The Illusion of Soviet Restraint 67-73 in the Egyptian-Israeli Wars

Writing of the 1973 war  Vladislav Zubok, The Failed Empire wrote, “He ( President Sadat) kept the politburo and Soviet representatives in the dark- although, of course, the KGB,  and military must have known about the preparations. As with the North Vietnamese earlier, the Kremlin leaders could not control or restrain  their foreign clients.” Zubok’s book is a highly acclaimed work, especially by the Western elites, and as a well written analysis of the Soviet dissolution, but also it conforms to a  rational world, in which even the Hitlers, Stalins, Saddams, the Ebrahim Raisis  and now Putin, will ultimately bow to reality ( as the Western Elite see it).  Unfortunately,  the Russian world of reality is far different from the that of the Western world. In one of many sectors, the Russian  political and military world view sees  Russia in  near eternal conflict with the Western world, embodied by NATO as the eternal enemy. As to turns out….Zubok’s view was very wrong.

Leonid Brezhnev, the supposed statesman- like Russian leader. In fact he was pushing the Egyptians to fight on.

The Russians were not restraining or even trying to restrain the Egyptians in the 1973 war. They were , in fact, urging the Egyptians to advance further in the Sinai, to carry on the war, and had thousands of advisors, and Russian units assisting the Egyptians  in that effort. It was the Egyptian leaders who put the brakes on any further enlargement of the war. Sadat was fearful of the lessons of the 67 war and the possible loss of the entire Egyptian force.

The historical revisionist books have  turned to  the more comfortable view of  disobedient clients, Egypt and Syria, being disciplined by cautious Russian leadership, striving to contain the war. Not so writes, Isabella Ginor and Giddeon Remez, in two powerful and carefully researched books, Foxbats over Dimona:The Soviets Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War and The Soviet-Israeli War196-1973: The USSR’s Military Intervention in the Egyptian-Israeli Conflict.

So how did the authors arrive at such a drastic revisionist history of the 1967 and 1973 war? Mostly because of the rise of  Russian veterans organizations who felt they were being forgotten by the people for their sacrifices in the forever wars fought in the Middle East,  not just Afghanistan, but also Egypt, Chechnya, Syria, and  Africa, such as Angola, Many served in the sweltering heat of Iraq and Yemen, as well. The Soviets, always secretive, did not  publicly recognize these  veterans but with the limited  openness of the Gorbachov and Yeltsin regimes,  letters, diaries, memoirs, and books by these veterans surfaced in the West.  Books like Zinky Boys by Svetlana Alexievich, One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko, and Afghanistan, A Russian Soldier’s Story , by Vladislav Tamarov,  revealed the ineptness and  corruption of the Soviet military machine.

The  authors of The Soviet-Israeli war  1967-1973, scrutinized these new sources and discovered  a massive trove of information which, insofar as the Russian involvement,  totally changed the conventional histories of the 67-73 war. The conventional histories written by Yevgeny Primikov, ( Russia and the Arabs) and the tons of books written by Western and Egyptian diplomats and historians,  especially  Henry Kissinger ,and Mohamed Hasanein Heikel, as well as the key figures in the wars, including Anwar Sadat, General Saad al Shazly, and many others all pointed to the same story, massive Russian military assistance, but only very limited Russian active support with regular units. These narrations were echo chambers and not factually correct.

The Soviet desire to keep their interventionism secret,  and the Egyptian military’s  understandable efforts to credit their forces with  the entire success of the Suez crossing were key factors in the well told- but often wrong- histories  of the war. Some, of the many key factors of the conventional treatment of the war were overturned in by the new information.

One of the more startling facts surfaced is that the widely conventional belief in the “expulsion of  Russian advisors” in 1972  was not true. Nor was their a rift in Soviet-Egyptian relations to cause the “expulsion.” The Russians withdrew certain Russian units from Egypt in 72 but not the advisors, who from the beginning, remained with Egyptians units, continuing  training and sometimes in front leading right up to the Crossing of the Suez. They did not venture across the Canal ( at least none were captured) but kept up  active war support  until the war ended.  It did not end because of Soviet constraints on the Egyptians but because Sadat allegedly got cold feet and worried that the Egyptian army would be trapped and wiped out as in 1967 war . In fact, the Soviets were urging the Egyptians to go for the Sinai  Mitla passes which were the main geographical and terrain obstacles to invading Israeli itself.

The Soviet weapons, especially the air defense , were highly successful in countering the best weaponry of the US and Israel. This created a pre-condition for the Egyptians and Soviets to agree  to the cessation of the offset artillery and air war  along the canal 68-70.In short The Russians wanted to redress the humiliation of 1967 in which the Egyptians tried to pin the blame on inferior Russian war equipment.The Russians would not allow another Egyptian defeat…not for Egypt’s sake for rather of the prestige of the Soviet Union.

I visited Egypt in 1978 with the US Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the advent of the hot phase of  cordial US-Egyptian relations, almost humorous in the efforts of the Egyptians to incur our favor, including playing Fiddler on the Roof songs on the Hotel music systems.  While visiting their G2 Hq. I was shown the beautifully hand drawn   Egyptian diagrams of the  Israeli side of the canal, the  Canal berms , land mines,  and the petroleum outlets for igniting flames on would be canal crossers.  The Egyptians knew where they were and Frogmen turned them off prior to the crossing. But quite tellingly,  midst the Arabic script writing I noticed a number of Cyrillic notes on the diagrams.

The Soviets were deeply involved in the planning and orchestration of the canal crossing from day one.  ” The writers sum up…”  we found the Soviet input in all these junctures to have been proactive, purposeful, and even aggressive in encouraging and supporting  Egypt’s military challenge to Israel, rather than a moderate and restraining influence as it was almost universally characterized.”

None of the above detracts from the courage  and capability of the Egyptians to assimilate modern equipment, train up to standard, and prosecute the war with determination and verve. They should be proud.

Russian soldier taken prisoner by the German 1941. They did not do so well at then beginning of this one either

The above is a cautionary tale. We hear, read and see every every day lots of  information                                                   ( propaganda?) depicting  Ukrainians knowing out  Russian tanks and shooting aircraft out of the sky. What we are not getting is any reliable information from the other side. President Zelensky’s impassioned pleas for more help do not seem to square with the experts positive  analyses of the war.  So in the Russian style of war we could be in phase one with phase two to follow in a couple of months or years. As in the Soviet-Israeli War one of the  reasons for the massive  Russian assistance Egypt was  the humiliation of Russian arms in the 67 war. Like Syria in 2014, Egyptian success was entangled in Russian honor and  Brezhnev’s monumental ego. Putin is even more egomaniacal.   See The Man Without a  Face: the Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen.



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The Middle Eastern and Russian Cultural Bond.

