Erudite Report. A New Online Periodical

http://www.erudite.report                     check it out.

For a long time it has been obvious that the American news media has downgraded international news ,except for news flashes on disasters or terror attacks, and then after a day or so they disappear  completely.  There is very little analyses, and very often these days, the slant on foreign news is oriented toward domestic political ideologies. I have written many times that one of the burdens of the Arab world toward a more civilized and democratic state has been the corruption of the Arab press and Media. The media and press are owned by the government or are heavily censored by the government.

John S

John Sjoholm editor of Erudite Report

Now I find to my chagrin that American media and especially the press are not much better, simply a Johnny  one note reflection of a superficial viewpoint – a zeigeist- that has suppressed contrary opinion or managed to submerge it under a deluge of political correct mantras that reflect only the views of the “elite.” The “elite” these days are poorly educated in that they are propagandized and not allowed to think for themselves. Many run  the media or are in the classrooms,  pontificating on issues they know very little about.  Social media are totally regulated by the amorphous “elitist” self censorship. It is a case of massive  “group think.” Those few periodicals and media that tries to  rise above this morass of  1984 Orwellian measures to keep the public content with bread and circuses, or more lately using East German Stasi tactics to put fear into the hearts of the  opposition. (Read  God’s Spies by Elisabeth Braw and the History of the Stasi by Jens Gieseke)  are ridiculed or legaled to death in a Court system that mirrors the zeitgeist.

So a very sharp and well traveled friend of mine, John Sjoholm, a modern  renaissance  man has set up an on line periodical called the Erudite Report ,  with a modest assist from myself, which will dissect and analyze foreign affairs- in depth- with a special focus on political – military affairs and trends. We will combine the historical and cultural factors with the current social environment to attempt to make sense of events that make the news ( or should make the news).

John is a former Swedish Special Forces troop , a former intelligence contractor turned management consultant, having done field research for investment companies. He has a lot of experience as a journalist in the Middle East and Europe and has a knack for surfacing the  meat of complicated issues in a coherent and cogent manner.

You can read who I am in a number of places but basically I am a senior citizen, retired army colonel from the artillery with many years on the ground experience in the Middle East. I love much about the Middle Easterners, but like all peoples they have grievous societal faults which continue to keep them under achievers. I love to read and write, whether read by anyone or not. Somewhat immodestly, I think I have something to add the market place of ideas, and I do not defer to any of the big names in the contest of ideas.

erudite pic

Writer and Artilleryman

 

so check it out folks, the first report is on Turkey.

find at http://www.erudite.report

 

 

 

 

 

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Cocktail Commando: Another View

 

In 1999 I wrote a very strong plea for the correct use of political-military officers. Military officers who can add their military expertise to complicated  foreign policy issues are a tremendous asset. This is particularly  vital in the mostly low intensity wars we have been fighting for the past few decades.  The article is article below

The Political-Military Army Officer: Soldier Scholar or Cocktail Commando

But as we have seen there  always  a downside  to this when political-military  officers ( pol-mil)  forget the mil and go wild on the pol.   T.E. Lawrence is a good example of this; An asset of extraordinary  value leading the Arab tribes against the Turks but a  difficult burden when his blind support of  Feisal bin Hussein Ali AL -Hashemi, and his Arab tribes and his machinations  to install him king of  Syria.

The LTC Alexander  Vindman, case exemplifies my point.  Vindman,  a fuctionary in the National Security Council,  by virtue of his position,  had considerable power to do damage but not much to do any good.  One can argue the morality issue, but as an officer he can object to what he considers an unlawful order, but in this case he was given no order. As the “impeachment inquiry”  drags on  the only salient points I have seen so far is hard ball politics, and military officers should not become involved. It only diminishes the  image of the military. In my article above I did sound a cautionary note as below.

“The result of too little time in the “real” Army is evidenced by some officers who spend a great deal of their career within political-military upper echelons and often identify with their colleagues; in seeking acceptance, they try to become one of them in outlook, which is of no value to either side of the equation. Over the years I have known some who, having spent years in civilian clothes, tend to absorb the culture of their organization and the reason they are there, i.e., to provide a military voice to the process of making decisions is negated. The last thing needed is another echo.”

I recall an incident from my time in the Pentagon that had I been the Vindman type I could have achieved my 15 minutes of fame. While working in Army Intelligence I  was made  aware  of communications, intercepted  in Paris  between a senior aide to President Carter with aides of the Ayatollah Khomeini which  seemingly  considered a deal to hand over the Shah of Iran, who at that time was in the U.S. for medical treatment. The quid pro quo was continued Iranian relationship with the U.S,

The idea of that was morally repugnant to me and the person who shared it with me, but we were professional officers and we kept our noses out of politics.  Neither of us had much respect for the Carter regime. Had we gone to the media we would have momentary fame ( At least in some of the conservative  Press.)  and then shortly thereafter rightly cast out onto the dust bin of history.

Over the years, since I wrote the article above, there has been an explosion of military folks, especially the big shots, getting their asses entwined in politics and by doing so, in my not so humble opinion, vastly diminishing their  military reputation.  It seems to be an inevitable evolution that happens when military leaders,  primarily of flag officer rank , become quasi celebrities, get lionized in the Press, especially by journalists of a somewhat leftist bent.  They immediately begin to believe their own press releases and transfer their knowledge to politics, anthropology  and a host of other fields.They become very conscious  of their public image and legacy.  Unfortunately this can lead to untoward events. Getting too close to your  biographer can be fatal, particularly if she is winsome lass.

