Cancelled Palestine Conference Promised Violent, Anti-Israel Propaganda

When the coronavirus restrictions prevented Middle East Studies academics from getting together in groups, they took their support for Palestine online. BDS organizations have been sucking up bandwidth for many months, pursuing their academic boycotts of Israel etc…

Source: Cancelled Palestine Conference Promised Violent, Anti-Israel PropagandaMiddle


The above is one reason why I have found the entire Palestinian issue boring. Most Middle East scholars seem obsessed with it but I have always avoided it because there is no neutral ground among the Middle East Gurus.  It is why I have little interest in the Abraham Accords. I’m a skeptic on any and all Middle East accords, especially the uniquely  stupid one manufactured by the Obama administration with Iran,  (JCPOA). European treaties  have not fared any better. Read the story of the pre WW II accords.  Hopefully  the Abraham Accords with Israel, the UAE and Bahrain will be more enduring.


It seems in order to be seen as someone knowledgeable in Middle East scholarship you have to  prove your bona fides by pontificating ad nauseam on the problem of Palestine, accompanied by a suitable amount of angst, cries of social injustice , but all the while ensuring that you as an intellectual  carefully delineate between Zionism  (evil) and Judaism ( tolerated as within the Jewish Millet).  But lately even that delicate line is not negotiated. The Protocols of Zion have become more popular with the Left than the Right. But of course to an extent that has always been true. Read Paul Johnson Intellectuals. Perhaps it should be no surprise that Karl Marx was viciously anti Semitic. His entire theory of class warfare is rooted in anti -semitism; A fact which should be part of the BLM analysis of today.

The Middle East is the breeding  and battle ground of almost every evil of injustice, religious, ethnic, political, and ideological. Palestine is only one example among many more. The important point to me is that the Palestinian issue, a catastrophe for the Palestinian Arabs,  is a self inflicted one.  Their leadership, from Haj Husseini to Arafat and now the President for life,  Mahmoud  Abbas has been corrupt  and used the Palestinian people as a pawn in power struggles.  Almost every mistake a people could make can be applied to the Palestinian communities. As the saying goes, Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  One can sympathize with a people, such as the Palestinians,  who lose their ancient homelands, as have the Greeks, the Armenians, the Assyrians, Kurds and yes the Jews of the Islamic world.  The Palestinians have been used by their fellow Arabs, and in turn have used them. The Europeans have also used them as a cover for the endemic anti-semitism which has always been part of the fabric of old Europe.  Perhaps the only cautiously optimistic note of the Abraham Accords is that, increasingly, some Arab states are no longer afraid  of the rabidly Anti- semitic states like Baa’thist Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.


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Next Stop for Turkish Aggression

Just a few miles off the Turkish shore lies the small Greek island of Kastellorizo, an Islands of about 5 square miles inhabited by about 500 Greeks. Looking at a map one can see that there are a number of small Greek islands ( Some not so small like Rhodes) that lie just off the Turkey shore, seemingly in Turkish territorial waters. This was brought to my attention by an excellent article by Jack Dulgarian in Global Security Review DEFENSE & SECURITY Entitled “Kastellorizo Is The Key To Turkish & Greek Ambitions In The Eastern Mediterranean”at

Kastellorizo is the Key to Turkish & Greek Ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean

His conclusion and key points are as follows:

“Turkey can quickly seize Kastellorizo and her satellites without repercussions. Claims to the islands, unchallenged military defense, an unstable domestic economy, a robust military, and apathy from Western powers on the global stage are all significant factors that can push President Erdoğan into this operation.”

“Taking Kastellorizo could also be a final play by Turkish grand strategists to get Greece to renegotiate the defining principles of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which resulted in a Greek EEZ(exclusive economic zone) in the Aegean and Turkey ceding Cyprus (an agreement that Turkey has already broken). If Greece remains unprepared, it will lose territory, Turkey will gain a stronger foothold in quasi-internationally recognized Greek waters, NATO will remain submissive to an ally gone rogue, and Erdoğan will emerge as the dominant player in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.”

To get the details of the dispute you need to tread the short concise article.

My addition to this article is more historical. First of all the Greeks inhabited the western shores of Turkey since the time of Homer, about the middle 2nd millennium and remained there until after the WWI, in which they are displaced from their homelands by the Turks, revitalized after being allied with Germany in WWI. The expansion (in modern parlance termed imperialism) of the Ottoman Empire gradually brought the entire Greek population of Western Turkey under Muslim Turkish (Ottoman) occupation. As Bernard Lewis in his excellent book, The Multiple Identities of the Middle East, notes over a million Greeks some of whom spoke only Turkish and a smaller number of Turks, living in Greece, who only spoke Greek were forcibly resettled in their nation, as prescribed by the 1923 Lausanne Protocol. Being a loser in the war and the aftermath involved that the Ottoman Empire being divided up, the Sultan deposed, and the “modern Middle East” was created. Very few Greeks remain in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul ( Constantinople) and a couple of Islands in the Turkish Straits.

Secondly, like its Iranian neighbor, Turkey is an irredentist state with a ruler intent on establishing as much of the old Ottoman Empire as possible. Since the Lausanne Treaty Turkey has invaded and seized sizable portion of Cyprus,( 1974) ejecting all the Greeks, and earlier with a bogus referendum in the Syrian province of Alexandretta , once mostly Arab speaking, in 1939; Now known as the Hatay Province.

The differences between the two are in their way of war. Iran is subtle, cunning, using guile and weaknesses of the opponent, carefully assessing the situation before committing their resources. The Turkish despot Tayyip Erdogan is molded in the Turkish fashion, brute strength, overpowering force and predilection to use force, oblivious to civilian casualties. The Turks bomb and bombard Kurdish villages in both Turkey and Iraq without regard to civilian casualties.

Both Iran and Turkey see themselves as carrying the torch of Islam, Shi’a variety from Iran and Sunnism in Turkey. The problem is that in both varieties Political Islam or Islamism as it is called is totalitarian and radical. Both ruling cliques have embedded inimical views of minorities, especially Jews and Christians. Erdogan has hitched himself to the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the more insidious varieties of Islamism, and sees his new Ottoman Empire reaching into Europe by way of his control of hundreds of mosques and by way of of his turkic ancestry ( not wholly true) into Central Asia. Left to their own devices a confrontation is likely but not for the foreseeable future.

The yellow area depicts Greek speaking areas in 1910. The Orange is also Greek speaking but different dialect. Image from Wikipedia.

The Bottom line is simple. If Turkey chooses to invade these Islands , the Greeks cannot repel it. The Europeans will shrug their shoulders and so will the USA. There will be denunciations from various diplomatic organizations and world bodies but nothing will be done. And Erdogan knows it. What is ultimate objective to “renegotiate the Lausanne agreement giving Turkey control over these Greek offshore Islands.

As UK PM Neville Chamberlain said so famously….” How horrible it is , that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing…” That basically will be the Western reaction.

The ramifications of doing nothing, however, will be severe as the Lausanne agreement created the Middle East national boundaries and the cry from many who feel cheated, including the Kurds, will be to undo the Lausanne to their advantage. Effect? Further turmoil.

Myself in middle with Turkish officers on Cyprus. I highly respect the Turkish officers but abhor their political leadership. Erdogan has euthanized the officer corps after the attempted coup d’etat in July 2016.

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Middle Eastern Academic Amnesia on Imperialism

Cairo revolt

Napoleon’s troops put down revolt in Cairo

Some years ago I attended a conference in Washington attended by Middle East Scholars –  or at least those who imagined themselves in that category. After the usual number of erudite talks by various scholars, one being a favorite  of the scholars  topics- Western Imperialism and colonialism, the moderator took questions from the audience on 3×5 cards. I wrote one  along these lines……why do we always talk about Western imperialism and never Islamist imperialism? The moderator read it, and amid titters and guffaws  from the audience,  with distaste on his face, tossed it aside.

This encapsulates in many ways my long aversion to so called American Middle East scholarship, mostly driven by ideological orientation rather than history or knowledge. Of course there are exceptions …such as Bernard Lewis and Fuad Ajami, Martin Kramer,  and others, but very few are in the classroom   and so we have an annual harvest of Middle East “experts” who go to the State Department, the CIA,. or back to the classroom to misinform and disorient the next batch  of “experts.”