There has been some reporting and analysis by Western  pontificators, on the apparent reluctance of Middle Eastern ruling elites to part company with the Russian  Goliath, but not very much. Almost all of it centers on some economic, military program, or historical bond. And to be sure there is much truth there. The support of Middle Eastern dictators by the Russian depots are warmly welcomed. This has been true in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Iran, Palestine, and Yemen, and from time to time, by Egypt as well.  The anti-colonialism stand by Russia was very popular in the sixties  and seventies. As the Western colonial powers  tried to hold on to their influence and surrogates in the Middle East, the Russians were able to claim ( erroneously) that the Soviet Union had no colonial aspirations.In fact their history in central Asia and the Islamic world is one of unceasing quest of domination. The ordinary folks, Arabs, Turks and Iranians were usually kept ignorant of that aspect of history because the elite, whether secular or the mullahs, controlled the media and the Mosques. The elites loved the authoritarian despotism of the communist world.  The messy decentralized aspects of democracy were an anathema to the elites. As political elites do everywhere in the world, they believed that only they were smart enough to manage  a modern state.The heady smell of power was of course the ultimate prize.


Moreover the elites of the Middle East, ironically mostly educated in the West, were enamored  of the  the heavy industry, socialist model of the communist world. As Abdul Nasser would say ( often) he instituted “socialism with as Arab face.” The Middle Eastern  socialist minions or sympathizers worked feverishly to build a proletariat class from peasants and small shop owners.  Proletarians, especially the urban type, are much easier to control. They are totally dependent on the services of the State. The elite  created  what Jean Francois Revel termed “pidgin marxism” ( The Totalitarian Temptation) a disastrous cocktail of quasi socialism, warlordism, and bombastic militarism. The militarism was particularly fatal. It created armies of leaders  plotting coups, or clueless ciphers of the party in power, basically just corrupt inept politicians in uniform. The militarism actually inhibited the Middle Easterners from  creating military forces with a martial spirit  and effective  fighting units. The best of the units were just praetorian guards. Militarism is basically another tool of the despots to control the flow of information and legitimize disastrous programs and ambitions of the ruling Elite. It has very little to do with creating an effective fighting force.

Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Aleppo University campus in the Syrian city on March 10, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

But there is one  other factor of considerable importance  but almost never surfaced. That is the culture affinity of the Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. There are a couple of books that take that up indirectly but do surface it. The affinity can be found in the realm of a high context and low contact  culture. Americans, and British, at least the original  predominate native born, are low context people. They  emphasize  direct, precise language and meaning, emphasize action over planning, are monochromic, tending to do one thing at a time, while high context people get involved in many projects all at the same time, are vague and imprecise in  speech patterns . Often the high context people invest in highly imaginative and ambitious projects and never finish them. The Russians and Arabs are both low context people. There are unfinished massive construction projects rusting away all over the former Soviet Union attesting to the massive communist bid to “catch up to the West,” While in Egypt I  saw the same thing in German technology- built industrial projects paid for by Arab money,  but never finished…….  or the Sadat City, Built with the ostensible purpose of getting  the large government worker population out of overpopulated  Cairo. It is a dismal place of half built and falling down apartments now…at least when I was last there in the early nineties. This facet of Russian culture has manifested itself in the many military reforms, ostensibly to create a new professional army, to replace the massive conscript army that beat the Germans. Both military cultures have little regard for the lives of their soldiers. Recently the Russian Mom movement has modified that a bit but the culture of hiding ineptness with soldiers lives has not.

The Russians have a culture of survival. Historically the lives of the poor, the 90%, have been brutal and short, under brutal regimes, made livable by toughness, faith ( either in their authorities, ironically,  or their religion) and often generous amounts of vodka. They are a people of contradictions, as are the Arabs. Humane, gentle, humorous then suddenly brutal and capricious. The story of Bucha in Ukraine is one example. Russian soldiers at first were polite and undemanding but as the war turned ugly the same soldiers killed civilians randomly  and without a shred of sympathy.  Similarly for the Middle East, Arabs, Turks, and Persians….As Sania  Hamady, in her book, The Temperament  and Character of the Arabs, wrote,” Arab society is ruthless, stern and pitiless. It worships strength and has no compassion for weakness.”Again this  facet of character has been shaped by a hard natural environment, and  an unending history of brutal Sultans, Caliphs, totalitarian dictators, and ruthless tyrants wearing  religious garb. Both peoples(  I write of the elites, because the fellahin of the Arab world and peasants and workers of Russia have little time to devote to metaphysical theories of worldly trends), believe they have a special mission. Te Russians like Fedor Dostoevsky, the Russians had a mission as the leader of  Christianity to dominate the world. The Islamist elite  believe the Arabs had a special mission to create the house of peace( Islam)  that encompasses  the whole world. This evangelistic impulse propels the elite of both cultures. There are many there factors that can be glean ed from the books below.

Putin I need you and I am beginning to think he may need me.

The above is why the Russian and Arabs have empathetic factors that enhance their mutual empathy.

I used  information from the following:

National Identity in Russian Culture  by Simon Franklin ed

The books by Edward T Hall, The Silent Language, Beyond Culture, and  the Hidden Dimension

Isaiah Berlin, the Soviet Mind

Dima Adamsky The Culture of Military Innovation

and many years of reading the wisdom of Bernard Lewis, Albert Hourani,  Gibbs, Raphael  Patai, and the other  classics on Arabdom by the great writers of Arab history.









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What did the Russians learn from the Syrian Experience? Brutality Works

Syria had become extolled as the Russian bridge to world status once again after the upheaval of the Soviet Union dissolving to the Russian Federation and military debacles or  poorly conducted  military operations in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Georgia, and in  South Asian republics. The alleged  successes were both in political and  military spheres.

Ann Borshchevskaya ( Putin’s War in Syria) a noted scholar on all things Russian  has,  in a number of articles, depicted the Russian successes in using Syria as a test bed for new weapons, new  military doctrine, and criticized the American leadership for standing aside and letting the Russians  control Syria with their military and  influence over President Assad. Writing in 2018 she wrote,

“As of this writing, Putin has obtained most of what he wanted in Syria: Assad is in a strong negotiating position; his traditional foes are increasingly coming to accept Moscow’s view, and Russia’s presence and influence in Syria are assured. As Putin gears up for a presidential election in March 2018, in which he is all but assured another six-year term, he is not bogged down in Syria. He can tout his peacemaking ability and cooperation with the West even as he is mocking it. Moscow’s cooperation with Tehran shows no signs of abating, a relationship that holds great implications for U.S. regional policy.”

