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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When Sally Meets Ahmad: The Clash of Civilizations

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Princess Haya dreaming of escape from her husband the Ruler of the United Arab Republic

No book has aroused the ire of academia more than Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, describing the clash of civilization between East and West, particularly the World of Islam and Christianity.  Although the book mirrors conventional conservative Islamic doctrine that the World of Peace (Islam) will be in continual conflict with the house of war (Christiandom), Middle East Academia has been trying to refute the premise since it was published.  It, along with the masterpiece on Arab culture, The Arab Mind, has been on the haram list for quite a while. These politically incorrect texts are often denigrated and used as examples of the nefarious “orientalist” category.  The people who brought the Middle East magnificent history and its people to the attention of the West have become villains because they also pointed out the backwardness and dysfunctionality of modern Middle Eastern societies. They, particularly Bernard Lewis,  also correctly illuminate the internal Islamic and political issues and conflicts that brought the Arab world to its present unhappy state.

But to move on, nothing so dramatically illustrates the clash of civilizations more than when an American woman marries an Arab man and goes to live with him in his country.  I know this is a sensitive subject that some may see as offensive but it is not meant to be. It is simply a dive into the depth of cultural differences and how the strength of Arab/Middle Eastern societal mores, particularly Muslim, are underestimated by Westerners.

The recent escape of Princess Haya from the harem of the Emir of the United Arab Emirates, charging him with brutality and a host of other evils made me think of the more crucial problem of American women marrying into the Arab culture, without a clue of what lies ahead.  Although Princess Haya is Jordanian by birth, until her marriage to the UAE ruler she spent her life living  by Western standards. Like her mother, the free spirited Queen Alia, she was educated in the West.  I am surprised she married someone like Sheikh Khalif abin Zayed Al Nahyan.  I watched him closely in 1968 when I was with the British officered Trucial Oman Scouts.  It was an event in which some of the Bedouin tribes were performing sword dances.  He seemed very effeminate and wimpy.  I got a very bad impression. So good for you, Haya!

I have many anecdotes concerning this issue but the recent news of princess Haya brought back to my attention a particular one…when an American woman  marries into Arab society.

So Sally, an impressionable young woman usually from the Midwest, meets Ahmad, who like her is a student at the University of Ohio State.  He is courteous and very dramatic in his attention to her.  Unlike American men, he writes poetry, sends her flowers, tells her of the wonderful life awaiting her in “Arabistan,”  Most of all he is persistent; unlike the local boys he does not have a “whatever” attitude. A few polite rebuffs do not send him away, so they get married, to the dismay of her parents, and even more to his mother.

After arrival in Arabistan, Sally has some pleasant and not so pleasant surprises.  Being from an upper middle class family, Ahmad has the entitlements unknown to the American middle class. She will have a maid and there are people who come and go doing “gopher” chores for her.  The housing is not bad, old and antiquated, but not uncomfortable. The shopping malls are not far away, seem very modernistic, have the latest European styles, and they glitter night and day putting the Galleria to shame.

But alas, there are unpleasant surprises as well. They move into his parents home, upstairs in well appointed  rooms, even if the style is all gold lame′ and Louis the IX.  Sally has been briefed on the mores of a conservative society and she knows she has to dress demurely and always be in the background,  but she is unprepared for Umm Ahmad, the doting mother of Ahmad, who has total dominion over Sally, watching her every move and constantly scrutinizing her movements and words for misconduct or transgressions.

Now Sally, being like many Americans, doesn’t take her religion that seriously. She went to Church sometimes but mostly it was a social thing to do with parents. So she converts to Islam to make Ahmad happy.  Converting is a nice gesture but it doesn’t mean all that much to Umm Ahmad who knows about America and Americans from movies and her studies in school.  She knows that many Americans are nice people but politically America is the Great Satan.  Thanks to Hollywood she knows Americans are a godless  immoral society.  (Note:  Actually Sally “reverts” because in Islamic theology we are all born Muslims but  become “others” by conditioning.)