Well when did imperialism begin? Apparently when Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, according to the “scholars.” That is a nice convenient date to set off the European land grab over the next couple of  centuries. So what do we call the Arab invasion of Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, France and later Greece, the Balkans, Austria, etc etc.? Well I think the scholars  term it bringing the New Prophectic  Message to the people, who were “thirsting “for a new religion.

It should not be forgotten that they had a religion already, of course, mostly Christian, Judaism, Zoroastrianism etc. but in due time, most of these people, like ordinary  human beings, understood which side their bread  was  buttered on, and converted to Islam;  Some at the point of a sword, but mostly  because they had common sense. But even then they weren’t at the top of the heap because non-Arab Muslim converts were termed  Muwali, better than Jews and Christians, (people of the Book) and much better than Kuffars, pagans, like Yezidis, but not quite the top drawer.

So apparently Imperialism was invented by the West in 1798 when Napoleon invaded Egypt. So say our many left leaning scholars.


Napoleon. Excellent book on his conquest of Egypt is  Bonaparte in Egypt by J. Christopher Herold. His views of Egypt were not Favorable but then he was not there to rule Egypt only to stop British commerce from the India to England He did not attempt to change their religion.

So what happened to the Arab invasion of Spain and France? It was thrown back  at tours by Charles” The Hammer” Martel and his army of Franks.   Edward Gibbon  ( (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire wrote that had the Arab imperialism  ( my term not his )  succeeded, students in Oxford would be speaking Arabic. Actually in my last visit to London, in certain parts  of “Londonstan” they all spoke Arabic.

But to continue, the Arab penetration was stopped and gradually the Arabs were pushed out of Spain after almost 800 years of colonial rule. (711-1492)

But in the east The Turks of the Ottoman Empire continued the Islamist assault into Eastern Europe. They had subdued Greece, and Hungary, most of the Balkans, rounding up Serbian youth to fight battles for them as their shock troops, the famous Janissaries. Having taken Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans keep pushing their imperialistic designs further into Europe, finally after many decades of seesaw war, they were  routed at the battle of Vienna in 1683. For over 200 years the Turks had colonized parts of Western Europe until they were gradually driven out.

1684_ Vienna

Battle of Vienna

So when did “imperialism” begin and has it ended? When the Mesopotamians conquered the five cities of the Plain? When will it end. That’s an easy one. Never!

So why don’t “scholars write and talk about Arab/Iranian/ Islamic imperialism? A few have. V.S. Naipaul wrote’ ” Islam has had a calamitous effect on the converted peoples. To be converted you have to destroy your past, destroy your history. You have to stamp on it, you have to say my ancestral culture does not exist, it does not matter…..”Among the Believers.  Hmmm sounds like the current cancel culture movement in our country!!!

Let’s be honest. No one has the moral high ground on the deleterious  effects of imperialism, but certainly not Islam and Arabs.






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Q.When did the Beginning of the End for Lebanon Begin? A. When it was Pushed and Pulled into the Morass of Middle East Politics

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Education as the Answer to the Mess in the Middle East?

The idea that that education, as so many western academics believe, is an answer to   creating a progressive society  in the Middle East is a nonstarter. Among other things it necessitates forgetting that Germany with the highest cultural and educational level in Europe ,at the time, would support one of the most brutal regimes in history. Education does not provide wisdom nor the power to discriminate political ideology from universal truths.

In the Western world the crime of the so-called intelligentsia is their slavish devotion to socialism and other leftist  poisonous ideologies.    In the Arab world and most of the Islamic world the “intellectuals” for the most part avoid writing or talking  about the deplorable conditions morally, religiously, and politically, in their own countries and continue to blame anyone, principally the United States and of course Israel for the dysfunctional societies in which they live.


Islamist totalitarian leader

 In the Arab world, there is this inbred hatred of all things Israeli, and to be honest…Jewish. This is also also quite prevalent among Western Middle East scholars who often provide cover for Islamic hate hatemongers. This is not some genetic trait among Arabs. It is a embedded belief which is promoted and cultivated by the so-called intellectuals of the Arab world and the politicians of the regimes for which they work. They are rarely called to task for this  by Western pundits and academics, and if so, the whistle blower is immediately branded a Zionist or some other term which, thanks to world bodies like the UN, have come to be associated with racism. This, in turn, is encouraged and facilitated by a Western scholarly Middle East community which all too often sees their mission as one of defending a dysfunctional Arab society against some rampant “Islamophobia”  supposedly found among the great unwashed. 


 The scientific and political structures of the West have not been used by the ruling class to further democracy or human rights in the Arab world ……they have been used to further oppression of the people by traditionally oriented despots. The introduction of Western political systems simply meant more efficient security apparatus, more sophisticated methods of population control, more terrifying weapons of intimidation, all with a ludicrous façade of parliaments, and comedic elections.

Iraq had the highest educational level in the Arab world prior to the first gulf war. It had a thin veneer of secular, western appearances which charmed a lot of Americans into thinking that Saddam was simply the Mussolini of the Arab world…a little rough around the edges but he did make the trains run on time…allegorically speaking of course, because in reality nothing had changed, only the techniques of controlling a population more effectively. Nasser was the golden boy of the  Western Arabophiles in the 60’s, as he guided his people into disastrous wars in Yemen and the Sinai against Israel

 With the advent of the “global village” there was this great hope that somehow western values on women, human rights, etc. would be eagerly assimilated by populations who could no longer be held in abysmal ignorance by despotic control of the means of information. Al-Jazeera was seen as the great front-runner of the new age of Arab enlightenment. Instead it, like the Arab governments, has only the appearance, and none of the substance of a free and open media outlet. It promotes animosity toward the Shi’a who have never bought into the idea of Pan-Arabism, and sensational visuals of American and Israeli “war crimes”. It is an Arab mirror of the BBC Arabic service which is controlled by Egyptian Sunni Pan-Arabists of the Nasser era. Much, if not most, of the Arab media is similar.

So pervasive and powerful is the culture that even when women have the vote, they tend to vote for the very same Islamic radicals who will promptly disenfranchise them again as soon as in power. This is the story from Kuwait and Bahrain.

 The internet was the supposedly the door to enlightenment of an information starved Arab Government control loosened a bit, but as we know today the Jihadists and radical Islamists dominate cyberspace and the hate propaganda being disseminated has exacerbated old sores.

 So, in summary I see very little advancement in human values as a result of Western institutions or technology.  In fact, this has brought an undermining of traditional cultural values, the erosion of the extended family societal controls, and a sort of anomic society, separating from its roots and with nothing to take its place. Today it is a region in which the thinking people are leaving in droves, leaving the field to the arrogant ciphers of the Islamic movement supremely self-confident of their superiority over an increasingly effete Western world. It is a situation with which we will have to live a long time and it will require something more than “Cultural awareness” and the “Islam means peace” lectures that are so popular among those who feel themselves enlightened.

 Islam is not the problem nor is it the answer. The radical Islamist movement is a curious blend of fascistic racial and Marxist notions of a tabula rasa man, ready to be molded by their image of the perfect world.

 Our technology and Mass communications have been perverted to become their principle means of warfare, resonating like communism before them, with the disenfranchised, the alienated, the arrogance of an intellectual, and leftist, elitist  political class.

Islamism, like communism, will wither and wilt, but only to be revived in a distant era, as few read history untainted by leftist ideology. In the interim, Islamism and  Communism must be contained and fought….. here and on distant shores, if necessary. There can be no temporizing with the totalitarian movements of Islamism and Communism. After all Hilaire Belloc forecast this in 1937.  You may not be  acquainted with one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century but you can get a glimpse of his  forecast of  the future radical Islam in 




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Iran: The Enemy that Refuses to Follow the Rules

qasim-soliemaniThe article below in the Business Insider set me to write this blog. Actually it is the conclusion to a 9000 word presentation I plan to give at the ASMEA conference in Rosslyn VA. at the end of Oct.

Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa: ASMEA. Always an interesting ME group. None of the Palestinian and excessive arabophile hysterics one finds at the other organizational conferences such a the Middle East Institute or worst of all, MESA ( Middle East Studies Association).