Umer Khan of the University of Buckingham an astute observer of Russian activities in Syria wrote,

“Syria turned out to become a transformative conflict for the Russian military. It became the primary theatre for the Russian forces to attain operational combat experience. It provided the Russian general officers, the staff officers, and the other ranks valuable lessons on modern warfare and an opportunity to develop innovative tactics for the future conflicts. The Russian president Vladimir Putin said, ‘the use of our armed forces in combat conditions is a unique experience and a unique tool to improve our armed forces’, he also commented that ‘no exercises can compare with using the armed forces in combat conditions’. According to Kremlin the conflict provides an opportunity to the Russian Forces to refine its newly developed precision-guided strike capability. As Putin said, ‘Syria is not a shooting range for Russian weapons, but we are still using our new weapons there and it has led to the improvement of modern strike systems, including missile systems. It is one thing to have them, and quite another thing to see how they perform in combat’. The Russian Premier also acknowledged that Syria is important for the Russian defence industry promotion, marketing and growth. ”

Chechens enjoying war in Ukraine

But I have a bit of a totally different view, at least in the military arena. I think not only did the Russians learn very little from their use of Syria as a test bed for weapons and training officers, but actually became immersed in a tar baby of  Syrian incompetence, corruption, brutality, and military leaders prevarication. It is true that the Russians wisely avoided any semblance  of “nation building”  but their exposure to Syrian malfeasance in military affairs rubbed off on the Russian  military personnel  rotated through Syria. The inhibiting  cultural aspects of the Arab military described by me (“Why Arabs Lose Wars.” Middle East Quarterly, December 1999., and Ken Pollock ( Armies of Sand: Past, Present and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness have hampered their military effectiveness for decades. It has never been a product of a lack of intelligence  or bravery, but rather engrained cultural traits which have  acted as an anchor on the best efforts of Arab military reformers to up their level of competence in conventional warfare. As I have written, this does not apply to insurgency at which then Arabs have done very well for reasons I surfaced in my chapter of Barry Rubin’s book Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East,  “ The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent.”

Syrian city after Russian and  Syrian army shelling

However the successes  of  western training of an Arab military  are near non -existent for reasons I elucidated in  In some cases the military trainer in the Arab world rather than applying his skills to the training program gradually absorbs the Arab way.

When one spends a considerable amount of time with a foreign military, as I have, I can vouch for the two way learning process that occurs  being with Arabs, who are very congenial hosts.  As Lawrence of Arabia, in one of his  axioms wrote,  “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it  perfectly.” Being immersed for a year of two in this milieu gradually shapes an advisor’s viewpoint especially in terms of urgency and most importantly the officers role as a leader and trainer and treatment of soldiers.

Syrian troops

There are a number of  factors within the military culture of the Russians that mesh nicely with Arab military  culture.  First, and perhaps foremost, is that both cultures emphasize officer training at the denigration of non- commissioned officer training. and the acceptance  and need of an authoritarian type leadership in lieu of  leadership at the bottomLeadership at small unit levels was missing even during World War II as evidenced by many German memoirs after the war (with some room for exaggeration).  In fact the Arab and Russian dependence on officers, especially junior officers was,  and is, not a remedy because the junior officers were ( and are not) well trained either. Thirdly is the small value put on human life by commanders, especially by the Russians, who often made up for inadequate leadership and tactics with brute  overwhelming force in which massive  casualties were considered the price of victory.

mass grave for civilians from Grozny

Often there was a lack off trust between the units based on ethnicity as is the case with Arabs in which ethnicity and tribal affiliations remain the source of overall loyalties. Despite the fact that the Ukrainians fought loyally for the Soviet Union in World War II, there has always been deep animosity  between the two nationalities, even in the Gulag as noted by  Solzhenitsyn. The lack of concern for enlisted men in both the Arab and Russian armies are a well established observer. My experience  with Arab militaries, as well as that of many other observers and trainers  on the ground, convinced me of the disconnect between officer and enlisted. My reading of the available information of the Russian performance in Chechen and Afghanistan wars is  ineluctably convincing of the same problem in the Russian military. See Arkady Babchenko, One Soldiers War or Svetlana Alexievich, Zinky Boys, or Roderic Braithwaite , Afgantsy.  Or as a counterweight read Alexander Werth’s hagiographic Russia at War balanced by Stalins Reluctant Soldiers by Roger Reese. Best of all read Ivans War by Catherine Merridale. The last three books are on the struggle of the Russian and Ukrainian troops to stop the Germans and destroy their war machine, and a glorious fight it was,  but the problems of today were there as well, but muted by the united war against the Nazis.

Dr Bashar the esteemed president of Syria teaching strategy

So what we have here is is not a learning process but a mutual congruence of military culture engraining mutual bad  habits in which both sides are losers. So despite the fact that by the end of 2017, 48,000 Russian troops had rotated through 3-month tours in Syria, and commanders had acquired experience in combined arms warfare, inter – service cooperation, and “complex employment of intelligence, C2 and fire destruction means,”..The quote is by according to Dmitry Adamsky, IFRIRussia /NIS Center, July 2018, . He goes on to write that that the “General Staff  (GS) turned Syria into an incubator learning, training, and innovation.”  Many writers, including me, before the the Ukraine invasion thought so, but the bottom line is always the same….. however many alphabet soup labels one wishes to use e.g., Information Technology Revolution in  Military Affairs, (IT-RMA), etc etc. the basics of discipline, hard tactical training, tough leadership, and imaginative competent generals  are the path to victory, not withstanding the fact that “military intellectuals'” make big bucks spinning old threads  into new  tapestries  constantly coming up with new acronyms and terms  for old lessons.It seems thew Syrians did more of the teaching than the Russians.

Perhaps the most salient lesson learned from the Russian-Syrian  symbiotic relationship is the use of brutality, transforming  conventional war into  terror, as demonstrated by the Syrian and Russians over the past century. The penchant for brutality goes back a long way in their histories.  For example;  The Russian  looting and rapine of eastern Germany at the close of world war II( somewhat understandable however, given the methodical German atrocities while  occupying Russian cities). The mass execution of soldiers and civilians perpetrated by both sides of the Russian civil war following on the heels of WWI is one other example. In more recent history the total destruction off Grozny in Chechnya in both wars.In the final battle only 20,oo0 of the original 400,000 inhabitants remained in the city which was leveled by ceaseless bombing and artillery. In another war, the Russians systematically destroyed Afghan villages after a single shot was fired in their direction. There was no hearts and minds campaign!

The Syrians under Hafez Assad replicated the destruction off Grozny in the reduction of the  1982 Muslim Brotherhood rebellion in the city of Hama.Twenty to thirty thousand people, mostly civilians were killed by airstrikes and area type artillery bombardment. When I was in Syria in the mid 1990’s the scars of war were still evident in the patched up apartment buildings and the sour demeanor of the people.The Russian  provided the lesson for Syria in total destruction of Afghan villages in the  Afghan Russian war  as well as Grozny in the two wars on Chechnya.

another day…. picking up bodies in Syria

This type of warfare is inordinately simple. Position your missile launchers and artillery within range of the city and keep shelling and bombing until the body and mind of the defenders give way. Atrocities are calculated to instill terror using quasi military units  like Shabiba in Syria and the Chechens in Ukraine.

A Lesson for the Western “military intellectuals”…. Terror works.