Sally soon learns that as an American she must be like Caesar’s wife, above any suspicion.  Arabistan is not Saudi Arabia where she would be basically an  indentured  trophy and an outcast member of a family that generally never accepts her, but it is a conservative society. She sees some local girls without a hijab, (head covering), some with jeans and seemingly unconcerned with the subordinate role of women. But she, as an American, cannot be afforded that freedom. Not only her mom but all the neighbors are watching too.

From hundreds of years of history the culturally inferiority of the West has been inculcated in mama’s mind.  From the time of the Crusades and the initial contact of East and West, the Franks (Europeans) were a dirty people who only washed maybe twice a year (with cold water) according to Arab historian Ossama (Arab Historians of the Crusades) by Francesco Gabreilli.  Frankish men did not care if their wives had sex with other men, only objecting if the other guy was using his bed.  The Franks were delighted with the Arab male bath attendants who shaved their pubic hair, and who, then brought their wives in for the same procedure, much to the chagrin of the male attendants.  BTW this may very well be true. The Franks were an uncouth bunch.  This jaundiced view of European manners and morals is well described by Bernard Lewis in his book, The Muslim Discovery of Europe.  Arab visitors to Europe made note of how dirty and smelly the Europeans were, including the women.

But to return to the Sally story, Umm Ahmad is a nice lady, always friendly and often charming, who knows some English but does not believe in the concept of privacy.  She is always at Sally’s elbow. S ally doesn’t really have much to do, the maid or Umm Ahmad washes her clothes.  She doesn’t do housework as it is demeaning to her status.  Umm Ahmad or the family does the cooking.  The food is good, sometimes a little heavy, and  not the same as the Americanized Lebanese restaurants they frequented in Ohio.  Sally longs for a Big Mac and there are American fast food places in the city but all her excursions are usually with mama.  Going to a fast food place would be an insult to mama’s cooking.

Umm Ahmad, despite the onerous restrictions on sexual matters common to her society (which ironically is the most sexually obsessed society on earth) is very inquisitive about relations between Sally and her beloved son.  With her Midwest upbringing Sally is very uncomfortable with this.  There is no concept of privacy…wishing to be alone is an aberration and denotes a socially unstable individual.

Going out requires a lot of preparatory explanations and, as mentioned before, will not be done alone.  Going out of the home is basically a no-no unless accompanied by a trusted family member.  I remember talking to a young American woman in Tunisia who had married into a wealthy Tunisian family.  She knew all about the customs and proscriptions…she thought…but the first time she went out she wore a long dress from neck to toe and was met at the door by her mother-in-law who was furious.  It seems the American lady had worn a belt around her waist.  In a very conservative society any dress which reveals the figure of the woman is haram.

But the biggest surprise is Ahmad himself.  Once a really fun guy, always with jokes and   loving words and constant attention to Sally, he now seems distant and different.  In fact he is, because now he is a married man and presumably a father to be and fun time is over.  His father keeps a careful eye on him.  As long as he is in his father’s house or even close proximity, he is under his father’s orders, no matter how old he may be.  Women have women things and men have men things. There is very little fraternization except  close family members.

Should Sally complain that she is tired of always having to show up at a certain time to have coffee or tea with mama and how she has no privacy….and by the way the way Ahmad, where are you at night these days?  Why can’t you drink coffee with me instead of with your buddies at the coffee shop?  Ahmad, who adores his mother and will always put her first, is very unsympathetic and blames Sally for not being more understanding.

From my years in the Arab world and knowing American women married to Arab men, my observations are that they mostly adjust, some simply resign themselves to their life, a few enthusiastically accept it, and more than a few try to escape. But there are many problems with that.  One of the first things that often happens when Sally arrives in country is that her husband takes her passport.  In other cases after a divorce, the ex- husband says “get out of here but you are not taking the kids.”  She will find herself without any legal legs to stand on.

In the 1830’s Alexis de Tocqueille observed how much more independent American  women were compared to European women. I believe this is why American women have the toughest time adjusting to Arab family culture.

So ladies look before you leap…but perhaps love conquers all.