Of course when an officer retires he is free to speak his mind, but it is my considered opinion,  based on a lot of history, that top level flag officers, lieutenant general and above,  even when retired, should keep their opinions confined to military matters. If they really care about the military as much as they claim, they should keep their lips zipped.

This problem is particularly aggravated by relatively lower ranking officers assuming roles far beyond their pay grade, not even in military matters, (which they should at times)  but not in politics in which they are totally out of their element. But as a member of the upper level bureaucracy,  with bosses who are indifferent, or weak ,or scared of  reining in subordinates, these pumped up military officers ( they all seem to take on rather pompous attitudes ) can do a great deal of harm.  (I think of Oliver North in this respect). Mostly, however they erode the reputation of the military.  Having spent all these years in the Middle East I have seen first hand what happens to countries where the military becomes enmeshed  in ideologies, politics, and commerce. The country is weakened  and the military is destroyed.

No doubt these officers, in their minds,  believe they are “saving the country”  ( as apparently one recently did) or with their new found Middle Eastern expertise, saving the country from an  impending war with Iran, or even saving the president from himself, or most grievously, one four star  who recently adjudged  himself able to look into the hearts of a man and see evil.  Like supreme court judges who evolve, these senior intellectualized military leaders ascend from the knuckle dragging status they are usually initially assigned  by the “informed Press”  to find a warm embrace within academia  and the liberal press. These officers find the heady atmosphere intoxicating and for a short time bask in the glow. Alas and alack they often find the glow wears off rather quickly and they must resort to finding a job in industry again. In the process  many of us who do not agree with the exalted visions they claim for themselves,  write them off as just another idol with feet of clay.  No great problem there. However,  much more  sadly, the military as an institution has been tarnished and its pristine image- among those who care for it the most-  has been irretrievably harmed.

I usually go back into Middle Eastern history  for lessons unlearned and one popped right out of an older book I am reading…Arabic Political Memoirs and other Studies by Elie Kedourie. Published by Cass in 1974. One particular short chapter caught my eye, called “Wavell and Iraq.”

Archibald_Wavell2

  Lord Wavell  a distinguished   Soldier Scholar

Field Marshall Lord  Percival Wavell, commander of all Middle East  forces, including those  in Iraq in 1941, was an extraordinarily gifted military commander. In fact General Rommel opined that he ” showed a touch of genius,”.  He has served in the second Boer war,  and was wounded in WWI.  Wavell had spent a good part of his life in the Middle East,  including time spent with General Allenby ‘s force in Palestine and Syria. He was popular with his troops and officers and  a man of congenial disposition.   He was as gallant an officer as the British could field and was known as a “Soldier-scholar.” Unfortunately Churchill wrongly assumed  he was not quite the right stuff and replaced him with  Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck.

Wavell was appointed commander-in-Chief. Middle East in 1939 and held that position for two years. Prior to that time as commander of the British troops in Palestine he showed his cautious inclinations and his unfortunate plunge into the murky socio-political world of the Arab world. He refused to send his troops into a mosque to arrest the Hajj Husseini , Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem, for fear it would inflame the Arab world. The Grand Mufti, later safe  in Berlin, would give no end of grief to the British, both during the war and post WWII.  As an analyst on the Nazi- Arab connections in World War II, Jeffrey Herf wrote, ” …..the Mufti played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew – hatred.” His vitriolic broadcasts against the Jews and British  were a constant problem for the British trying to win “Arab hearts and minds.”

haj husseini

Haj Husseini with Hitler who was widely admired throughout the Arab word

Wavell also refused to proclaim martial law in Palestine as he saw it as simply provoking more violence.  He, like the vast majority of the British academics, opposed Zionism and were basically pro-Arab. He refused Churchill’s request to arm the Jewish settlers in Palestine as it would  unduly provoke  the Arabs.

Alie Kedourie wrote, “There has grown a whole literature in English about British policy in in the Middle East  since the world War, which is irredeemably mediocre,  the mediocrity of which resides primarily in the fact that it attributes to the conflict between Zionists and Arabs as exorbitant importance in explaining the tangled and tortuous  relations between Arab States in this period, as well as every reverse to the British position in the Middle East  and its ultimate and total ruin.”

This mind set has in no way diminished, as it permeates the State Department, and has recently found a secure home in mainstream journalism. One need only go back to the 9/11 report and the academic interpretation of it to find that  support of Israel was claimed as a major reason for the attack and as one of the reasons for Muslim animosity  toward the Americans.    American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have become famous ( notorious?) spouting these ideas. I’m sorry to say that Mearsheimer is a West Point graduate, but happy to say he served in the Air force, not the Army,  and only for the required 5 Years.

As I have written before, a good part of this ideological mind set was the absorption of the Toynbean philosophy as embedded in the British political and military circles of the era. Kedourie termed it the “Chatham House version,” the mindset inculcated in the ruling elite, scholarly, and military circles of Britain, especially the idea of a monolithic Arab world beset with problems engendered by Western colonialism.  It wasn’t that Wavell was pro-Arab. That was not the problem.  As Churchill wrote, Most British generals were anti Zionist . The problem was that he viewed the Arabs as a unitary, rigid people of narrow views.  According to one  British writer, a former  American  commander  of CENTCOM, who was one of the smartest generals I ever listened to  (extremely articulate  and charismatic) was fixated on the idea of “Arab honor,” and  that our use of the term “Shock and awe” violated their sense of honor in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These superficial ideas of the Arab culture frequently drives our policies in the Middle East.

feisal

King Feisal returning to Iraq  after fleeing from the Iraqi Nazi takeover. He was imposed on the Iraqis and during his reign was never accepted by the Iraqis. However after the calamities of modern rulers he is remembered  more kindly.