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Why has the Russian Army Been so Inept In Ukraine? Counterinsurgency in the Middle East.

Without taking anything away from the valiant and  highly professional performance of the Ukrainian army, one cannot escape the fact that the performance of the Russian army so far has been close to pathetic; intermingled units clogging the roads, No evidence of combined arms coordination, timid offensive  action, incoherent command leadership, atrocious logistics, and above all a lack of fighting spirit among the Russian soldiers. some of the latter can be attributed to the fact that most Russians considers the Ukrainians  as their brothers and  this war cannot be popular or invoke the spirit of the great patriotic war.

Many reasons for the Russian hapless performance  are advanced by the so-called “Military intellectuals.,” as well as the talking head news anchors, who have become military experts overnight. Generals are brought in  to add a degree of legitimacy to the high tech maps and impressive briefings devices. In my not so humble  opinion most of these people know little more than I do, and based on the intelligence  community’s results record  over the past two decades I am not confident  that they have a handle on the situation either. It will be a long time before we know all the details but there is no getting around the third world level of military incompetence the Russians have displayed.

There is one crucial factor missing from the analysis of the Russian performance, which up to now I have not seen addressed anywhere. Since 2005  the five day war with small Georgia, the Russians  have been involved what is usually known as  Counterinsurgency (COIN).  For the past 15 years the Russians have been involved in COIN in Chechnya, Afghanistan and places in Africa like Angola. Like us Americans, the Russians have  been locked into greater Middle Eastern insurgencies in which they demonstrated  -as did we -no particular ability to do well. The end state in Iraq and Afghanistan attest to that.

The problem is, that COIN becomes more than a way of war, it becomes a mindset, an all encompassing faith, like a religion, especially the population centric idea that winning the hearts and minds of the people will dry up the insurgent pool of recruits and sympathizers. The fact is…we and the Russians  were aliens in another world.  We are and were foreigners and detested because we were. Thousands of articles and books have been printed lamenting that we failed in COIN because of this factor or that. But  they  cannot quite admit the truth that  none of that mattered in the end.

COIN has become a cottage industry, with favored practitioners, and particular  heroes. President Kennedy drove the founding of the COIN  institutions and promoted the generals who agreed with him, COIN has become a byword for the smart intellectual general who is culturally adept and knowledgeable in the  political world.  COIN became a dogma.

People like Col. ( Ret) Gian Gentile  was an almost a lone  voice criticizing the COIN aficionados . After all the promoters of COIN ,  the big boys, General  David Petraeus,  David Kilcullen, Pete Mansour, John Nagl,  and host of others on the NPR and PBS  short list of commentators.

Another opponent of this dogma Was my late friend Col . Harry G Summers (On Strategy: A critical analysis of the Vietnam War). As he wrote, Counterinsurgency became not so much as the Army’s doctrine as the army’s dogma…. stultifying military strategic thinking.” I would add it stultified combat operations execution even more so.

Ok So why does this  over indulgence in COIN destroy an Army?

 Heavy Weapons.In counterinsurgency the weapons that kills and breaks  stuff the most are rarely used, e.g. Armor and artillery. Units become rusty, weapons become obsolete, knowledge disappears. In Iraq our artillery units were used as convoy protection units.

Command and control of large  maneuver units are not needed inCOIN and the expertise to do so evaporates,  as units higher than  battalion are rarely conducting operations. In fact it is usually company or  platoon size units that  conduct the operations. Many units are involved in static missions with patrols to secure areas that will be reclaimed by the insurgents. The Eisenhowers and Zhukovs are not to be found. The path to fame is being able to understand the FM 3-24 and somehow implement it. My evidence  suggests that few that  could employ it rarely read it, but nevertheless the overall imperative of speaking  and thinking COIN was always there. A  division commander  in Iraq agreed with me  on this .

Logistics. Its one thing to resupply a firebase and quite another to  supply a fast moving maneuver unit in an on-going offensive operation. COIN operations rarely requires  that and the logisticians lose their skills and ability to readjust in varying combat situations. Maintenance in the field is far different from dragging broken down vehicles to a firebase ( green zone), and having to retrieve and fix armor in the field in combat conditions.It is very apparent the Russians were not up to this as many vehicles and armor have been left to the Ukrainians .

The Generals. The lack of opportunity for generals to do the job they are hired to do…i.e. lead large units commensurate with their rank into battle, they either retreat to Audi-visual CNN type headquarters watching innumerable TV screens and reading massive amounts of data, or flying hither and yon in helicopters  to interfere with subordinate commanders trying to control their units . Since most of the fighting in the Greater Middle East of both Russians and Americans have been fought almost exclusively in small platoon or company size units this is the norm. In Vietnam my division commander exercised his leadership by flying above units in action and  doing the job of  squad leaders  and company commanders.

COIN as poisonThere are many other detrimental factors that have infected the Russian, and  us as well, one especially critical one is the corrosive effect  the Middle Eastern “whack a mole” tedious, surrealistic war against invisible insurgents. People who wave at you during the day and shoot at you at night.  The soldiers  in armored vehicles feeling the humiliation of kids goading you by throwing bottles at you and shouting insults at you as you pass by.It does not induce empathy for the people you have ostensibly  come to save. Our nation-building, as that of the Russians in the Islamic Middle East, were a tremendous failure. Some aficionados  of COIN have suggested it is a civilizational reset sort of like the imperialistic mission of the French. A friend of mine, an American Iraqi, on a visit to her relatives in Baghdad, told me despite the shopping malls, and new cars, Iraq is more unlivable than ever; the people more grasping and chasing the almighty dollar. As I have written a number of times,  the Arabs tend to absorb the worst elements of Western civilization and seldom the better ones. I also believe that the exposure to the Middle Eastern way of life rubs off those Western soldiers exposed to it for a long period of time. Inshallah is a very catchy word to go about one’s job in a lackadaisical manner.

General George Decker CJCS. He told President Kennedy “that any good soldier can handle guerrillas.” He has been ridiculed for his attitude by the “informed” class of military intellectuals and those faithful to the COIN liturgy. Perhaps a relook would be beneficial.

COIN is a dirty war by nature, it breeds savagery and a gradual loss of humanity. Bored soldiers resort to drugs, looting and  rapine. As the war drags on with the generals spouting positive reports, and the troops on the ground see the reality  they become  cynical and recalcitrant to follow orders they know are foolish. In Iraq and Afghanistan  there were the “inside the wire people”, massive numbers of people who mostly just simply consumed rations, lived quite well,  and those who were called upon the venture “outside the wire” and fight an often invisible enemy and endure the hostile attitude of the locals. The American tooth to tail structure is ridiculously lopsided with the fighters a small percentage of those counted as troops in media reports of” troops on the ground.” This was true especially  in Iraq and Afghanistan for the Americans and in a lesser way for the Russians as well. The Russian high command general  indifference to the well-being of their troops account for the less creature comforts for their soldiers.. A good  book on the debilitating effects of the  Vietnam war  is Shelby L. Stanton, The Rise and Fall of the American Army . My contention, based on my army lifer  experienced eyes and ears, is the same has happened to our present forces, assisted by the idiotic social engineering projects injected into the Army by  politicalized  generals.