As is all the rage now, the informed class, who probably do know Shinola from apple butter about Iran, are weighing in on how Iran isn’t really a threat and how if we rehabilitate the secret “Nuclear Deal” with Iran, all will be well. Other articles solemnly inform us that all this nasty business the Iranian regime is perpetrating is just defensive in nature….just like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or the Ukraine. One of the more self- congratulatory books I have read lately is the story of the deal, “The Back Channel; A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for its Renewal” by its proud architect, Foreign Service officer Willian J Burns. His gushy depiction of secstate John Kerry is enough to induce vomiting among us Vietnam War vets.

He seems so proud that they were able to keep the deal secret from the American people and even the peoples representatives in Congress. ……..But who am I to question “the informed ones.” The usual suspects in the puzzle palaces of Washington gathered in the halls of the anointed, to applaud Burn’s and Kerry’s ( Under the most transparent administration in history) secret dealings. The fact that President Trump has disowned the “treaty,’ of course, has made it even more vital for it to be resurrected.

It was a very bad deal. It opened the gates for Iranian adventurism in the entire Middle East. Basically it boiled down to “If you cut back on your nuclear programs you  are free to continue your imperialism..just don’t use nucs.

Anyway the article……. And my conclusion

     Like  the strategy of Darius, every Iranian move will be backed up by intimidating threats, belligerent boasts of power, and a well-advertised military with videos of Iranians firing missiles, conducting military training operations, and a nuclear capability only coyly denied.    Meanwhile their well- funded lobbies and supporters in Western capitols, will always be available to disseminate enough doubt to sabotage any strong reaction to Iranian provocations. The elite of the Western world, comfortable in their cozy environment, seemingly will grasp any exculpating argument, however weak, to avoid confronting Iran.  The near bizarre Western non-response to the recent Iranian attack of a Saudi refinery is a prime example. Were they fired from Iran or from Iranian controlled militias in southern Iraq or Yemen?  In the broad scheme of things what difference would it make? There were a few days of journalists and observers weighing in with guesses and ideological arguments, and then it disappeared. The tepid Western response to the numerous provocations has not gone unnoticed by the Islamic leadership.

The Islamists regime in Iran will continue their expansionist drive. Their irredentism will not be a ham-fisted Turkey leveling Kurdish villages, and creating the image of the cruel and brutal Turk, which still resonates among the older people of the Levant.  Their  strategy will be a program featuring indirection, disorientation, diplomatic soft power, and the particular Iranian trait to be all things to all people, an approach which allows the Iranians to support a Sunni Hamas organization as the ruling regime in the Gaza strip, a regime   beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that sees the Shi’a as little more than infidels. 

sailors abducted by Iran

Iranian humiliating the great satan American sailors under Iranian guard

The Persian extensively used intimidation and intrigue to separate Greek city states in order to divide and conquer, and following this example, the Iranians infiltrated units into Iraqi Shi’a populated towns and villages to stir up resistance against the Iraqi Ba’athist regime.  The infiltrated units were used not to attack Iraqi army positions but more to act as agent provocateurs and distribute arms to the Iraqi Shi’a opposed to Saddam’s regime. 

Iranian soldiers

Iranian soldiers march during a military parade as they mark the country’s annual army day in Tehran, on April 18, 2019. – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Middle East states on April 18 to “drive back Zionism”, in an Army Day tirade against the Islamic republic’s archfoe Israel. Speaking flanked by top general as troops paraded in a show of might, Rouhani also sought to reassure the region that the weaponry on display was for defensive purposes and not a threat. (Photo by – / AFP) (Photo credit should read -/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. Army literature on the Iranian methods of war-fighting concentrate on the conventional methods of war, just like we were opposing an Opfor Soviet military force, apparently from study of Iranian training and operational manuals, going into detail on Iranian tactical offensive maneuver concepts, and movement to assembly areas etc.   There is also the usual bean counting e.g., numbers of tanks, artillery pieces etc. This is largely a waste of time except as exercises for tactical intelligence operators.   The Iranians are not going to fight a conventional war unless forced to do so- as in the Iraq war. The grievous economic and human loss of the Iraqi war taught them the folly of that. Their culture and social/ economic structure cannot sustain one. 

In closing it is very likely that the Islamic rulers in Iran will continue to instigate many small and perhaps some major disturbances in the Middle East and worldwide. The Islam regime survives on their fuel fed by their real and fabricated enemies. They need an enemy and the promotion of violence in order to stoke the flagging spirits of the faithful.  To always assume they will act as rational actors is a debatable point. The preeminent American Middle Eastern scholar, Bernard Lewis made a point in a 2006 Wall Street Journal article surfacing the Shi’a belief in the apocalypse, and a world view that would allow the Iranians to use nuclear weapons, even if it meant the total destruction of Iran. Although this article was met with some ridicule, millenarianism has deep roots in both Sunni and Shi’a doctrine. But for the Shi’a and their belief in the “hidden Imam,” the doctrine takes on a more concrete reality. Iraqi General Makki gave an honest assessment of the Iranian combat capabilities and personality when he told the interviewers, “The Iranians are persistent, stubborn people, a factor which makes them good fighters. They are obedient to their superiors. When they have good leaders, they can achieve great things. They are not afraid of death.”

An old Kurd addressed his people after hearing a the great Persian Shah give fulsome promises of security and peace to his tribe.  (related in the great book describing the Persians, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Isphafan).You have never had any dealings with them, and therefore you permit yourselves to be lulled into a sense of security by their flattering expressions and winning and amiable manners. But I have lived long among them and have learned the value of what they say. Their weapons are not such as you have been accustomed to meet in the bold encounter and open attack.; instead with spear and sword, theirs are treachery, deceit, falsehood…………Lying is their national vice.

Often American and Western military analysts underestimate Middle Eastern militaries, and then, when they demonstrate a degree of proficiency, the pendulum seems to swing in a different direction, and the experts then tend to overestimate their capabilities. Iranians will not march to Mecca or Karbela, and their tenure as overlords in Iraq and Syria may be declining, but they will continue to create dissension and instability in the region.  Because of their characteristic hubris and typically Iranian view of Western caution as weakness, they will quite likely precipitate wars they did not intend. Western indifference to their aggressive actions and Iranian thirst for recognition will accelerate Iran’s designs for world power status, and quite likely a war no-one wants.




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Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU): Can they be integrated into the Iraqi security forces?


On June 3, 2020, several Iraqi media outlets reported that the Chairman of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), Falih Al-Fayyadh, issued a circular letter that included a series of instructions addressed to all PMU factions, obligating them to terminate their political and non-political affiliation with all parties and organizations, to close all their headquarters within Iraq’s cities, and to replace their political names with numbers, like other units in the Iraqi Armed Forces. These instructions came in line with Iraq’s new Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s endeavors to curb the Iranian influence in Iraq, particularly its support to the PMU factions, by the integrating these militias into the Iraqi Armed Forces. 

ISIS on convoy


In 2014 the Islamic State Of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had swarmed over most of western  and northern Iraq in which the Iraqi army had collapsed, and it seemed Baghdad itself was threatened to be overrun. At that point the senior and highly respected Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, issued a fatwa, an Islamic ruling in June2014 calling for any Iraqi man capable of carrying arms to defend the Iraqi cities. Based on this Fatwa, thousands of Shi’a Iraqis rallied to defend Baghdad. The fatwa paved the way for the establishments of what is now known as the PMU.  

The PMU took part in a number of battles against ISIS. While the bulk of the success against the ISIS were scored by the largely US trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), the newly formed PMU launched a propaganda which convinced the Iraqi public that they were the saviors of Iraq. The CTS which one of its division is known as the “golden” division, lost many casualties in urban combat of retaking Mosul. Under the Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, the CTS was viewed as a possible threat to his regime and were not entirely reconstituted at the level it was before the Mosul campaign.

In 2016 the Iraqi government officially approved a law incorporating the PMU in the country’s armed forces but was allowed to operate independently. The law has not been implemented till now. However, the PMU has the official status of any soldier or officer in the Iraqi armed forces in terms of pay and benefits.

Over the past years the PMU received additional funding from the Iranian government, particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ( IRGC) and its Special Warfare unit the al Quds under Qassem Al Suliemani who flitted around the Middle East encouraging and promoting Shi’a comet units in Syria and Iraq became somewhat of a Che Guevara persona, especially in the Western press. His killing was a monumental success for the US in that his myth had reached the point where he seemed invincible. The Iranian push to control the Levant was seriously damaged, but by no means eliminated.