 

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Taarof and The Adventures Haji Baba of Ispahan

Iranians  are a complex people, an imaginative people and a difficult people to deal with  because they seldom if ever say what they mean or mean what they say, Their complicated process of etiquette  is near unfathomable to Westerners, for example, ,  within the context of politeness  one invites people they detest to their homes. But they  know that the tone and manner in which they say it will be usually detected by the other Iranian. and will be graciously declined.  But this subtle communicative style is unlikely to be understood  by unwary Westerner, In fact even within the Middle East the Arabs and Turks, in their ultra  stereotypical way, always refer to the Persians as a deceptive and disingenuous people. The term for this form of social intercourse is called “taarof.”

“The prevalence of taarof often gives rise to distinctly Iranian styles of negotiation. For example, a worker negotiating a salary might begin with a eulogy of the employer, followed by a lengthy bargaining session consisting entirely of indirect, polite language – both parties are expected to understand the implied topic of discussion. Likewise, a shopkeeper may initially refuse to quote a price for an item, suggesting that it is worthless (“ghaabel nadaareh”). Taarof obliges the customer to insist on paying, possibly several times (three times), before a shopkeeper finally quotes a price and real negotiation can begin.”

Haji baba

Haji Baba of Ispahan

 

This above  is a quote from wikistat which, however,  recoils  from  giving the full importance of this Iranian  cultural trait. A more readable, painfully truthful  and enjoyable, but alas, politically incorrect, source on Iranian culture is the 1824 book by Britisher James Morier. The Adventures of Haji Baba of Ispahan ( a book suggested to me by n Iraqi friend). It details the inbred traits of indirection, dissimulation,  prevarication, and obfuscation which characterizes the life of Iranians then and now.

Haji Baba is a rogue, with his morals sitting easily about him, but not a malicious one. with as much wit and cunning to enable him to dupe others, and as much vanity as to afford him them the perpetual means of retaliation, a sparrow hawk, who, while he floats through the air in quest of smaller game, is perpetually exposed to be pounced on by stronger bird of prey. He interests and amuses us, while neither deserving or expecting serious regard or esteem he will be  always  be the “knave  who is our very good friend.” so wrote Sir Walter Scott in the preface to the book

To  some extent the taarof syndrome is reinforced by the the Shi’a cultural attribute of “taqiya’ dissimulation acquired over the centuries wherein  a Shi’a can deny his religion to protect his life from Sunni persecution. The symbiosis of these cultural attributes have become to some extentmore pronounced by the imposition of the Islamist regime. As an article by PBS reporter  in 2011  captured it, the Iranians  live in a schizophrenic  (my word) society made much more so by a largely imposed “outdoors” Islamist  way of life incompatible with their customs, meaning they live in a public world actually alien  to their manners and morals,  and therefore  try to shut it out once inside their homes.  Imagine negotiating with these masters of illusion and delusion or analyzing events and trends within the Iranian  regime.  see https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/tehranbureau/2011/11/society-the-duality-of-life-in-iran.html

A really good book to read about the use and non use of language is Edward T Hall, The Silent Language. On page 18 he  has some  excellent examples of the Iranian manipulation of  language. In fact, in terms of culture, all his book are still by far the best…and readable!!!

This taarof cultural trait is one we should always keep in mind when reading articles and “think pieces” on Iran today, For instance take the recent Iraqi “protest at the Bahrani  embassy  in Baghdad , ostensibly protesting the Trump “deal of the century,” (another in the unending and always unsuccessful endeavors by each American administration to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace in our time,) Of course the Reuters article reported it as it was advertised, i.e. a protest at Bahrain hosting Israeli and Arab delegates to  hear out the plan. see https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians-plan-iraq/baghdad-protesters-take-down-bahrain-flag-over-trump-peace-conference-idUSKCN1TS359

But in reality it had nothing whatsoever to do with Israel or Palestine. It was just one of the many Iranian endeavors to pull Iraq further into the Iranian orbit.  The protestors  were simply a “mob for rent” paid for  by the Iranian security services or the Iranian Republic Guards Corps (IRGC}, The Shi’a protestors, like Iraqi Shi’a in general, do not like Palestinians who were cultivated by Saddam.When Saddam went down, the Palestinians  he imported into Iraq were evicted by Shi’a  returning to their homes. Their homes  had been confiscated by the Ba’ath regime to accommodate Palestinians.