Toward the end of the Vietnam war the American army was in danger of becoming a rabble in uniform.


I hope  to use an expanded version of this for a paper to be presented at the annual  ASMEA conference in Nov …inshaAllah.

PS I was among the boosters of low intensity conflict and COIN at an a earlier time but I’ve seen the light. Let’s hope the generals do. If they do not we are destined for our own Ukraines. perhaps sooner than we think.

addendum; Lots of grammatical  errors in this article.  Bad proofreading. Hope I corrected most of them.

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Russian victory over Georgia 2008. An Albatross.

“…..The dazzling victory in the 67 war…contributed to the building of a myth around the IDF( Israeli Defense  Forces) and its personnel. The common expectations from the IDF were that any future war would be short with few casualties.” So spoke the Israeli Major General Avraham Adan a division commander in 1973.  (The Arab-Israeli war: The Albatross of Decisive Victory, Leavenworth Papers, 1996 by George Gawrych. In this monograph Dr Gawrych spells out once more that the worst thing that can happen to an army– next to its  total destruction like that of Germany and Japan in WWII—- is an easy victory. An easy victory brings hubris and a unwarranted feeling that all is well. Certainly the Israelis were guilty of this in the 1973 war based on then hapless performance of the well armed but ill trained Egyptians forces in 1967. Along with the massive Israeli intelligence failure, the main lesson I have always believed  Israeli hubris and denigration of Egyptian capabilities to be the primary  factor in the close run victory of the Israelis…..  enabled by a massive American airlift of major weapon systems.


As an artillery man I wrote a paper on the poor use of artillery by the Israelis in the 1967 war. They depended  on “flying artillery” in the 67 war and it worked very well as they had total air superiority after a short  time. In the 1973 war the  Egyptian air defense weapons supplied by the Russians decimated the ground support Israeli aircraft. Lesson:  Be very careful when assuming your enemy will not improve.

The point here is that the easy Russian victory over the Ukrainians in 2014, and perhaps more importantly, the five day victory over the Georgians in 2008, as well as  the high marks  given the Russians in their operations in Syria has given the Russians an unwarranted high opinion off themselves.

The Georgian operations are particularly important in assessing the “underwhelming” Russian performance in the Ukraine war so far. The Georgian war was precipitated by the  Russians  supporting the breakaway entities of Abkhazia  and South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008.   As the Russians always do, they used nationalist, ethnic, and tribal factors to instigate dissidence and ultimately war against the Georgians. The Russians, in a preview of the Ukraine war, reacted to rumors and suggestions that  Georgia was angling to join NATO. We, as with Ukraine, had made this a possibility and then when war loomed we kept urging Georgia to avoid provocations to Russia. As with Ukraine now, the reaction of  United States to the actual war was tepid, and efforts to reach an understanding with Russia and not provoke them was considered paramount. On the other hand the Russians, by beating  up the Georgians, were sending a clear message to Ukraine that any attempts to bring Ukraine into NATO would be dealt with in a similar way. It went unheeded for the same reason as the Israeli surprise in 1973.

The  West, particularly the United States, was filled with hubris watching the Soviet Empire dissolve into multiple countries. In actions warned against by the great American ambassador to Russia, George Kennan,  we kept pressing Western influence and military power into their “near Abroad,” Russia’s near neighbors,  the Russian view was and is that  we were encircling Russia with the ultimate objective of strangling it. The Russians, as I have shown in a previous post, have always been suspicious of the West and have never viewed themselves as part of it.

What can be learn from the Russian  military operations in Georgia that apply to the Russian mess in the Ukraine? Yes:

Following the victory of the Russian forces there were a number of trenchant criticisms of the Russian performance by senior military personnel. They related that the Russian equipment was inferior  to much of the American supplied armor and individual  infantry equipment, especially night vision and body armor, lack or reactive tank armor, maintenance was poor, and that Russian tactics were WWII, strategy was unimaginative, command and control was poor.  Probably the most glaring problem was the mediocre performance of the officer corps and the continuing lack of a truly professional Non-Commissioned Officer Corps. The higher  living conditions  of the Georgian troops found by the Russian troops when they entered Georgian bases was very humiliating. The living conditions of Russian troops were primitive by comparison and the soldiers were quite vocal about it.

See The Russian Military and the Georgian War (SSI) by Ariel Cohen and Robert E. Hamilton.

As a number of memoirs of former Russian soldiers attest the life of a Russian soldier was, and  is, one of living in a jungle of criminals and barbarians. Subject to frequent beatings, robbery by criminal soldiers who rule the barracks, and officers who simply stand by and do nothing they were an army in name only. Desertions,  soldiers doing deals with the enemy to avoid combat, selling weapons to their enemies,  and general malfeasance characterized the Russian enlisted personnel system. See Svetlana Alexievich, ZinkyBoys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War and One Soldiers War by Arkandy Babchenko

Following the Georgian war, a number of “reforms” were instituted in the armed forces including a supposedly improved environment for soldiers and intense training for young officers, and up grade of equipment. The reform programs were seen by some as producing a new Russian army. The Russian military reform programs have been well  and soberly analyzed by Aleksandr Golts,  Military Reform and Militarism in Russia, and unduly praised by Andrei Martyanov Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of Military Supremacy. The latter book rightly criticizes the hubris of our leadership in assuming that we enjoy a comfortable advance over the Russians in military power but goes overboard in praising  the Russian military advances. The Golt’s book makes it clear that although some  needed reforms were carried out, essentially he writes, “Thus we can say military reform addressed strictly the military technological sphere of the manning and structure of the Armed Forces. It came to a halt at the moment the qualitative changes collided with the fundamental  principles of Puti’s authoritarian state.” In my estimation from his book and many other readings, the most important element of an army, the human factor, has not essentially changed since WWII.

also see

CAVEAT. Nothing written here should give anyone comfort that all is well in a possible armed confrontation with Russia. One must remember the debacle of the Russian attack on Finland in 1939. The German high command based much of their assessment of the Russian army on the Russian ineptness exhibited during the war….to their detriment.




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The Russian Miscalculated but Why?

in Alexander Pushkin’s Onegin, Pushkin warned the Russians against the frivolity of the West and he  wrote that if the Russians copied Western culture they would deteriorate. Most all famous Russian writers detested the West

One question among many that may not be answered for many months or years is why the Russians decided to invade and if so  were they anticipating the  strength of Ukrainian resistance? Why was their human intelligence so poor?  In general terms, the lack of Ukrainian resistance to the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014, and perhaps more importantly an ingrained belief that a Ukraine in which one out of six Ukrainians is an ethnic Russian and that many eastern  Ukrainians would welcome a Russian “liberation” from what many Western observers  viewed as a country permeated with official corruption.