As the “golden  Square” of pro-Nazi Iraqi army officers seized power in Baghdad, Wavell tenaciously tried to forestall British intervention in Iraq.  Again,  he and the British ambassador  tried to assure Churchill that all was well and there was no need to intervene.  Wavell wanted to negotiate with the coup leader General  Rashid Ali al Kailani,  and was assured by Rashid that Iraq would uphold all obligations to the British…all the while he was permitting German fighter aircraft to land in Baghdad.  Wavell  greatly over-estimated the fighting power of the Iraqi army,  assuming that the advance of the British  would unite the Iraqis against his small force,  telling the War Office that the British could advance no further than Basra. Again, the old bugaboo of widespread Arab rebellion  was the main fear of Wavell,  ,beseeching  Churchill to avoid “major conflict with the Arabs.” Nevertheless, Churchill, who correctly observed that the only thing that mattered was strength and power,  and who the Arabs perceived as the winner.  Churchill had to continually urge Wavell to push on  from Basra,  as Wavell sent a stream of messages back reminding the Imperial staff of the disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in WWI.

habforce2

British force crossing the desert to get to Iraq were attacked by German aircraft flying from Mosul or Baghdad.

Under constant pressure from Churchill, a small force called the “Habforce” was formed  from scratch British units in Iraq and pushed the Iraqi army back as they mostly fled from a decisive encounter. There was very little enthusiasm among  the Iraqi population to support the Iraqi army, and many Shi’a  and Kurds supported the British. Ultimately, The British deployed two Indian divisions to Iraq and the Rashid Ali  al Kailani’s regime collapsed almost immediately. There was no uprising in the Arab world. Haj Husseini  made his way to Berlin where he was warmly welcomed, later serving as the Mufti for the Waffen SS 13th Mountain Division of Muslim Croats, and the Free Arabian Legion, Neither was of much fighting ability except to  terrorize Serb and Jews but they did have considerable propaganda value.

assyrian troops

Assyrian Iraqi troops securing bridge to Falluja. The Assyrians were serving the British Colonial regime and paid for it in blood after the Brits departed

 

There was one final, and for many, fatal error in  Wavel’s judgement. He believed that British troops entering Baghdad  would arouse the Arab population to great heights of violence, and to maintain the fiction that the Iraqis were self governing, he kept the  British troops standing for two days behind the gates of Baghdad while mobs of thugs, including police and some Iraqi military, surged through the city, raping, killing, and looting, mostly Jews  and Jewish businesses, a violent episode  termed a Farhud. 

At the time Wavell was fighting five different campaigns with a greatly under strength forces but while understanding his problems it seems even more problematic why he spent so much time interfering in a country Iraq ? He was under tremendous pressure from Churchill and the  Commander in Chief, India, Field Marshal Auchinleck, Wavells’ immediate boss. There is much to sympathize with in his defense.  Particularly as he was occupied fighting campaigns in 5 different regions. And he had particular animus about Iraq. As he wrote, ” I always disliked Iraq- the country, the people, and the military commitment…..” as Field Marshal Auckinleck believed, Wavell’s procrastination  was not based on military considerations but rather political ones.

I remember in my military era, politics was strictly avoided. I did not even vote till I was a Lt.  Col.  and most officers of my era were totally outside the political circuses.. I  don’t think our republic, or us officers, suffered because of it. Today it seems that high ranking officers take on all sorts of political hues and in the process make asses of themselves.  They seem to glory in the idea that somehow in their ascent to the top they have attended enough academic conferences, read enough  books on the Pentagon reading list to qualify as Middle East experts, etc. The problem is they learn just enough to become dangerous.

Today I find too many “celebrity” generals and admirals have absorbed an academic  viewpoint that the Arabs are too frivolous and  fickle to bother with, except for diplomatic niceties, and that we should,  somehow, mend fences with the Iranians and accept the fact that they are the emerging power in the Middle East. With enough mea culpas for assisting in dumping Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh ( not a nice guy BTW) and abject apologies for supporting the Shah, perhaps we  could  obtain a few kind words from President Hassan Rouhani  or  Prophet Mohammed’s Vicar on Earth, the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei.  Seriously?

Those who understand the way despots and religious fanatics ( sincere or frauds)  operate in the Middle East know that the Iranians  will not cease aggressive Persian imperialism until stopped dead on the battlefield. That battle fields will be in the capitols of the West as well as the towns and deserts of the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

The action and feisal photos were taken from an excellent little book, Iraq1941: the Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad. Published by Osprey Press. The photo of Haj Husseini and Hitler  is from the book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

avoiding a war with Iran or ininMiddle Eastern affaairs

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Egypt and its army

eg trng

 

https://www.aljazeera.net/programs/rest-of-the-story/2019/11/11/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ae%d8%a7%d8%b1%d8%ac%d9%88%d9%86-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b5%d9%81-%d8%ad%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%b4%d9%82%d8%a7%d9%82-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b4-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b5%d8%b1%d9%8a?fbclid=iwar1h8maoe5rsfdizwhy-bubuysvmfx1j6prbctsmg8nxgn86oncedllaawu

This long link above is the way to the Al Jazeera interview I did  some weeks ago. I am only on for a few minutes but the questions they asked me were interesting. Basically the program was about the huge military involvement in the Egyptian economy…some thing like up to 40% of their GDP with the army using low paid recruits to make not only military armament but also washing machines, baby formula,   etc. They also run hotels, service stations, farms and recreation areas.