PMU composition

There is no totally reliable source on the number of semi-independent organizations that are part of the PMU. They are depicted as having between 47 to 67 separate organizations. Generally, they are divided into three main movements. The first is a generally Iraqi nationalist oriented wing loyal Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani, a cleric who  takes an opposing view to the Iran’s Willayet-al Faqih doctrine which the rest of PMU factions follow.

Al-Sistani’s PMU wing is called the Atabat Divisions (Shrine Divisions) and they consist of four combat troop units and have no links with Iranian political or military institutions in Iraq. They have about 18000 full time militiamen and many thousands with personal weapons. The Atabat has withdrew recently from the PMU citing disagreement with Iran-backed groups.  They are not involved in any violence acts against Iraqis nor the U.S. forces. They do not consider the United States as an enemy. Their withdrawal from the PMU severely damaged the religious legitimacy of the Iran-backed factions.

The Iranian wing militias far outnumber the Al Sistani loyalists, composing some 40 organizations of vary degrees of loyalty to Iran with the major organizations, of which the most anti-American are the Kataib Hezbollah, which has about 18000 “regulars” and Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq ( AAH) which has somewhat less. Both have years of experience ambushing and using offset weaponry against American troops, with much of the weaponry supplied by Iran. Especially effective were the armor piercing projectiles which killed a number of US troops. They were trained by the Iranian special forces, the Quds organization. They are totally in the pay of the Iranians. They never offered toe to toe battle, using the traditional Iranian way of way, especially using Improvised Explosive Devices. Both are being used in Syria, fighting the war for Assad and their Iranian puppet masters.


The weaponry of the Al Sistani factions are basic, mostly small arms and crew served weapons, but the Iranian factions have heavy weapons including some American Abrams tanks and artillery, but for the most part they fight with small arms, mines, mortars and other offset weapons.

The Iranian factions are armed based on the Iranian way of war which basically depends on intimidation, propaganda, deceit, and deception not conventional warfare. They are well trained in the light weapons and have a degree of discipline better than that of the Al Sistani faction. However with so many many groups under the Iranian umbrella, there are many divisions based on leader personalities and cash distribution by the Iranians.

Why should we worry about the PMU and consequently Iraq?

Iran has had irredentist aims ever since the Islamists overturned the rule of the Shah in 1978, initially based on the Iranian Shi’a aggressive version of Islam but as the fervor of the revolution waned , the Iranian regime resorted to more radical and militant approach to widen their control of neighboring states. Using their Al Quds unit to militarily support the Assad’ s regime in Syria, training the Lebanese Hezbollah in the Bekaa’ Valley in Lebanon, and supporting the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in the Gaza Strip they have forged a so called “Shi’a arc” across the Levant. However their appetite for greater world power status is not confined to the Levant. They have pushed their tentacles into North Africa, and South America, creating a stronghold in a region known as the tri state region. Iraq is the key to these moves. An adversarial Iraq would derail their grandiose plans and greatly curtail their activities beyond the Middle East. The Strength of the PMU is essential to the continued expansionist aims of Iran

Is it Possible to dismantle the PMU?

The January missile strike that killed Abu Muhandis and Qassem Soleimani gravely damaged the PMU. AS mentioned earlier, Soleimani had obtained mythical levels of belief in his abilities and accomplishments. Abu Muhandis was an effective leader of the fractious Iranian dominated wing of the PMU. The PMU unity often Hangs on a thread as the power-hungry leaders of the many various groups all vie against one another for more power and money. The replacements for Muhandis , and especially Soleimani are not in the same league with their predecessors and they are not up to the job they have been handed.

The New Iraqi PM Mustafa Khadhimi is young, energetic, and as the former chief of Iraqi intelligence he has the “files’ on everyone and that gives him a powerful tool to use against enemies. He is known as being pro-American…. at least not hostile, is not beholden to the Iranian bloc and is more cosmopolitan than previous prime Ministers

Iraq has been severely affected especially by the oil glut brought about by the corona virus pandemic but Iran more so which has had to scale down some of their foreign activities as well as navigate through a period of unrest in Iran itself. The average Iranian family is unable to meet basic needs with the salaries they receive and there is a great deal of frustration within the Iranian populace.

The situation as above would indicate that the process to dismantle the PMU or at least disarm the more violent groups should begin soon and would actually have some measure of success.

Shi’a militia in Iraq

Cultural Problem

One of the main problems in integrating the militias are the cultural issues involved, the same cultural factors which produce a better Arab unconventional fighter than a conventional one . For the Arab militiaman these factors are also why moving to a conventional unit from a militia is not a happy one.

Briefly the factors are.:

1.Militias methods of fighting are  more in consonance with the  Qu’ranic way of War.

2.The importance of bloodlines, i.e., in a militia unit you are far more likely to be serving with kin or tribal members.

3.The leadership are your tribal neighborhood men who rose by  virtue of personal characteristics vs. the often political appointed officer you do not know.

4.As member of a militia you are far more likely to be recognized for your individual feats of arms than slugging it out as an infantrymen in a conventional unit. The traditional Arab love of self promotion and combat glory will be smothered by the chain of command over you.

4. The individualism of the Bedouin Arab  is much inhibited by the discipline of a conventional unit. Drills and formations are unlikely to be welcomed by the former militiamen. Part of this can be observed in the uniforms. As a militiaman your uniform can accessorized with a multitude of berets, scarves, and other appurtenances.  You can usually choose your own weapon and what equipment to carry. Not so as an ordinary  soldier. Your ability to present a more heroic figure to the  women is thus another factor.

5.Finally as a militiaman you are usually licensed to plunder and  assuage  blood  lust against sectarian or political enemies. You are somewhat more constrained in a conventional unit.

abdul Aziz Ibn Saud

 The Saudi Case Study

Saudi Arabia was established by war and conquest, engineered by a most unique and singular individual, the  George Washington of Arabia, Abdul Aziz  Ibn al Saud. An extraordinarily ambitious man, he is described by St John Philby in these terms. “All through his life he had subjected himself to an austere regime to keep himself in perpetual training for the rough side of life. He told me that normally he  still didn’t normally drink water as much as once in six months. Coffee, and camel’s milk providing the necessary liquid his body needed. ” Saud could be magnanimous or extremely brutal, as the circumstances required, but primarily he relied upon the Arab method of overcoming his enemies, excellence of speech,  detailed knowledge of his rivals, especially their weaknesses and enemies, and a depth of military acumen unknown to the tribes.

The Ikhwan

The Ikwan were called soldier saints by some…in a semi humorous they were in many ways close to the ISIS of today their way of war and fanaticism. However the Ikkwan were truly motivated by an extreme version of Islam as opposed to the mercenary Baa’th party origins of the ISIS. They were former Bedouin tribes people settled by Ibn Saud to make his rule easier to maintain. In these villages the tribes were mixed in an effort to break down tribal loyalties.

Ibn Saud used them to conquer the Najran, Asir, the Hejaz, and his enemies in the the Nejd. They were constantly at war as the tribes of Saudi were not amenable to rule by anyone. Ibn Saud supplied them with better weapons and better leadership. From 1912 to 1930 that were almost always at war as revolts continually broke out in various parts of Saudi Arabia.

As St. John Philby wrote, no sooner had the Wahhabis ( Ikhwan) done what was required of them war, than they were packed off home to brood on on the iniquities of the world at large, and to wait their next summons to do such work as God might require of them. So around 1929, the Ikhwan began to be put off by the King’s hobnobbing with British officials, , using automobiles, using the telephone, and various other ungodly devices, and especially denying them permission to ride into Iraq and slaughter the Shi’a for whom they had special hatred.

Also the Ikhwan were tired of fighting Ibn Saud’s wars and getting very little in return, especially in terms of their version of an Islamic life., and forced do the fighting for the Kingdom. So in the spring of 1929 they went to war against the King. Of course the king was prepared.  While the Ikhwan were off fighting the wars, the King was building a more modern force of his own, equipped with motor vehicles, machine guns, and artillery. At the battle of Sabila, the Ikhwan were crushed. A couple of years later the remnants of the Ikhwan again confronted the King and were totally eliminated as an enemy force.

