aerial attacks were thought to be all the Serbs could withstand; in fact, seventy-eight days were needed.
As these examples suggest, when culture is considered in calculating the relative strengths and weaknesses of opposing forces, it tends to lead to wild distortions, especially when it is a matter of understanding why states unprepared for war enter into combat flushed with confidence. The temptation is to impute cultural attributes to the enemy state that negate its superior numbers or weaponry. Or the opposite: to view the potential enemy through the prism of ones own cultural norms.
It is particularly dangerous to make facile assumptions about abilities in warfare based on past performance, for societies evolve and so does the military subculture with it. The dismal French performance in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war led the German high command to an overly optimistic assessment prior to World War I. Then tenacity and courage of French soldiers in World War I lead everyone from Winston Churchill to the German high command vastly to overestimate the French armys fighting abilities. Israeli generals underestimated the Egyptian army of 1973 based on Egypts hapless performance in the 1967 war.
Culture is difficult to pin down. It is not synonymous with an individuals race nor ethnic identity. The history of warfare makes a mockery of attempts to assign rigid cultural attributes to individuals as the military histories of the Ottoman and Roman empires illustrate. In both cases it was training, discipline, esprit, and élan which made the difference, not the individual soldiers origin. The highly disciplined and effective Roman legions, for example, recruited from throughout the Roman Empire, and the elite Ottoman Janissaries (slave soldiers) were Christians forcibly recruited as boys from the Balkans.
The role of culture
These problems notwithstanding, culture does need to be taken into account. Indeed, awareness of prior mistakes should make it possible to assess the role of cultural factors in warfare. John Keegan, the eminent historian of warfare, argues that culture is a prime determinant of the nature of warfare. In contrast to the usual manner of European warfare, which he terms face to face, Keegan depicts the early Arab armies in the Islamic era as masters of evasion, delay, and indirection. Examining Arab warfare in this century leads to the conclusion that the Arabs remain more successful in insurgent, or political, warfare what T. E. Lawrence termed winning wars without battles. Even the much-lauded Egyptian crossing of the Suez in 1973 at its core entailed a masterful deception plan. It may well be that these seemingly permanent attributes result from a culture that engenders subtlety, indirection, and dissimulation in personal relationships.
Along these lines, Kenneth Pollock concludes his exhaustive study of Arab military effectiveness by noting that certain patterns of behavior fostered by the dominant Arab culture were the most important factors contributing to the limited military effectiveness of Arab armies and air forces from 1945 to 1991. These attributes included over-centralization, discouraging initiative, lack of flexibility, manipulation of information, and the discouragement of leadership at the junior officer level. The barrage of criticism leveled at Samuel Huntingtons notion of a clash of civilizations in no way lessens the vital point he made that however much the grouping of peoples by religion and culture rather than political or economic divisions offends academics who propound a world defined by class, race, and gender, it is a reality, one not diminished by modern communications.
But how does one integrate the study of culture into military training? At present, it has hardly any role. Paul M. Belbutowski, a scholar and former member of the U.S. Delta Force, succinctly stated a deficiency in our own military education system: Culture, comprised of all that is vague and intangible, is not generally integrated into strategic planning except at the most superficial level. And yet it is precisely all that is vague and intangible that defines low-intensity conflicts. The Vietnamese communists did not fight the war the United States had trained for, nor did the Chechens and Afghans fight the war the Russians prepared for. This entails far more than simply retooling weaponry and retraining soldiers. It requires an understanding of the cultural mythology, history, attitude toward time, etc.; and it demands a more substantial investment in time and money than a bureaucratic organization is likely to authorize.
Mindful of walking through a minefield of past errors and present cultural sensibilities, I offer some assessments of the role of culture in the military training of Arabic-speaking officers. I confine myself principally to training for two reasons:
First, I observed much training but only one combat campaign (the Jordanian Army against the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1970).
Secondly, armies fight as they train. Troops are conditioned by peacetime habits, policies, and procedures; they do not undergo a sudden metamorphosis that transforms civilians in uniform into warriors. General George Patton was fond of relating the story about Julius Caesar, who in the winter time. . . so trained his legions in all that became soldiers and so habituated them to the proper performance of their duties, that when in the spring he committed them to battle against the Gauls, it was not necessary to give them orders, for they knew what to do and how to do it.