Since I wrote my piece on the Russians using Syria as a test  bed for the war in the Ukraine, things appear very differently. The seemingly more professional Russian army has not been evidenced in the war so far. The military reforms sought by the former minister of defense, Anatoliy Serdyukov have not been properly implemented and the same basic aliments that have plagued the Russian army since WWII, and many even during that war are still relevant and embarrassingly so. I leave to those more familiar with the war of the ground in terms of tactics and strategy to keep us informed on that but I will concentrate on the human aspect of this war, factors which have afflicted the Russian army since WWII.

The first one is that the Russians have long considered the Ukrainians “little Russians” And many have assumed that the Ukrainians would see them as their “big brother” as did then Serbians in the Kosovo war of 1998-1999.  NATO intervened on the side of the Kosovo Albanian Muslims using air bombardment including B-52’s to force the Serbs into a negotiated agreement resulting in the creation of an Albanian  Muslim Kosovo. The Russians saw themselves as defenders of the Serbs against an anti- Slavic coalition led by the United States.  The Pan-slavic ideology is an old one. Like the pan-Arab movement that resonated in the Middle East in the 60’s and 70’s , that advocated a united Arab World ( especially pushed by the wannabe leader  Abdul Nasser) pan -Slavism was once a very visible ideology especially in Russia.  It includes some 14 nations, including the east Slavs; Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Although it is no longer a front page ideology, traces of it are still powerful in Russia. Hans Kohn in his book, Pan-Slavism; It’s History and Ideology, quotes a poem written by a Ukrainian during World War II indicating the indissolubility of Ukraine from Russia. ( The Ukrainians furnished the second highest numbers of troops to the Soviet war against the Germans ).

“The Ukraine lives for using the songs that we sing, in the stars and the willow trees along the rivers, and in the beat  of our heart. How can we love other peoples, if we do not love our Ukraine. We are nothing without her, like the dust of the fields, or smoke, eternally driven away by the winds”

In fact all the great Russian writers, with possible exception of Turgenev, were anti-Western, especially Dostoyevsky, who believed in a southward expansion of the Russian empire, writing, “ all our hopes lie more in Asia than in Europe: in our future Asia will be our salvation.” Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet and considered to be the soul of Russia was vitriolic in his denunciations of the West.  He like most Russian intelligentsia  considered the Europeans as looking down on them and like all of them  resented it fiercely.  He believed that “Russia was the mother of the Slavs.” Even those more recent Russians of world-wide fame such as Solzhenitsyn, who spent time in Stalin’s gulag, bitterly criticized the West in a famous speech at Harvard in 1978. He and Svetlana, Stalin’s daughter who fled from Russia retuned to it in later years. In fact much of the Russian consciousness of their history and “exceptionalism” is  both a a result of and a reaction against Western influences. The “westoxification” railed against by so many in the Islamic world  is also a feature of the Russian intelligentsia, who are constantly reminded of their inferiority in many areas of a civilized and developed society.

Given this attitude which has permeated Russian society for centuries, accentuated in recent years by the rather asinine handling of the Ukraine question by American and  European diplomats and opinion makers, it was just pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire.  This inept handling of the Ukraine question, was summarized very well by Kissinger in an article in 2014, in which he advised that Ukraine should be a bridge between Russia and the West, not an “outpost.” He went on to argue in the  Wall Street Journal that “to treat Ukraine as part of an part of an East-West  confrontation  would scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia  and the West, especially Russia and Europe-  into a cooperative international system.”

Basically, Kissinger and the former American ambassador to Ukraine, Jack Matlock, saw the American push for the Ukrainians to be part of NATO, as making the present war inevitable. The problem today we have amateurs running our foreign policy who have never read history to understand it and are more interested in the opinion of the Washington Post and NYT, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair.  Moreover we led the Ukrainians into a false sense of security in 2014, when Clinton assured the Ukrainian government that in exchange for giving up their extensive ownership of nuclear weapons.

So The Ukrainians have demonstrated with blood and much courage that do not want to be part of the new Russian empire and in their short span of independence have demonstrated beyond doubt that the Pan- Slavism of the Russian regime is dead, just as the dream  of some great Pan Arab empire, a reconstitution of the Ommayad empire is dead.

In addition to the Hans  Kohn book, I have used National Identity in Russian Culture ed. Simon Franklin, and Emma Widdis, and The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism by Isaiah Berlin plus Russia by Dmitri Trenin. A great historical survey of Ukrainian history is The Gates of Europe by Serhii Plokhy.




















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The Ukraine and The Arab world

After WWII, as the Russian threat became apparent  to the West, somewhat belatedly, and Soviet interest  in the Arab world, heretofore a Western preserve,  became a region of critical focus. The West sought to create a  barrier of friendly Arab states to stymie the Soviet advance to the Persian Gulf.  However ,Nikita  Khruschev  and his Arabist advisors realized the vulnerability of Western policies in the Arab world and “leaped over” the Western alliances, such as the Baghdad pact  which was created built to contain the Russian bear. In doing so the Russians junked  the paranoia Stalin mindset that all the new nationalists were enemies of Russia. Arab nationalists like Abdul Nasser were welcomed as fellow fighters against Western colonialism. The Russians accepted that enemies of the West as typified by Nasser and Arab nationalists in Iraq and Syria were friends of the Russians. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.  But many experts of the Middle East were convinced that Islam would never allow the Communist Russians to replace the Western powers in the Arab world. It seemed that on almost every point Islam was antithetical to the Communist doctrine. Communism was man made. Islam  is God’s construction.  The two are incompatible…it would seem, but in fact the two systems of belief had a number of congruent pillars of faith.

Yevgeny Primakov Arab. expert and leading Russian Diplomat and historian of the Arab. world

As  Bernard Lewis  spelled it outthere were aspects of Communism that were extremely attractive to the Arab intelligentsia.  As he wrote, ” The Ulama of Islam are very different from the Communist Party. Nevertheless, on closer examination, we find certain uncomfortable resemblances. Both groups profess a totalitarian doctrine, with complete and final answers to all questions on heaven and earth; the answers are different in every respect, alike only in their finality and completeness, and in the contrast they offer with the eternal questioning of Western man. Both groups offer to their members and followers the agreeable sensation of belonging to a community of believers, who are always right, as against an outer world of unbelievers, who are always wrong. Both offer an exhilarating feeling of mission, of purpose, of being engaged in a collective adventure to accelerate the historically inevitable victory of the true faith over the infidel evil-doers.” As he continues, the traditional Islamic division of the world into the world of peace and the world of war also  shows distinct similarity to the  Communist world. An evil world of enemies looking for opportunities to destroy the Marxist  utopia. (Bernard Lewis. “Communism and Islam,” International Affairs, Royal Institute of International Affairs)

Today  communism is nearly extinct except in American universities, but the threat has expanded and intensified.  Now as the war in the Ukraine goes on, as the anchors on American television are loudly proclaiming the world is against the Russians, with even Russian vodka is being taken off the shelves,  Putin has apparently miscalculated and unleashed a new wave of Russophobia. However  one region remains largely silent. While there are a few tepid admonishments from the Arab leaders, there are no denunciation  coming  from the leaders or the people.  In the U.N. the Arabs and Middle East States mostly abstained rather than vote against Russia. Why?