Prior to the outbreak of war, the King had assembled all the notables of the Kingdom, clergy, sheikhs, amirs, officials in an attempt to meet the mounting criticism of his regime head on. The results were chronicled in HC Armstrong’s book, the Lord of Arabia. Many of the assembled were  jealous of his power, and influence, his dealings with foreigners, his view of modern devises such as the telephone, telegraph, and the motor car.  “He greeted them as his subjects and as his brothers., he played shrewdly on their pride and religious enthusiasm. He treated then as a massed parliament of his people with the right to criticize him. He placed himself  at their hands and asked for their opinions and their decisions. As long as they were able to argue with him they would afterwards obey him without hesitation.”

Ibn Saud continued “I have heard that some of you Have grievances against me and my viceroys and amirs….I wish to know these grievances so that I may discharge my duty toward you and stand absolved in the sight of God.” He said he would yield his authority of his own free will should the assembled desire it.

The discussion went on many days,  day after day Ibn Saud answered questions, always without rancor  nor the bombastic speeches so characteristic of Arab rulers.

Many feasts were arranged. The king entertained lavishly, and gave many gifts to all his guests. There were one to one talks, and Ulama were called in to answer thorny religious questions. “Every spare moment he spent in receiving the representatives, either singly or in groups, talking with, making friends with them.”

The vast majority were satisfied with his leadership, and those who challenged him were destroyed.


The above is the optimal method of dealing with Militias. Destroy them. The Iraqi prime Minister is unable to do this now so he has chosen the Arab method of honor but contain and gradually undermine their power and influence. He has sent the militias off to fight the remnants of the ISIS, and offered friendship to the PMU in going to their headquarters, observed their customs, honored their achievements, but reminded them of their responsibilities. His speech was more notable for what he did not say than what he did say, e.g., fighting the ISIS is the priority not the US forces.

Most of the PMU elements will fall in line eventually, understanding which side their bread is buttered on, but there are certain  groups so deeply wedded to Iran that cannot  or will not do so. These Khadhimi must play with, sympathize with  and with time, fashion a security force disciplined enough to destroy their power.


The army must once again become the revered institution (rightly or wrongly) it was once viewed by the people. It must recover from the disaster and humiliation of Mosul in 2014. This can be done both materially and cosmetically. The training must be intensified. and most of all a more professional officer corps created along with a noncommissioned officer corps. Cosmetically there should frequent displays of the military at public demonstrations, eg., firepower displays, parades, having certain units entertain young people. Create the fact that the Popular militias are no longer needed. Probably most important, a situations must be created where the army can score real victories over the ISIS, to restore the soldier’s morale in their profession.

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My report in Iranian Way of War

DeAtkine: The Iranian Way of War: The Father of Hybrid Warfare 

By Norvell “Tex” DeAtkine, for May, 2020. 

for the article with graphics go to

The academic and media angst at the early January killing of Qassem Al-Soleimani, the head of the Iranian state-sponsored terror organization al Quds, by an American missile, exposed the long history of American ignorance, at every level of foreign policymaking by successive administrations. 

Many saw the event as portending a spiral of violence leading inexorably to all-out war. However, the unpalatable truth is that Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979, a fact well documented by David Crist in his book, The Twilight War. The Iranians have mostly used surrogates to perpetrate a litany of terror attacks and provocations, which, until the killing of Soleimani, mainly were met with angry denunciations but little action. In a region of the world where strength must be constantly demonstrated, the U.S. influence has declined precipitously. We have been unable to contend with an Iranian way of war that is ignored or submerged in a morass of academic wishful thinking. The fundamental problem is a prevalent one. Americans lack interest in history, and tend to view other peoples’ actions through the lens of our own culture. The manner in which different cultures fight should be the starting point in understanding our adversaries, especially one as crafty and intractable as Iran. 

The manner in which peoples fight, like every other aspect of their way of life, is determined by their culture. Military historian John Keegan (the author of History of Warfare) wrote, “Culture is nevertheless a prime determinant of the nature of warfare, as the history of its development in Asia clearly demonstrates.” Martin Van Creveld (The Culture of War) was even more emphatic, writing that in warfare, “some very basic things stay the same in spite of all the changes in weapons, tactics, and so on.” Equally renowned military historian Victor David Hanson (The Western Way of War) defined the Western way of war, as opposed to the Eastern way of war, of which Persians are the most definitive example in western Asia. It would do well for those responsible for the safety of our soldiers and national interests in the Middle East to study Iranian history, and pay less attention to the daily pontifications of columnists and academics reacting to every event as epochal.

The Greco-Persian wars lasted for a half-century with Greek city-states successfully defending their culture against two Persian invasions, but only narrowly. According to a preeminent scholar of Persian history, A.T. Olmstead (History of Persia), the Persians were particularly noted for their ability to set Greek city-states against one another, bribing notables, and priests to favor Persian prophecies, and using Greek class divisions within city-states to create dissension. Today we should see the Iranian hand in dividing Western nations by their approach to Iranian provocations, as well as using ethnic and religious cleavages within the individual countries to weaken any unified approach to Iranian irredentism. Persian use of intelligence to ferret out adversaries’ weaknesses in the Greco-Persian wars was creative and very effective, as it is today.

The Persians conducted war by subversion, manipulation, evasion, and indirection, largely eschewing close- in combat on the fields of battle. As today in Syria and Iraq, where the weapons of choice are missiles and mines, the Persians depended on standoff weapons such as archers, and lances. 

As Herodotus wrote,

“In courage and strength, the Persians are not inferior to others. But they were without defensive armor and moreover were unversed in warfare and unequal to their opponents in skill, and would dart out one at a time or in groups of about ten…..and fall upon the Spartans and perish.”


The Persians fielded vast armies, mostly composed of peasant part-time soldiers gathered from allies, using them as cannon fodder, much as they use surrogate militia groups today. The size of the army was most effective for intimidation, as many Greek city states surrendered without a fight. While contemptuous of alien cultures, they were convinced, as they are today, of their superiority, but were generally tolerant and attentive to the needs of their many non-Persian peoples. They remained in constant alert to public sentiments among allied and opposing states. Their propaganda machine has historically been a Persian specialty

It was so in the Persian wars and remains so today. In Iraq and other parts of the Arab world, Iranian media has convinced many people that the United States is on the verge of a civil war due to the COVID-19 virus. Likewise, we see well-funded “think tanks” in western Capitols insistently urging “more understanding and empathy” toward the regime in Tehran, currently demanding the lifting of sanctions as a “humanitarian gesture.”

The Byzantine emperor Maurice depicts the Persians as “wicked, dissembling, and servile,” in his treatise Strategikon. At the same time, he pictured them as brave, patriotic, obedient, prosecuting war with precision and persistence inducing a war-weariness on their opponents. It is significant that the historical opponents of the Persians, such as Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, and Westerners have described Persian warfare in similar terms. A contrarian view was written by Kaveh Farrokh in two very sympathetic and well-executed histories of Persian warfare, Shadowsin the Desert, and Iran at War. The overwhelming weight of evidence, however, is too much to dismiss. 

Feeling safe behind their vast expanse of waterless desert and an overwhelming hubris, well described by Graham E. Fuller (Center of the Universe) and Edward G. Brown (A Year among the Persians), the Iranian theocratic rulers feel safe to use their Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and especially the elitist al Quds force, in which all the superb Iranian warfighting qualities have been distilled and sharpened. Afshon Ostovar (Vanguard of the Imam), wrote that the “Quds [forces] has become the pillar of Iran’s strategic and foreign policy.” Armed with a well-founded knowledge of Western indecision, denial, and lack of will, the al Quds forces apparatchiks are free to prosecute their way of war, using surrogates, constant pinprick attacks, cautious retreats when necessary, and synchronizing well-developed propaganda and subtle intrigue with pinpoint military force, to undermine the influence of the United States in the Middle East.

In summary, perhaps the best amplification of the Iranian way of war is found in J.J. Morier’s The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan. Morier wrote of his long experience in Iran about the same time Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about the American character, and both remain incredibly prescient. Morier, putting his words in the mouth of an old Kurd, wrote, “You have never had any dealings with them, (Persians) and therefore you permit yourselves to be lulled into security by their flattering expressions and their winning and amiable manners. But I have lived long with them and have learned the value of what they say. Their weapons are not such as you have accustomed to meet in the bold encounter and the open attack; Instead of a spear and sword theirs are treachery, deceit, falsehood.” 