The Egyptian president , Abdel Fattah al Sisi fooled everyone, including the previous president Mohammad Al Morsi, who currently resides in prison, put there by  Sisi who was selected to be al Morsi’s top military leader by Morsi himself. He passed himself off  as a closet member of the Muslim brotherhood.  While in the American Army War college  he wrote a thesis that some, very wrongly, depicted as fundamentalist. He is simply an opportunist and whatever else he is or is not he is way better than having Morsi or other members of the Muslim brotherhood running Egypt.

Having written that, the al Sisi regime is shot through  with corruption, nepotism, and every ill one can think of. He has used the military economy as featherbeds for retiring high officers despite a lack of any knowledge of the industry in which they are involved, putting them in charge of a number of state run industries and enterprises.  It might not be so bad if the generals simply let the mangers run the show but too many actually take their jobs seriously and muck up the industries they head.

Moreover many  lower grade officers own businesses, farms, shops, hotels etc. Many of these officers derive their primary income . not from the military but from their extra-curricular businesses. The officers themselves have a fairly comfortable life, living within “military cities, with commissaries, tax free shopping, and interest free auto purchases. Their apartments inside the military city are better than anything on the outside and rented for only a nominal fee.  But nevertheless many Egyptian officers find it necessary to look for other sources of income. In short they have it pretty good, but for many, apparently, not good enough.  Like any other human beings they look to care of their families first and are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. Thus the regime keeps the officer corps generally loyal.

Now in the program, Al Jazeera alleges  that more young officers are defecting from the  Al Sisi  regime. That could be true but I have no knowledge  of that. A young social media type named  Mohamed Ali has been making a lot of noise on social media from Spain attacking al Sisi and the corruption. No doubt the corruption is rampant but is it any worse than before? Doubtful!  Al Sisi has become much more authoritarian in the last year, making sure the population, especially the elite youth understand  that he will brook no upheavals. So it goes.

But, concerning the pervasive Egyptian army involvement in the economy, the most important truth is that while it is harmful to Egypt’s productivity, the impact on the military effectiveness of the military∗ is devastating. The fact that so many Egyptian officers find it necessary to have a secondary source of income makes it difficult to concentrate on soldiering when he needs to keep track of a business as well.

A  good book to read is Militarizing the Nation  by Zeinab Abul  Magd and a great article is in  Transparency International. Defence and Security at https://ti-defence.org/publications/the-officers-republic/

∗In Egypt as in most Arab countries, the army, despite its problems is usually seen as the only trustworthy institution in the country. See Dalia Said Mostafa; The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture

 

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Military Orientalism? A Response

Iranian troops

Academia in lock step

CSIS just published an article that should be  required reading  for anyone interested in Arab culture in general or particularly Arab military culture and more specifically Arab Gulf military culture. It is at  https://www.csis.org/analysis/military-officers-gulf-career-trajectories-and-determinants.

The  author Zoltan Barany, a professor at the University of Texas, pretty well underscores the fact that  culture determines a major part  ( if not the primary component) of how an army fights, and to a degree, how  successful  will it be. He does this……. not by using newspaper clippings from journalists who write nice things in order to maintain access to vain Arab westernized elite, or erudite  tomes written by leftie academics who write gushy reviews for one another. Barany has written a piece of wisdom based on interviews with military people ( like me) who were on the ground with the Arabs. That’s what makes it the sort of wisdom that soldiers and officers deploying to the Middle East need.

Now it is generally true that I have written about all this before and have been doing it for about 30 years but I don’t usually  get much support from the anointed ones in Middle East scholarship.  ( however lots of support from the folks out there in the field). Being totally and irreversibly  politically incorrect, and not depending on a pay check from a “Think Tank” ( oxymoron) or Arab sheikhs, and potentates, or a victim of the Chatham House Version lockstep syndrome, ( Read Ellie Kedourie),   I can tell my version of the truth.

Over 20 years ago I wrote the piece “Why Arabs Lose Wars, ” which has been recycled hundreds  of times, because folks, mostly trainers,  need some semblance of reality  to understand their lack of progress in bringing their Arab trainees up to a decent level  of proficiency. They need to know it is not their  fault. Its the culture stupid! It is at….https://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars

I followed up on this with an article on the historical and cultural impediments that  constitute a firewall to creating a Western look – alike army.  It first appeared in MERIA and Barany   references it in his article.  https://www.academia.edu/9494672/Western_Training_Arab_armies

I then wrote an article on the cultural reasons Arabs do much better at  unconventional warfare. Again it’s the culture stupid. You can read that at “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent,” in Barry  Rubin’s book Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East

In fact the Arabs are so wedded to tradition and culture ( or what they believe to be their culture) The Islamic State warriors  tried to re-invent  the way the Prophet Mohammed taught them to wage war 1400 years ago.    see my blog:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/muhammad-taught-us-how-fight-isis-early-islamic-warfare-deatkine/

Anyway the reason I bring this up is that I recently read a book entitled  “#Military Orientalism” by  #Patrick Porter published by Oxford University Press -, and  with glowing snippets by “Big Names” in the academic world e.g., David Kilcullen etc.