There are five  basic reasons.

    • There is an enduring Arab  hatred toward the West, particularly among the intelligentsia class, as the peasants of the Arab world worry mostly about survival and bread for their families. It can seen in the railings of the Arab intelligentsia  against westoxication, the emulation of upper classes of the Western way of life, in political opinions, dress, deportment etc. The culture  of the West  is  seen by the intelligentsia as corrupting the Islamic way of life. Any war, ideology, event or trend that works against the interests of the West are always applauded  by these people who are opinion makers and  are those sought out by American academics as voicing the attitudes of the people in the Arab world. Many are clerics, including many who live in the West, who constantly encourage their congregations to abjure the Western way of life. In summation among the Arabs there is an atavistic  impulse to destroy the symbols and edifice of Western culture.   One of the driving factors in the growth of the Jihadi movement has been to cleanse the Islamic world of Western culture.The Russians have neatly and opportunistically integrated themselves   into this impulse and adroitly keep it current. (Walter Laqueur, The Soviet Union and the Middle East. Galia Golan Soviet Policies in the Middle East)
  • The Cultural similarities. Russian scholars frequently try to convince their fellow scholars in the West that Russia is not a Western country. But most Western scholars ( in the View of the Russians) continue to view Russia through the lens of a Western perspective.  In reality there are, within  the  Russian culture , many similarities to the Arab culture. Their predilection for authoritarian rule, deep seated belief  in their victimhood,  suspicious Western covertness, dating first from the Napolean invasion, to the weak Western attempt to stop the communist movement after WWI, to the misguided American relegation of Russia to a second rate county after the demise of the Soviet  Union, probably unintended, but deeply resented none the less. Like Arabs, Russians have deeply rooted traits exhibiting  pride, extolling  honor, and are sensitive to perceived slights, whether real or imagined.( Dmitri Trenin, Russia and A second book by Trinin, What is Russia up to in the Middle East) and Agantsy by Roderic Braithwaite. In an article  written in  2021  for an online periodical, ” Russians and Arabs,”  based on my own experience, after detailing many of the factors of a cultural clash I wrote,  “But in a number of ways the Egyptians and Russians were more attuned to each other’s culture; for example the docile acceptance of authority, the security paranoia, living close to the ground with few-if any- amenities.”
  • The Strongman factor. Arabs  love a strong leader and not necessarily a very pleasant  one.  Among many Arabs, especially the Sunni, Saddam Hussein was seen as the new Saladin. After all he confronted 34 nations and won…as he told it….. and many believed him. Even today his image has a strong following among many Arabs. Lee Smith, a Middle East scholar who I invited to lecture my class wrote a book entitled The Strong Horse: Politics and the Clash of Arab Civilizations , in which he related the Arab penchant for despots, quoting Bin Laden that people always bet on the strong horse. The Iraqis had a term for  people like Saddam, sharqawi, the neighborhood bully, who, while he may be disliked, is feared and many young men seek to curry his favor. Putin fits that image. He may not instill the fear that Stalins did, but as a Russian professor who  visited my class, told us, Putin ( ex-KBG) “has the files on everyone.” But as the  Post war interviews of the Iraqi confidantes  clearly depicted, Saddam ruled by fear. But neither he or Putin was/is  a mad man
  • Russian clever and forceful diplomatic strategy in the Arab world.  there is no getting around it the Russians have maneuvered themselves into enviable   position in the Arab world. They deal  happily with Israel and Syria,  Turkey, Algeria,. Egypt Iraq and outside the Arab world, Iran. They have the knack of getting along with implacable enemies. As Dmitri Trenin  puts it, “once rigid,zero-sum ideological and geopolitical player, Moscow has recently transformed itself into a paragon of pragmatism.” But as he clearly states, Putin does not shy away from brutal pressure, as he  did on Turkey forcing proud Erdogan to apologize for shooting down a Russian fighter on the Turkish- Syrian border. When Putin  speaks  people listen….or should.  Reading Yevgeny Primakov’s Russia and the Arabs gives a number of clues as to why the Russians have so well in the Arab world. The Russian intelligence  seem to have a sensitive nose for  the currents that pass through the Arab  masses and are flexible enough to change gears when necessary. They are also duplicitous in a way not available to the West. For example in the 60’s the Russians were supplying the Kurds with arms to fight the Iraqis while at the same time flying bombing  missions  on those same Kurds in support of the Iraqi government.
  • The Protocols of Zion. A fraud but Still a best seller in the Arab world

  •  Finally an Arab friend of mine was shocked when her relative in Iraq proclaimed his hopes that Russia wins in the Ukraine. The reason? Ukrainian  President Voldymyr Zelensky  is a Jew.  The Protocols of Zion is far from dead in the Middle East.  I am certain that among many in the Arab world this is reason enough to root for Russia.



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Syria: Russian Military Testing Laboratory for the Ukraine “Attack.”

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“Today we are acquiring priceless combat experience in Syria. It is essential for this to be analyzed in the branches of service and the combat arms at both the operational and tactical levels,” a quote from a speech by Russian Chief … Continue reading

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Qatar and Al Jazeera

“It is a barren, featureless peninsula, without even a wadi to break its desolate monotony. Until the coming of oil a generation ago its inhabitants led the meanest and harshest existence of any of the Gulf, surviving by fishing, pearling and raising of goats and camels.” JB Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West. Kelly goes on to write, “It is not the fault of the Qataris that  they have no history, nor can it be held against them that they would like to invent one- though It is doubtful whether most of them care one way or another about the past.” According to JB Kelly, the most eminent scholar of  Gulf history, the ruling family of Qatar the Al Thanis have traditionally been held in low esteem by their fellow ruling sheikhs of the Gulf States. The ruling Al Thanis, being of the Wahhabi Islamist persuasion, were also the most draconian of the Gulf rulers, despite taking a somewhat more moderate view of the Wahhabi strictures.


I have only been in Qatar for a few weeks, in 2003 and 2004, waiting for aircraft going in or out of Iraq. My observations were not positive, especially the shopping malls with all the artificial “Christmas” trees and moving black objects ( soldier phrase for the Arab women in full Islamic regalia.) It gave me the premonition of a plastic unreal civilization on the verge of vaporization. But I have tried to tell it like it is.