A Contemporary Parenthesis

As an example of the operational methods of the Iranian way of war, the Iranian intervention in Iraq is instructive. The overall strategic aims of the Iranian regime in Iraq dictates two alternatives; the primary one being the complete domination and control of Iraq through its political ties, manipulating religious Shi’a infrastructure, providing some economic support, and embedding Iranian influence in the military sector, including, most critically, Iranian funded Shi’a militia organizations. The fallback position, failing the first one, is to ensure that Iraq remains weak and divided. Iraq is essential to the Iranian maintenance of a bridge to the Mediterranean, securing ties with the Assad regime in Syria and the Hezbollah of Lebanon.


Since the killing of Qassem Suliemani, It appears that Iran has acquiesced to the Iraqi premiership of Mustafa al-Kadimi, who has formed a cabinet of officials considered by many of the more militant Shi’a organizations of the PMU as allies of the United States. More temperate political statements of the Iranian leadership, probably based on their realization of the growing anti-Iranian sentiment among the Iraqis indicates the Iranian regime has calculated that a step back is required. Therefore, they will move away from the first option, to instead rely on the finely-honed warfighting skills of the al Quds and security organizations to keep Iraq in a state of tension and constant political infighting. But there can be no mistake. This is warfare, in a historical Eastern manner, not diplomacy.

In keeping Iraq divided, the al Quds organization will ensure that the remnants of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) are kept alive with financial aid, intelligence, and limiting, when necessary, Iraqi military operations against them. Stoking the fires of the sectarian divide is essential for the continued Iranian presence in Iraq. Iranian ties to Sunni organizations ostensibly opposed to Shi’ism has never been a problem, as indicated by their support of Hamas in Gaza. The dichotomy of Iranian efforts in assisting Iraqi military forces to continue operations against ISIS, while at the same time supporting efforts of ISIS to continue operations in Iraq, will be no problem to a traditionally delicately nuanced Iranian culture of intricate social and political relations. 

The al Quds force will conduct surgical terror acts to keep the pot boiling. Their history of indirection, dissimulation, and intrigue often bewilders the western mind. It is the Iranian version of Orwellian doublethink, holding two contradictory beliefs in mind simultaneously. The Iranians did this skillfully with the al Qaeda organization. Meanwhile, the removal of American forces in Iraq will be a significant Iranian objective, primarily accomplished by their propaganda apparatus in the United States as well as Iraq. The Iranians can use the “tar baby” effect that the American public now sees in all Middle Eastern operations. 

The current COVID -19 crisis has given the Iranians an additional propaganda lever to play the “humanitarian aid“-card, slowly filling the void of the exiting Americans.


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What if the Iranians get too big for their Britches?


Recently there  have been suggestions that the Iranians are hoping to provoke an all-out conflict with United States,  ostentatiously harassing our warships in the Gulf,  ( Iran today bragged that they have 112 new speed boats to  harass our navy in the Gulf)

sailors abducted by Iran

American sailors abducted by Iranians after allegedly  straying into Iranian waters in the Gulf. Humiliated they were but John Kerry was good  with  that.


ignoring US sanctions by shipping oil to Venezuela, constant pinprick attacks against American troops in Iraq,  and massive hate and propaganda tirades against the Americans… not just the government, but the American people as well. It almost seems as if the Iranian regime is trying to force feed their people into a hate frenzy against the United States. It is eerily similar to the hate sessions in the George Orwell ‘s book, 1984.

Going against the US in a conventional war would seem to violate common sense. Why would a third-rate military power take on the United States?  Moreover, a toe to toe slugfest against the US seems a dramatic departure from their traditional way of War

Iran navy hit

Operation Praying Mantis  where the US m navy destroyed a good part of the Iranian Navy in 1987.

(more of that in later post). One reason is that the prior conduct of the US responding to Iranian provocations since 1987 has been tepid and often downright cowardly. The Iranians have a deep belief that the Americans can be easily bluffed. They often, in social media, bring up the” body bag syndrome”. Like Saddam they have convinced themselves that the US military is a paper tiger. I Recently received a twitter txt message from “Abbas, ” incensed by my less than favorable views of Mullah Iran,  in which he sent me a picture of our inglorious departure from Saigon, with added text calling me a Jewish poodle.”   This is typical of what Raphael Patai calls the Arab mind.  The abrupt departure of the Marines from Beirut in 1984 was another “fact” which embedded the picture of the Americans as dramatically risk averse in Arab and Iranian minds. A claim to which we would, in recent history, have to admit they have evidence to back it upsaigon


A second even more critical reason for the Iranian fool hardy provocations is the overwhelming Iranian hubris. Any outside observer, having spent any time in Iran, has commented on this cultural attribute of the Iranian personality. All nations have some amount of hubris and tend to overestimate their military. We certainly have and continue to do so. Without belaboring the point, I would suggest reading the book, Knowing One’s Enemies by Ernest R. May.  However, the Iranian hubris is palpable and often tinged with extreme arrogance, especially when they believe they have the upper hand. The story of the “student” takeover of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 is a prime example of that, especially as chronicled by the American Military attaché Colonel Leland Holland and others held for 444 days. The US state Dept, after assisting the Islamic regime to come to power by withdrawing support to the shah, finally came to their senses as indicated in this message sent from the US embassy after fruitless attempts to parley with the Khomeini regime, “Their outlook is a function of their history and the solace most Iranians have found in Shi’a Islam. They place a premium of survival. They are manipulative, fatalistic, suspicious, and xenophobic.” (quote from the book Twilight War by David Christ) . Iranian xenophobia was mentioned several times by the American ambassador to Iran William G Sullivan, and it was primarily directed toward the Americans. Certainly, I found that to be true when I toured there in 1968 and   1969.


Often American and Western military analysts underestimate Middle Eastern militaries, and then when they demonstrate a degree of proficiency, the pendulum seems to swing in an opposite direction. The experts then tend to overestimate their capabilities. In assessing the Iranian military, we should keep this in mind. They are not less courageous or intelligent than any other nation, nor are they particularly gifted in martial capabilities.  The Iranian record in conventional warfare is less than sterling, even in the Iran-Iraq war…. In which only their three to one advantage in population enabled them to hang on to a very dubious peace.( and because they were the beneficiaries of American training for years.)  As Charles Tripp and Sharam Chubin put it.  “Self-absorbed and utterly confident, revolutionary Iran provoked a war for which it impudently failed to prepare for, but, once embarked on, embraced with characteristic zeal. It defined it as a clash of supreme metaphysical values rather than national wills.”  

Iranian troops

Iranian Artesh troops ( regular army)

Despite some semi hysterical fears , Iranians will not march to Mecca and Medina, and their tenure as overlords in Iraq and Syria is in fact  declining, but they will continue to create dissension and instability in the region, and throughout the world, conniving with rogue states like Venezuela to create  dissention and chaos. Because of their characteristic hubris and typically Iranian view of Western caution as weakness, they will quite likely precipitate wars they did not intend. Western indifference to their aggressive actions and Iranian thirst for recognition will accelerate Iran’s designs for world power status.


Irabnain t4roops in Syria

Iranian Troops in Syria


As discussed earlier, culture is indeed the key to understanding the politics, daily living patterns and the way of war. Moreover, the near immutability of cultural norms, despite generations of changes in technology, political rule, foreign domination, and the much-ballyhooed “the global village,” can be demonstrated by the observations of Iranian/Persian culture over the centuries.  The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines all saw the Persians as an imaginative enemy possessing imagination, guile, and a disarming ability to suborn factions of their allies. Their ability to turn the Greek city-states into warring factions, using propaganda and diplomacy, was unmatched. Backing up their “soft power” were a variety of different approaches to war using their ponderous armies, “that drank the rivers dry” as they passed, to light detachments of cavalry archers to harass, delay and keep the enemy bewildered and off balance. Darius the Great spoke for all the Persians when he identified himself as the center of justice and righteousness. As Tom Holland in his book Persian Fire, put it, Darius was,  “Closely reflecting how they (Persians) saw themselves. No people had a greater faith in their own virtue.”  Sir Christopher Sykes called them “vain.”