Sample snippet: “This important new book takes a fresh and and detailed look at the role of culture, culturism, ethocentrism, and perceptions of the ‘other’ in strategy.” Note. All the post modern buzz words are there.  Fresh and new? Not really! Edward Said and his acolytes have been doing that for decades.  Porter merely put a thin veneer of military verbiage on a very old story.

Browsing  through his references most  are based on some academic tome, paper or   other academic “think” piece. Some are very good of course. But they do not have  the clarity and down to earth observations  of the people who have been  out there with the Arabs; I see very few based on talking to trainers or observers  who actually worked with Arabs.   One footnote is reference to my writing in which he gets it totally wrong. As he writes, my “Why Arabs Lose Wars”,( is)  “an  idea still alive within strategic studies, needs further thinking. These recent studies focus narrowly on the fate of Arab States in the post colonial period, whereas a more comprehensive coverage would include successful Arab guerillas and insurgents, and might even start withe medieval Muslim conquests.”

Obviously Porter never read my chapter on Arab insurgencies in Barry Rubin’s book. The same culture which inhibits Arab  conventional war-fighting is the same culture which enhances their unconventional warfare, or my article on How the ISIS tried to emulate the Way of War of the Prophet, “Mohammed Taught Us How to Fight.”

Porter, who seems to have absorbed the post modernists ( globalists) outlook tries to take all humanity  and put them through a meat grinder  and come out with the hamburger of  conformity  shaped  as a preconceived “universal man” (or manwoman. In doing this he has to deride Raphael Patai’s book, The  Arab Mind,  de rigueur for a writer wanting a nice review from the Guardian or NYT.  He snidely mentions  Patai’s book as typecasting the Arabs as “lovable but infantile” In the venacular of today that is fake news. Patai never wrote that or in any way inferred it.  However, it is the normal calumnies the “informed ones,”   paying homage to the memory of Edward Said, must write. He also writes, “Colonel ‘Norvelle Atkine’ ( where was the fabled Oxford University press editing job on this?) at the JFK Special Warfare School at Ft Bragg, who use to brief American military personnel, approvingly introduces the 2001 reprint of the Arab Mind  . It’ formed the basis of my cultural instruction’ as he briefed ‘ hundreds of teams being deployed to the Middle East.'” Yes I did, and I am very  happy and proud that I was  able to send at least some of our people off  with an unvarnished and reality- based  knowledge of the culture they would encounter. I did not teach textual deconstruction, metafiction, unreliable narration, self reflexivity, intertextuality……etc. (What?)

In addition to the great ( and still the best)  book by Patai I spent almost 9 years on the ground in the Arab world many with the Arab militaries  ( and over 45 in study) and I have to wonder how many years did Edward Said, or Juan Cole, or Patrick Porter spend on the ground with the Arab military?

Just a thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Revolution or Business as Usual in Egypt

An article in The New York Times, never a fan of the Al Sisi government, and as usual, in sync with the Obama administrations viewpoint that the Muslim Brotherhood was the wave of the Arab world’s future, . It quotes a number of “experts” predicting instability in Egypt. Apparently this is mostly due to a wealthy young Egyptian named Mohamed Ali, living in Spain,  attacking Al Sisi on social media, using videos, exposing corruption in the Al Sisi regime.  ( surprise surprise!!! Imagine corruption in the Egyptian government!!).  Following the removal of Mubarak, under  temporary military rule an election was held in which the only tightly organized political party in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood “won” and Mohamed Morsi became president. Morsi, has become part of the conventional narrative  as “the first democratically  elected president” in Egypt’s history.

al sisi

General Al Sisi ( he now wears civilian attire)

It quickly became apparent to the Egyptian urbanites that “democratically” electing Morsi, representing a movement that is antithetical  to democracy, was problematic at best.  General  Fattah Al Sisi positioned himself to head the Supreme Council of  the Armed Forces (SCAF)  which assumed power upon the removal of Mubarak, and quickly moved to position himself as amenable to working with the Islamist Brotherhood, as did most of the military leadership. Morsi convinced himself he was the man of the year and fumbling his way through his short presidency, brought in Al Sisi to become his defense minister, firing the former Mindef, Field Marshal Tantawi, after several bloody  attacks on  Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai. These attacks were perpetrated by the Egyptian branch of al Qaeda, a more violent wing of the Islamist movement. The Muslim Brotherhood government rapidly made themselves very unpopular trying to impose medieval  Islamist regulations on daily social life.  Instead of attacking the basic and massive problems of the Egyptian people, they  contented themselves debating the Muslim version of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Morsi was a disaster, at one time being caught on camera scratching his crotch while talking to a foreign dignitary.

Al Morsi and Erdogan

Morsi and Erdogan (Birds of a feather except Erdogan a  lot smarter)

To some military leaders, it appeared that Morsi was imitating the path of Erdogan in Turkey, assuming dictatorial powers which he would then use later to crush the power of the military in Egyptian political and economic life. Actually, Morsi himself, tried very hard to cozy up to the military granting them privileges beyond that bestowed by Mubarak and  Anwar Sadat. Meanwhile Western commentators began circulating rumors that Al Sisi was a closet Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member, based on his appointment by Morsi to the top military position in Egypt, and the term paper he wrote while attending  the  American Army War College. It was also noted that his wife  and daughter wore the hijab.  Neither was indicative of Islamist tendencies. I read his paper and it was typical Arab boilerplate stuff, e.g., Arab-Israeli inequities, Western misunderstanding of Arab needs, etc.,  nothing radical in it.