Information as power
In every society information is a means of making a living or wielding power, but Arabs husband information and hold it especially tightly. U.S. trainers have often been surprised over the years by the fact that information provided to key personnel does not get much further than them. Having learned to perform some complicated procedure, an Arab technician knows that he is invaluable so long as he is the only one in a unit to have that knowledge; once he dispenses it to others he no longer is the only font of knowledge and his power dissipates. This explains the commonplace hoarding of manuals, books, training pamphlets, and other training or logistics literature.
On one occasion, an American mobile training team working with armor in Egypt at long last received the operators manuals that had laboriously been translated into Arabic. The American trainers took the newly minted manuals straight to the tank park and distributed them to the tank crews. Right behind them, the company commander, a graduate of the armor school at Fort Knox and specialized courses at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds ordnance school, promptly collected the manuals from those crews. Questioned why he did this, the commander said that there was no point in giving them to the drivers because enlisted men could not read. In point of fact, he did not want enlisted men to have an independent source of knowledge. Being the only person who could explain the fire control instrumentation or bore sight artillery weapons brought prestige and attention.
In military terms this means that very little cross-training is accomplished and that, for instance in a tank crew, the gunners, loaders and drivers might be proficient in their jobs but are not prepared to fill in should one become a casualty. Not understanding one anothers jobs also inhibits a smoothly functioning crew. At a higher level it means that there is no depth in technical proficiency.
(Excerpt) Read more at unc.edu ...
Main Entry: avow.ed.ly
1 : with open acknowledgment : FRANKLY
2 : by unsupported assertion or profession alone : ALLEGEDLY
Frankly and openly acknowledged means the USSR was a democracy.
Allegedly means it was only by assertion.
American military instructors dealing with Middle Eastern students learn to ensure that, before directing any question to a student in a classroom situation, particularly if he is an officer, the student does possess the correct answer. If this is not assured, the officer may feel he has been deliberately set up for public humiliation. In the often-paranoid environment of Arab political culture, he may then become an enemy of the instructor, and his classmates will become apprehensive about their also being singled out for humiliation and learning becomes impossible.
I have experienced this firsthand, both as a fellow student in military courses and as an instructor. I never met an Arab officer willing to pull his own weight, either academically or physically in the field. They were all worthless and were not to be trusted.
The terrorists are not the enemy we should focus on - the REAL enemy is militant Islam. The morons who buy into this murderous cult are simply looking for two things: first an explanation of why their life is so miserable (the Infidels did it) and secondly, a life better than his present miserable existence.. He is told paradise will be his if he dies in Jihad...
Terrorism is just one tool used by these militant Islamic radicals to spread Islam throughout the world - THEIR PRIMARY MISSION- Their MOST EFFECTIVE tool is to immigrate, copulate and populate. They mean to win this cultural/religious struggle by population growth within the non-Muslim nations.
The West must quickly come to terms with this fact....We have been engaged in a war of Borders, Language and Culture.... Radical Islamic Muslims in the west, do NOT intend to assimilate into OUR culture -- they intend to force us into theirs.
Stay safe; stay armed.
LOL...And BTW, here I thought it was the Iranians who were the "brains" of the Arab world.
They're not Arab at all, but Persian. I trained both some years ago and the difference was startling - the only reason the Iraqis managed a stalemate over the Iranians in that conflict was that the latter had purged their armed forces of potentially "disloyal" professionals in favor of religious and political toadies after the 1979 revolution - it ended up looking like the Arabian model. The Russians did the same thing after 1917 and got the stuffing kicked out of them by the Poles less than a decade later. (Same thing happened after the purges of 1938-39 when the Wehrmacht came a-callin'.)
Of the ones I met the Iranians were head and shoulders above the rest, probably for the same cultural reasons cited by the author of the article. The veneer of Islam is, IMHO, a lot thinner over the Persian people than the Arabs, and it looks from recent events like it's wearing a little thin. This could get very interesting in the next couple of years, and maybe sooner.
But the Iranians aren't Arabs--they are Persians.
The more I read about the characteristics of Arab cultures, the more I believe that they are at root matriarchies, and that all this "male domination" we see is a façade. There is a lot of "stooping to conquer" going on there. Not that individual women are not treated cruelly -- everyone is treated cruelly in those cultures -- but that as a class, women -- or more accurately women's values -- run the place.
Go back and look at the behavioral characteristics of the Arab officers. There are a lot of characteristically female strategies employed in dealing with one another, and with us. Arab culture may have the face of a man, but it is a woman.