The al Thanis have had a rather tangled  history of in-family  bloodless fratricide..a number of rulers deposed by sons, or other close members  of the Al Thanis. In more recent history Khalifa bin Hamas al Thani  seized control of Qatar while his father , Ahmad bin Ali was on a hunting trip in Iran, and in turn was deposed by his son, Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani  in 1995. Under the latter the modernization and some liberalization  began,  and a total welfare state was inaugurated for its citizens, from womb  to tomb, along with a massive construction of a modern , if garish, city. This program was embellished and became one of the wonders of the wonders of the gulf in 2013 when Hamas relinquished control to his son, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. In preparation for the  2022 FIFA World Cup. a massive infrastructure program was initiated and more welfare for the coveted title of citizen.

The basic issue is that only about  12% not the population are citizens, the rest, about 2.8 million being the expatriates who do all the work. As in the UAE, most of the manual work is done by south Asians, including some 1.5 million Sri Lankans, with the  Levantine Arabs and Westerners filling most of the managerial  positions.  Ninety percent of the Qataris, who are in actual employment, work for the government. As a Qatari general told Zoltan Barany, Armies of Arabia,” the young men sleep till noon and then spend the rest of their day driving around in their fancy cars.”  Meanwhile the laboring class lives in a ramshackle ghetto on the outskirts of Doha, out of sight of the admiring visitors to the sheikdom. The habitations in the  labor camps are described as” unfinished to decrepit” in an area “dotted with piles of garbage , construction detritus, and abandoned cars.” Despite the privations of their life, few if any harbor any ill will toward the ruling class as their jobs enable them to at least have paying jobs enabling them to  send money home to their families…obviously something they lacked in their country of origin.

Workers Qatar

This has all come about due to the massive oil and gas fields within the Qatari territory.  Qatar exports of natural gas o are the third largest in the world.  Most likely It was for this reason  that al Qatar’s friendship is sought after by the West, the most recent example  being  Emir Tamim’s welcome reception at the White House. Should Russia shut down or limit the export of oil and gas to Western Europe, there is hope that Qatar can make up the deficit. Alas, according to the oil experts it cannot. But hope seems to drive most of the foreign policies of the West, particularly the U.S., these days.



Qatar in foreign relations  pretty well substantiates the claim that there is no problem that money cannot solve. They promote the Muslim Brotherhood, have very good relations with the mullahs of Iran, Erdogan’s Islamized Turkey, and yet are happy to have the U.S. maintain the largest  USAF airbase in the region,  have excellent relations with Western Europeans and has a number of British advisors with their military. The ruling class hobnobs with the gentry of the West and in fact the Queen mother,  the attractive Moza bint Nasser, the mother of eight princes and princesses, is president of the Qatar Foundation, which funnels money to those deemed worthy to receive it, and frequently addresses world organizations.  She is one of the female power figures of the Arab world.

Queen Rania of Jordan and Queen mother Shiekha Moza of Qatar

Qatar’s ruling family does not get along well with the  other sheikhs of the Arab Gulf, and has a long standing animosity toward al Sisi’s Egypt particularly when General Al Sisi overturned the Muslim Brotherhood regime of al Morsi. A number of  the other Gulf Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation  Council ( GCC) and Egypt severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in 2017, and banned their airspace and sea routes to punish Qatar. An agreement with the Qatar brokered by Kuwait ended the boycott but not the bad feeling. Particularly Saudi Arabia’s rulers detest Qatar’s foreign policies as the Muslim Brotherhood is an ideological enemy of the Wahhabi philosophy of the Saudis.

The Qatari military with the exception of the Emiri special palace  guard  are probably the least capable of any of the Gulf states, none of which are capable of defending themselves against regional enemies.  The ruler did impose mandatory military training for all Qatari males for a three month period. It is more intended to instill some sort of discipline and nationalism into a largely self-indulgent youth. The Qataris did serve in an number of areas, including Libya, Yemen, and Afghanistan but without any distinction. Their part in the 1991 Gulf war was actually a unit of mostly Jordanian personnel. Throughout the Gulf many of the soldiers are Baluchi, or Dhofaris, with Jordanian NCO’s.

Qatari inductees

Other than their wealth, the infamous Al Jazeera television network has put Qatar on the map. Its emergence in 1996 ushered in a new concept in Arab television news—-or so it seemed—- telling some unpleasant truths about the Arab world. Totally funded by the Qatari ruler using unlimited money it pulled experienced and seasoned television newscasters from other  networks paying them handsomely.  For example, a friend of mine applied to work at Al Hurra, the American unanswer to al Jazeera, and was shocked at the low level of pay. As might be surmised while Al Jazeera was drawing 70 million viewers ,Al Hurra was getting 1.5 million viewers. Hate America is a difficult theme to counter in. the Middle East.

Al Jazeera

I was involved in a minor way in the Egyptian – Qatar dispute over a filmed interview I had with Al Jazeera. Called “The Soldiers,” it was basically a hit piece on the Egyptian government and army—- which I had not intended it to be.  Within hours over a half million people viewed it on YouTube watching the  skilled Al Jazeera propaganda piece. The Egyptian government and military hierarchy was deeply offended- as they had a right to be.The dustup can be read about below. .  I had intended my part to be an analysis of the cultural issues that ALLArab militaries are afflicted by…a sort of a visual presentation  of my article “Why Arabs Lose Wars”  but Al Jazeera cut and clipped it in such a way to make it appear it was just the Egyptian Army I was talking about. But to be sure the issues presented are present in the Egyptian Army as they are in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and to some extent now in Jordan, and in an aggravated  form in the Gulf states. The essence of the issue below.


American gurus on all things Arab  such as Marc Lynch, and Hugh Miles were highly laudatory of the Al Jazeera, seeing it as ushering in a new era of Arab media. According to these folks, Al Jazeera was not anti semitic, or anti American.  However, American soldiers on the ground fighting house to house in Fallujah had a far different view.  As Bing West (No True Glory: A front-line Account of the Battle of Al Fallujah) related it, it was the shrill denunciations, exhortations to the terrorists, and bloody images emanating from  Al Jazeera that convinced the world that Americans were bent on genocide, and made George Bush call off the assault. It had to be reinitiated later in 2004, when the terrorists had created a fortified city which was retaken at great cost.

At  this time  even the aficionados  of Al Jazeera should be convinced that Al Jazeera is simply a very well funded and expertly produced network that serves as the mouthpiece of the Qatar ruling family, an authoritarian government  that rules over a mostly apathetic citizenry happy with government largess, and indentured servants content with their lot in life.

Since my short visits there in 2003-4  Qatar has gone from strength to strength, but my opinion has not changed. Its existence in history will be short-lived and unlike the older  great civilizations of the Middle East, will leave few artifacts to reveal the once wondrous metropolis.



link to al jazeera documentary




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The United Arab Emirates Under Houthi Threat

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  When we think off the UAE these days  we see an amazing array of architectural sights, of palatial hotels an luxurious consumer  goods and most importantly a seemingly oasis of stability and good will in the viperous cauldron of … Continue reading

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