Despite the close alliance of the MB with the SCAF, the military leadership recognized the danger of the Islamist movement, and Morsi seemed  slow or unwilling to deal harshly with the Islamist  terrorists in the Sinai peninsula.  So despite  the displeasure of the American state department, the  Obama White House, and the risk of siding with liberal youth groups, who were notoriously fickle, a decision was made to remove Morsi.  The army and security apparatus using the  cover of liberal youth demonstrating against the incompetent,  but oppressive  Islamist government,  took  the plunge and removed Morsi and the leadership of the MB. Most of them found warn receptions in Turkey where they continue to agitate against the Al Sisi regime.  Morsi  then took Mubarak’s place in prison. ( Mubarak  is now in house arrest).

 

Arab rulers have always known that being feared is better than being loved. Reading some of the Naguib Mahfouz novels  illuminate  how seemingly random arrests and brutality of the  omnipotent security apparatus enervates and paralyzes opposition. So another revolution in Egypt?

It will not happen. The idea of another “Arab Spring”  in Egypt is wishful thinking on the part of the anti – Al Sisi axis of leftists, Islamists, and Western academic “experts.”

Mohamed ali media

Mohamed Ali  Abdel Khaleq film producer and wanna be revolutionary

The Egyptian people are not in the mood for more political upheavals, and under the short tenure of Morsi , Islamism has proven that it is not the answer.  Over the years Egyptian military  has insinuated itself  into into every aspect of Egyptian life, especially the economic. The military is an institution onto itself.  With some sectors of exception, the military establishment is shot through with corruption, nepotism, and incompetence,  but nevertheless, like most Arab militaries,  is revered by most of the people. Given the poisonous attributes of the Arab political climate it is not difficult to understand why the Arab people see the military as the only bastion of worthiness  to cling to. Recommended reading: The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture by Alia Said Mostafa.

Mubarak, though authoritarian, was ironically, the most liberal of the Egyptian leaders since the departure of King Farouk. It was his quest for a more liberal economic system to be managed by his son, being groomed as his successor, which the bloated bureaucracy,  (the deep state) military leadership,  and security apparatus resisted. These are the pillars of the state of Egypt. Mubarak would still be president had the aforementioned pillars of the state decided to keep him. His promotion of his son, and vision of the future, was not in their interest, (particularly financial) and so they stepped aside, and for a while allowed the mobs to present a facade of revolution.They allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to rule till they hanged themselves and then stepped in to “right things.”

Under  Al-Sisi the pillars of the state have thrived. Like the Ba’ath party in Iraq, the military has woven itself into the fabric of the state, ( Recommended Reading: Militarizing the Nation by Zienab Abul-Magd) and I, at least, see no way for a “revolution” to unseat him. It is always possible that a palace coup could occur if a cabal of senior authorities within the  pillars of the state  become  disenchanted, but the mystic of social media and elitist students bringing down the new pharaoh  is a pipe dream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Arab Mind Again… and Again

In 2004 an editor of a publishing company called me up and asked if I would write an introduction to the Arab Mind by Raphael Patai. I was thrilled. It has always been one of my favorite books and the most informative book one can read before deploying to an assignment requiring working with Arabs. I told the editor that many Arabs and academics disliked the book intensely…to my mind mostly because it hit nerves…… Usually a great indicator of unvarnished truth. At that time and for years previous to that troops deploying to the Middle East were given the Arab Pablum briefings, e.g., don’t use your left hand to eat, don’t show the soles of your shoes to your guests,  don’t talk to them about their women ,etc. Generally a recitation of proscriptions and prescriptions, but nothing deeper than that. Patai went to the heart of these dos and don’t’s and explained the whys. My previous 8 years of experience in the Arab world, and that of most of my compatriots aligned perfectly with the findings of Patai in the book.

patai

Raphael   Patai

The Middle East Quarterly published an article, which included my forward to the Patai book and some of the usual left wing snotty reviews, It is at https://www.meforum.org/636/the-arab-mind-revisited

My article “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” (after 20 years still popular among advisors working with Arab militaries) was an analysis of the cultural attributes surfaced by Patai, particularly those which adversely affected their military competence. All of it was based on my on-the -ground observations. The wisdom of that book has aged only a little and not at all in the essentials. I did a presentation at the ASMEA conference entitled “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later,” and my findings were that very little if anything had changed. That should not be a surprise to anyone given how slow cultures, especially Arab cultures, change, particularly military cultures.

The book was doing fairly well in sales as a plethora of articles came out after 9/11 in the “why do they hate us so much” category with much of the Western academic community  using the inevitable fall back argument, Zionism, imperialism, colonialism, i.e., it was our fault. Another frequently heard argument by the PBS/NPR  short list commentators was the  plaintive “Islam means peace.”  Therefore the terrorists “weren’t real  Muslims.”  As George Orwell so acutely observed, the arguments were so stupid only an intellectual could believe them.

But what really gave it a boost however was Seymour Hersh, the muckraker, writing that the Arab Mind was a torture manual. It was presented as the manual for torture used by the guards at the Abu Graib. The use of Patai’s book as a torture manual was entirely fabricated of course, but it was the perfect weapon for use against the “war of convenience,” as the cognoscenti termed the Iraqi war.  The reservist soldiers who were in charge of the Iraqi prisoners, and perpetrated the acts, which became a cause celebre in the liberal circles, were a part of an undisciplined unit with poor training, and absolutely no leadership whatsoever.  The issues had nothing to do with the Arab Mind,  but as we know so well now, truth is malleable and belongs exclusively to those who own the media.