Other observers added that the Persians were susceptible to ridicule, often reacting in a thoughtless manner and given to raging desires of reprisal and revenge. They could tolerate foreign cultures but at the same time viewed them with contempt. They used this tolerance to undermine their enemies by cunningly using their own traditions against them.  A more modern example of this is Islamist terrorists using the liberality of western civilization to operate freely within them. Another specialty of the Persians was intelligence, and psychological warfare.  Peter Green in his masterful book, The Greco- Persian Wars.  writes of the terror warfare used by the Great Persian King, Xerxes, “hoping by the magnitude of his arrival to strike the Greeks with terror before his arrival.” The Persians, long before Lawrence of Arabia and the Arabs, understood the importance of “winning wars without battles.” Unlike the Greeks, who often buried their heads in the sand, (like the West today), they were alert to shifts in public sentiments and smelled weakness. After the COVID -19 political circus abates, hopefully  we can get serious about more serious threats to  US security.


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Iran: ” Better to Kill Thousands Now than Millions later” Saddam Hussein.

For past few weeks Ive been reading books on Iran, specifically those concerned with the fall of the Shah in 1978. The one below…. The Fall of Heaven is a gem..the best and most informative and readable of the many I have read. It also surfaces the total malfeasance among our officials charged with foreign affairs in that era, including specifically President  Carter, our ambassador to Iran, William H. Sullivan, secretary of state Cyrus Vance, secretary of defense Harold Brown, National Security Advisor , Zbigniew Brzezinski ,  DOS Iraqi Desk officer, Henry Precht, and The National Security  Council Advisor  for the Middle East, Gary Sick., and lastly but by no means lastly, the head of US intelligence Ricard Helms, (who had once  been the ambassador to Iran). There was much blame to go around, which ,of course, no one accepted.



Reza Shah ( founder of the Pahlavi dynasty) with Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, his twin sister Ashraf and older sister Shams.

I was the Middle East desk officer in the Army Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the time, and a bit player in the Iran drama, but I was able to monitor the duplicity and  incompetence of the Carter administration in action as the No distribution ( NODIS)and limited distribution  (LIMDIS)top secret messages poured in from all sides. It is a funny thing but these type of messages  were supposed to be very limited in distribution but they were floating all over  Washington.  As the Army desk officer I was on the National Intelligence estimate (NIE) of 1978. It was that infamous intelligence document that stated that Iran was not even in a “pre-revolutionary stage.”  The CIA ran those intelligence estimates and the opinions of army, navy  etc, reps had very little weight  on the overall analysis. In those days if a bit player like me objected to a key point it was put in a footnote which was smothered by the main text. Anyway I did not object to anything and that made the task easier for marine major, seconded to the CIA, and running the show ( he was the assistant to a very redoubtable CIA officer whom I greatly admire) . Curious thing about military officers who get seconded to the CIA, DOS, NSC, etc they take on very officious, grandiose personas. They tend to affect  the dress  and mannerisms, of their  temporary  organization,

So not long after  a NODIS message came across my desk from Ambassador Sullivan, who in a couple of sentences, wrote that the game was up and the Shah was done, I was a surprised.  I was even more surprised that It did not seem to make much of a wave in DC at that time. Carter was off somewhere doing something, the big deal being  the Israeli-Palestinian “peace” negotiations. As usual the Washington foreign policy “experts” like those of today assume the only thing that really counts in the Middle East is an Israeli-Arab Peace pact of some sort. It is kind of a recurrent foreign policy sickness among a lot of Middle East “experts.”


Asraf with her father Reza Shah in exile in South Africa after being kicked out of Iran by the British because of his suspected German. sympathies in WWII

Anyway in reading the book, The Fall, of Heaven I was motivated to read  or reread the books by Graham Fuller,  ( a Sense of Siege and The Center of the Universe), a very interesting book by Ashraf Pahlavi, (Faces in  Mirror) , (the twin sister of the Shah,) Mission to Iran by Ambassador Sullivan, Robert Huyser’s Mission to Tehran, memoirs by Henry Precht, and many histories of Iran, especially those by Peter Avery and Joseph Upton. I also went back to the old standards, like  Christopher Sykes. In short I read everything I could get my hands on.


top pic.  The Shah with first wife Fawzia, sister of king Farouk.  with daughter Shanaz. bottom pic. The Shah with second wife Soraya. Fawzia could not take the boredom of Tehran, preferring Cairo. Soraya could not have children, so the Shah very reluctantly divorced her.

Everyone agrees on one thing. The Shah was a weak Monarch, indecisive, rather remote, stiff, sometimes pretentious, but in the The Fall of Heaven he is also pictured as  a very decent man who cared about his country. He was a not a fighter, but he was not a coward. After all he has survived several assassination attempts. When the chips were down he could not bring himself to order his troops to fire on the rabble of communists Islamists, and ignorant urban mobs  demanding his  head. He backed away from blood shed and let events take their course.   On the other hand Ruhollah Khomeini comes across as a dedicated, Hitler -like creature with a obsession with power and a blood lust. He was distrusted and hated by many of his fellow Ayatollahs, including  his main rival,  Grand Ayatollah Kazem Shariatmadari,  as well as Grand Ayatollah Musa Sadr,  and Grand Ayatollah Abol Qasem Khoi.  He was not popular with the peasants in the rural areas either who continued to trust in the Shah.   Khomeini actually conspired with his ally,  Muammar Gaddafi, to have Grand Ayatollah Sadr murdered by regime’s  security thugs. Shariatmadari was put in house arrest ,and later Khoi was murdered by Muqtada Sadr’s thugs ( ironically Musa’s son).   This is the same Khomeini  that Ambassador Sullivan termed a “Gandhi-like”  personage and Andrew Young, Carter’s ambassador to the  U. N.,  described as a “saint.”


For a while Iran was the model for the westernization of the Islamic world. Then reality set in.

The most fervent supporters of Khomeini were Western educated (?) youth from middle or upper class families , the urban middle class, and slum dwellers The most vociferous supporters were the Iranian students and their leftist allies in American universities. Living in Northern Virginia at the time and attending many conferences and seminars on Iran, every such event I went to was broken up by chanting Iranian  students shouting anti-Shah slogans. They had protests in the street and as it seems to always happen the Liberal Press took up their crusade by establishing in the publics mind that the Shah was an evil, rapacious tyrant surrounded by a corrupt family, especially his twin sister Ashraf, who undoubtably was not a saint, but also a very tough woman who tried to put backbone in the Shah. She was a an extraordinarily strong and resolute woman who could have run Iran very well on her own. I liked her take no prisoner style that comes out her autobiography.   Her detractors called her the “black panther” a sobriquet she apparently liked very much. She was instrumental in working with the  CIA to set up the coup in 1953 to oust the charlatan  Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, whom Ashraf depicted as a Machiavellian  genius: “an intellectual, a fanatical demagogue, a charismatic orator, and above all a consummate showman.” Mossadegh would frequently faint dead away while reaching for a crescendo  in his fiery speeches.


Carter with Ambassador Sullivan

As his urban followers began to melt away he increasingly hitched his wagon to the Tudeh ( communists) in Iran. Threatening the oil supply to the US and UK set the CIA on the path to assisting a coup to end his premiership. In reality the CIA had very little to do with it as Iranian military officers were the prime movers in the coup.


Ambassador Sullivan with the militants who brought down the Shah. As the author of the book  Fall from Heaven wrote, the intellectuals and students who brought down the Shah were building the scaffold they were later hanged from.

The Iranian students who formed a ring of adulation around Khomeini when he returned from Paris, formed the lawless Komitehs  that executed people on hearsay, plundering and destroying the legacy of the Pahlevi regime. In  return for their adulation, Khomeini later turned against them. One very active student leader that I actually watched lead a demonstration in down town DC,  Sadegh Ghotzbadegh,  was later executed by Khomeini. My understanding at the  time was that he was a Big Man on Campus at Georgetown. He also was the go between Khomeini and the the Palestinian Liberation Organization, bringing in weapons and munitions  for use against the Shah.  It is not a coincidence that the first visitor to Iran after the Khomeini takeover was Yasir Arafat.  It was a perfect storm  of the confluence of the “Black and the Red”  a term made famous by the Shah referring to the alliance of the Communists and Islamists.  Later, the Inner city Islamist thugs destroyed the  effete communist dilettantes  in a series of street battles. A lesson is there to be learned in our own country as we view the Islamists make common cause with “progressives.”

the shah and his queen

The Shah crowning his queen Farah

The shah was weak no doubt. Twice he was offered the opportunity to have Khomeini killed, once by his officers and once by Saddam who at that time hosted exiled  Khomeini in Iraq. Both times the Shah demurred.  In castigating the Shah for his weakness, we had our own  tepid leadership to answer for.  We also had a  very weak leader exposed  in this Iranian fiasco…. Jimmy Carter. He had no control whatsoever over his people in the government. Every official even remotely involved with Iran had their own plan for Iran. Most of the state department and the NSC were immersed in the “human rights” tar pits, admonishing the shah from using violent action against the mobs.  There was the totally naive belief that Khomeini was a man they could deal with.  Some thought he was just a figurehead for the Russians, and the communists. No one in the shakers and movers of Washington has taken the time to read Khomeini’s  doctrinal tracts in which his radical Islamist plans were clearly laid out.  It was the Ayatollah’s Mein Kampf.  Power, not Islam, was his religion, but scant attention was given to it.

The Shah, who had reduced his generals and top officials  to a coterie of ineffectual ciphers, (with a few exceptions) kept waiting for someone to bail him out,  but from the US he received a bewildering melange  of contradictory messages. “Ziggy”  Brzezinski was advising him to turn loose his army on the mobs, the CIA was still viewing the situation as  redeemable,  advocating caution,  the Iranian DOS desk officer, Precht wished the Shah all the worst. Precht was the deputy  chief of Mission in Cairo when I served there in 1981-82. A rather prickly individual, he was bitter about not being rewarded with an an ambassadorship.   Precht in his later remarks denied his animus toward the shah but that doesn’t stand up well. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and his deputy,  Warren Christopher  focused on sharpshooting the Shah’s handling on the precarious  situation, mouthing pious platitudes about “human rights.”General  Robert Huyser , the deputy commander of EUCOM, was sent to Iran to ………. well….. he was never quite sure,  except tell the Iranian generals that a coup to establish a military government was looked upon unfavorably by the Carter Administration.

But perhaps the gravest  problem was the Ambassador  William Sullivan. Sullivan had completed a number of years in tumultuous assignments in Southeast Asia and was hoping to serve a final tour in Mexico where he had a home. Instead he was sent to Iran, a place with which he had no expertise, and from his book, did not care much for the shah or Iranians in general.  In his book he wrote about the “unfailing rudeness of the average Iranian merchant and clerk.” Nor did he find the American embassy personnel much to his liking, complaining that most of them avoided average Iranians,  “… for the most part they attempted to emulate the the international jet set…. “. Nor was he happy with DOS in Washington saying that they ignored President’s Carter’s instructions, “They continued to grind out their position papers, some of them totally at  variance with the Presidents position.” Nor did the DOS  put much stock in Sullivan’s reporting. Sullivan was a rather crusty gentleman and did not allow any messages out of the embassy that disagreed with this assessments that basically depicted that all was well. …until the very end.

Later Sullivan also railed against President Carter, telling General Huyser that Carter’s decisions were “stupid.” Basically as the end approached, Sullivan wanted to negotiate with the Islamist leaders himself and was incensed that Carter chose to go through the French in Paris. In fact one of Carter’s retinue of know nothings,  Hodding Carter, was bartering with Paris Islamists  tacitly offering the Shah as a prize. His telephone calls were intercepted by us.  ( Not in any book, my personal knowledge) It is doubtful the President condoned that but in the Carter Admin everybody was doing his own thing.


Ashraf with her brother Reza Ali and sister Shams

Sullivan had no empathy with the Shah and as the end approached, he began bartering with Khomeini people to usher in a transition government.   He vigorously opposed a military takeover and somehow believed that the Khomeini thugs would carry out their promises to enter softly and gently. He was not getting any instructions from a fractured and inept DOS. Ayatollah   and the other Khomeini minions  repeatedly lied to him but he was naive to an astounding degree. The DOD and CIA was out to lunch as well. As the Shah’s government crumbled, a bunch of Middle East specialists in the Pentagon, including me, were assembled and told the DOD was finalizing a plan to send American military advisors to Iran to help train the “new” Iranian army. The primary reaction of the attendees was disbelief. It died a quick death, happily,  or those advisors would been among the hostages held at the Embassy in Tehran. It was obvious that the Secretary of Defense,  Harold Brown was as clueless as the rest of the Carter cabinet.


As Christopher Sykes once wrote, “The Persians are remarkably vain, and they think so highly of their barren desert country they cannot conceive of any power failing to covet it”.

In Iran the Americans made the same mistake we made in Vietnam ( and maybe in Iraq) we  basically made the Shah totally dependent on American domination of his decision-making. He became totally dependent on the US as his moral big daddy.  When the fickle Carter crowd  all but disavowed him when he needed them the most , he became  mentally and spiritually paralyzed.  His advancing Lymphoma was a big factor as well. It is ironic in that Carter had, just prior to there revolution, bathed  the Shah’s regime in the most lavish of praise.  In a speech in 1978, Carter in a dinner with the Shah  said, “Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah ,  is an island of tranquility in one of the more troubled areas of the world.”

The Western power elite and many in the main stream media bought lock stock and barrel,  the propaganda of the Khomeini movement. The shah was painted as a blood thirsty  tyrant, his family corrupt, especially his twin sister Ashraf, who was accused of every depravity known to mankind……. and this narrative was largely accepted uncritically by the Western press. Even today in Hollywood, as seen in the movie Argo, ( surprise, surprise it won an Oscar)  the Shah is depicted as a corrupt despot, and, as always in the style of Hollywood lefties,  his  “brutal”regime is pictured as the reason  for the savagery of the Mullah regime.  Queen Farah sent a long letter to the producer, Ben Affleck pointing out the inaccuracies, and lies, but went it unanswered.   No surprise there either!! The movie reminded me of another award winner , The Killing Fields, in which Sam Waterson,  the star attributes the genocide of the Cambodian people by their  communist rulers , to American bombing. It drove them crazy he said.


Farah vs. Jackie? Farah wins hands down!!! Not only lovely but a powerhouse  fearless leader.

No story about that era of Iran could go without mentioning the fact that in Iran at the time there were about 50,000 Americans there, most living in the Tehran environs.  These folks, many  with families, were not sent to Iran to have tea and make friends with Iranians. They were there to maintain equipment, assemble Bell helicopters, train Iranian troops. And as might be expected  there were a high percentage of “ugly Americans” among them. Probably the worst were teen age Americans who went out of their way to mock and humiliate Iranians from their school busses on the way to the American school in the center of Tehran. The Iranians hate all foreigners, and at the top of the hate list were the Americans. Of course that did not stop thousands of Iranians fleeing the Khomeini regime moving to California. Nor did it stop a number of the Khomeini regime officials  sending their kids to school there.

Finally there was good story about this era and that was the three women in the Shah’s life that mattered. ( His first wife Fawzia was well liked but did not like the Court life in Tehran.) The three were  his twin sister, Ashraf, second wife Soraya, and most importantly the third wife and queen, Farah. Everyone around the Shah knew that his  twin sister exercised tremendous influence on the Shah, and many were nervous when she was not around, because he looked for her approval on most decisions. She was a jet setter, society queen,  with some suspicious real estate dealings, and had shed three husbands, but she was tough and did not back away from confrontations with the Islamists.

Princess Soraya, was also a strong woman, as well as beautiful, who basically told her husband to get some backbone and fight back when he went into exile the first time during the short premiership of Mossadegh. His precipitous flight that time was a warning to his closest associates that he was always a flight risk.


Top.The shah with crown prince Cyrus ( still out there waiting for the Mullah regime to fall). Bottom:Ashraf with son who was later murdered on the streets of Paris.

But it was Queen Farah who should be held up as a Woman in the Margaret Thatcher mold. She was fearless, driving straight into crowds protesting against the Shah, fighting back against scurrilous accusations with anger and spirit ( one example that was in the Western press…she bathed in milk every night, etc.) She went to see the grand ayatollahs that hated Khomeini, ( most did)  pleading for their help. They were too scared to do anything.  One in particular was Grand Ayatollah Khoi, of Iraq. Instead of support she got a lecture on her unIslamic mode of dress. Betrayed by his closest friends, by the Carter administration, by most of his generals,  becoming a pariah, persona non grata, to the Western leaders all anxious to suck up to the Khomeini regime, she stuck with a rapidly declining Shah.  Buried in Cairo, as Sadat was one of the few leaders who accepted him, Farah visits his tomb every year.

This era in Iran should be a case study  of how to screw up  a developing country but there are too many sacred cows involved to ever let that happen.

Pics are from Ashraf Pahlavi book Faces in a Mirror..



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