However it did create a small rush to purchase the book by those who believed anything that pushed the Bush’s war mantra. Not that I profited. I was paid 50$ to write the forward. In the deluge of trenchant criticism leveled against the book I, mostly escaped being blamed, my guess being that as a retired military officer I really was considered  too stupid to know what I was doing. Only retired military officers who later teach at Ivy League schools are reluctantly welcomed into the cold and treacherous embrace of academia.

Seymour called me one time, hoping to get some more dirt. It was a very short conversation. Basically I told him to stuff it. But the Abu Ghraib story has become embedded in the narrative of the Iraqi war.

In writing the forward I not only had to satisfy the editors at the publisher house, but also Patai’s daughters who both taught at eastern liberal colleges. They quite rightly stoutly defended their father, which must be tough in those leftish institutions.

The book was once on the Pentagon’s reading list, but as old soldiers like me know, too much of our military leadership, who leap fearlessly from airplanes and sport chest full of medals, nevertheless wilt under the accusatory eye of a small blonde reporter from the New Yorker, or the disdain of academia, so regretfully the book has disappeared from those lists.

But the bottom line is this: Patai was a Hungarian Jew. That stuck in the craw of many of the most fierce critics, especially those of the Edward Said academic cult. Never mind that Patai also wrote a book called the Jewish Mind.  But the elephant in the room and one never mentioned in the scathing reviews was that a Jew wrote the book, not only a Jew but a Zionist as well. It was one that will never be mentioned in the derogatory reviews of the book.  Yet at the bottom of the criticism his origin was the mainspring. It betrays one of the grievous faults of the Arab elite….an inability to blame themselves for their continuing decline into irrelevance, using outdated shibboleths to deflect their responsibility, depending  upon  Western academic facilitators  to protect their incompetence.  It also exposes the mediocre quality much of the U.S.  Middle East academic community in which many still live in a stilted leftish, modish, version of the world,  in sync with the current zeitgeist.

Just my contrarian view.

 

oh well back to the Washington DC circus . They are about to bring in the clowns.

 

 

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The Beginning

Becoming  the new Lawrence of Arabia. How it all began.

 I was in my third years at West Point, a “cow” as we were referred to in those days. I was academically pretty far down in the class as I hated any subject with numbers in it but was fairly good in subjects with words. Since, West Point, in those days, was an engineering school, nothing came easily to me, but I did well enough to get one of the electives offered to “goats” (cadets toward the bottom of the class)_ It was Middle Eastern history. Why I am chose that class I cannot recall,  but it put me on a path that I follow to this day.

I do not remember the name of the Middle East history professor but he was a captain and had been part of the Foreign Area Specialist (FAS) program,  spending several years in the Middle East. I loved his classes and the mystery of the Arab world.The desert has also always had a special fascination for me, but that was years to come.

As he lectured I was hooked. This is for me, I told myself, and although I had to spend a number of years in conventional artillery (which I also dearly loved), before I began the the FAS program.

Prior to my language school, I spent a years in Vietnam. It was a great year because I was doing what the taxpayers had paid me to do…fight enemies foreign and domestic…as I continue to do with words, against the domestic variety. I was  in a great unit, the First Infantry division, with great soldiers. That was before the drug and discipline problems (and lousy leadership) wrecked our army. It wasn’t until many years later that i recognized the similarities in culture of the Vietnamese and Arabs, especially their fatalism

There are thousands of stories associated with those early artillery days, including schooling at Ft Sill, learning my trade. But here I will stick to my life associated with the Middle East. Finally my request for acceptance into the program arrived

FAS orders

The letter arrived in 1964 but i did not  depart for Lebanon until 1968. I was so elated!!

So I began my Middle East career assigned to Defense Language Institute East  Coast. We rented a house near the Suitland Parkway in District Heights Maryland, because I thought I would be going to school at Bolling Air Force Base. But as usual things turned out differently. I was assigned to a contract school at the Institute of Modern Languages on Connecticut Ave in upper DC.   Each morning I would drive from District Heights to the park near the Lincoln Memorial and park my car. I would then walk to my class.

As I often walked by the White House, I was able to watch the daily protests against the Vietnam War.  One day when I was wearing my uniform, an elderly lady came up to me and began stuffing leaflets in my pocket, Having just returned from Vietnam, I was in  no mood to tolerate this crap, so I pulled out the leaflets and tossed them on the ground, where upon she wacked me on the head with her umbrella, I turned the other cheek and walked away. I learned later it was an organization called “women strike for peace.” Apparently they did so physically,

My first instructor, an Iraqi named S, (I will omit his name because his family owns an upscale restaurant in snobby Shirlington in Northern Virginia.) He was a short, swarthy fellow with the Baghdadi pox marks on his cheeks, He had a constipated disposition, and obviously felt what he was doing was beneath his talents. He was an ardent Nasserite Arab nationalist. He was probably a casualty of the Iraqi Nasserite –Ba’athi conflicts in the 60’s, explaining his presence in the US.

We used a paperback text book designed for people going to Iraq, so I learned schloonik and shako mako and the Turkish word for an auto tire, which apparently Iraqis used back then. But in fact I learned very little of anything. Mr. S hated doing what he was doing and usually spent most of the class giving political lectures on Arabism and the horrors of Zionism, and how America was run by Jews. He was absolutely devoid of any sense of humor.

Once in a while I objected to his more odious references to America, which, as I learned on the last day he was with us, that my objections had led him to believe I was Jewish. I made a passing reference about going to church and he said.” You are not Jewish’? I said no, but what difference did that make anyway? He produced one of those rare twisted malevolent smiles he sometimes laboriously created. That was lesson one.  There is an inbred indoctrinated hatred of Jews, which,  in much of the Islamic Arab world is inseparable from Zionism.

We were happy to see him go.

My favorite anecdote about Mr. S. was the day he came to class with his suit, which he wore every day, totally in disarray and very dirty. The six-day war was on going and like most Arabs, he was in a state of total disbelief listening to the news of the Egyptian rout. He had climbed up on the chimney of his house and strung  a wire  antenna in order to get the “real news” from radio Baghdad,

The catastrophe was made more devastating because the Arab media had led them to believe in continuous Arab victories.  They believed the war was going to be a cakewalk. The American network news detailing overwhelming Israeli victories was too much for Mr. S. Like most Arabs, after the years of listening to their media propaganda,  he was, belatedly, able to decipher the reality from the fantasy of massive Arab victories being fed listeners.  To decipher  Arab news you have to be a subtle listener, like listening for what is not said.  Poor Mr. S. He became increasingly morose after the war. Lesson Number two Arabs often eschew reality, and as Albert Hourani wrote, “ the flawed mirror through which they see the world.”

After Mr. S.  we had a multitude of different instructors, another Iraqi female, a Lebanese female, a Palestinian, and my favorite, an Egyptian Army psychologist.  The Institute of Modern Languages obviously hired Arabic speakers off the street, whether they could teach or not.

The Palestinian, a very young fellow, confided in me that American women were shunning him after giving him come hither looks. He was confused and dejected. I advised him that often American women may smile and speak to you without necessarily having sex on their mind. He found that difficult to believe. He had been advised differently by his relatives and friends. He wondered what was wrong with him. At times he seemed to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown,  and often seemed sick. Lesson Number three The Arab Culture is one of the most sexually obsessed in the world.  He taught us nothing because he saw the Iraqi colloquial textbook as a strange unintelligible language. He was unable to pronounce the Iraqi words in our textbook and generally stuck to relating the horrors of …no… not Israeli occupation,  but Jordanian! He called the Jordanian Bedu soldiers Saluffa . the “barefoot ones.”

He blamed the “nakba,”) the Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948 (Judea and Samaria if you prefer) on Jordanian perfidy. The King was a British stooge etc.Lesson number four. Unity among Arabs is a pipe dream

 I remember very little about the two females, the Iraqi and the Lebanese, except that the Iraqi lady seemed to be a female Ms. S (probably his relative), and the Lebanese lady brought excellent food to class and rarely taught anything because she was unable to use our textbook. She was also a Christian and often had to express herself in French which none of the students could understand. According to her,  the Lebanese had graciously invited in the Palestinian refugees who were now destroying Lebanon. It was our first inkling of the disaster to befall Lebanon. Lesson number five. Do not expect refugees to return your hospitality with gratitude. They will bring their culture, politics, prejudices, and conflicts with them with them.

I wish I could remember the name of the Egyptian, He was a really cool guy. He threw the Iraq book away saying only fellah spoke that way and taught us ribald sayings in Egyptian colloquial. His English was excellent, which he spoke far more than Arabic.

I went to breakfast with him almost every other day. He always had ham and bacon with his eggs, and knowing he was a Muslim I asked him about this, and in his usual way he said that the prohibition was just some peasant belief, and that was the problem with the Arab world …the people were ignorant.

He was an Egyptian army psychiatrist who served in Yemen, He related the massive problems of culture shock affecting the troops, which diminished the effectiveness of the Egyptian soldiers in Yemen. As he said they might as well have been on the moon.

His most popular instruction concerned the cultural sex habits of various categories of Arabs. For example, Egyptian women were cold and unresponsive, but Lebanese women were by far the best especially in “encouraging” the man during sex. He told many Nasser jokes, and imitated his style of speaking but nevertheless thought he was a great man. The problem was that Nasser relied too much on generals and government officials who were humur (donkeys) and were always conspiring against him.

Anyway we graduated and off we went to our assignments. Lesson number six, The Arab world is a very diverse world and contrary to what Middle East Scholars and journalists often propagate, there is no “Arab world.”

There four people in our class. The other three went to Saudi Arabia where I was told they had never had to speak a word of Arabic. I went to Beirut having a limited Iraqi vocabulary and unable to read anything in Arabic.

When I arrived in Beirut I knew much less Arabic than my fellow FAS officers, who had attended the intense Montrerey Arabic courses ,(DLI West Coast) and spoke Arabic quite well. My travails with Arabic I shall cover later.

Despite my difficulties with Arabic, the various instructors had taught me, inadvertently, a great deal about the culture and mores of the Arab world, ,and also gave me an intense interest in learning more.

In preparation for the tour, my wife and I were invited to gathering of former FAS students who had completed their tours in Beirut and else where in the Arab world.  To my wife and I they seemed very sophisticated, and perhaps a bit snooty. We were like country bumpkins.

Nevertheless we were excited to go, as we packed up our three little darlings for our big adventure.

te lawrence of arabia

Next Beirut and the adventures begin

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