 

As an aside it should be kept in mind   that the Palestine issue is largely kept alive by the Islamic regimes looking for diversions, the old bread and circuses routine to entertain restive populations. They are facilitated by  Western academics and journalists  who rarely look beyond the simplistic, and in tune with the journalistic  fashion of this era to attribute all ills to the  Israeli state.  It is instructive and ironic today that  the Erdogan regime of Turkey and the Islamist regime of Iran have become vanguards of “Palestinian rights. ” Both have long histories of conflict with the Arabs, including in more recent times, collusion with Israel to  confront  Arab threats.

Mike Doran, one of the few analysts today writing sensibly on the Iranian “crisis”  ascribed part of the Iranian stream of mosquito bite provocations to am attempt to get Trump to the negotiating table enabling them to repeat the success they had with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” the Nuclear deal” concluded in 2015.

see     https://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/politics-current-affairs/2019/06/what-iran-is-really-up-to/

The deal based on the shaky foundation of Iranians promises , opened the sluice gates to Iranian intervention and interference throughout the Middle East. Yet the engineers of this “deal.” John Kerry and his adoring  acolyte Ambassador William Burns, are still in the news,  lecturing and singing  the praises of the “deal. In fact Burns wrote a book ( Back Channel: A Memoir of American Diplomacy and the Case for Renewal. I dutifully read it, wincing  at his hagiographic recollections of Kerry and the “Deal.”

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Kerry denigrating his country and its soldiers. Leopards change their spots? Check the misuse of medals and the uniform he disgraced

 

Yes. my opinion of Kerry is indeed prejudicial, based on his despicable conduct in promoting his  political career, rising to the top of the elitist political establishment of Washington DC by trashing American soldiers in the Vietnam war.

One of the basic truths one must keep in mind when conducting negotiations with  Iran is that there are basically three governmental entities, The Mullah religious entity, with Ayatollah Ali Khamanei in total control, the militaristic state as established by the IRGC. and finally the civil government of  President Hassan Rouhani. The  Mullah regime is deeply intertwined with the IRGC. At the bottom with very little power in affairs that are of critical importance to the State, is the civil government and its foreign ministry. Signing a deal with them is tantamount to  signing a deal with the Brookings Institute and assuming it will apply to the US government.

Zarif

Mohammad Jawad  Zarif

People like the Washington elite establishment are always impressed by the sophisticated, Englih speaking  front men who carry the water for despots, from Joachim  Von Ribbentrop to Tariq Aziz to Mohammad Jawad Zarif, the  Iranian Foreign minister, educated in the West, and like many of the “religious” figures of Iran send their pampered kids to be educated in the West. All the while exhorting the people  of Iran to guard against the evil of West-toxification.  People like Kerry assume they are just like him. In fact  Kerry had a long personal relationship with Zarif before the nuclear negotiations.  The hypocrisy of the Iranian  regime is well  exposed in this article in the Business Insider …. https://www.businessinsider.com/irans-leaders-send-their-children-to-study-in-the-west-2014-9

I have finished reading two books both of which are very informative and with excellent analysis. The Immortal. A Military History of Iran and its Armed Forces by Steven Ward and Vanguard of the Imam by Afshon Ostovar

Next blog on them. with why the Iranian regime’s hubris is its likely downfall and the problems facing the Religious-Military regime of Iran, the IRGC,  the Ikhwan of the Shi’a Persian empire. Clever, and  riding a crest of triumphs but by no means unassailable.

 

 Fz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The War with Iran. Fake News at its Best

For weeks the Establishment press and media has been loudly proclaiming the dangers of US military moves as unduly provocative and edging  toward war with an Iran trying innocently to maintain its sovereignty.  What sort of war are we talking about here?   Most of the main stream media readers, few of whom have any idea about military affairs or warfare in general, immediately would think of the two wars with Iraq:  tanks, artillery, divisions maneuvering in the vast deserts of Iran with air power hitting targets all over Iran. Of course given the ideological orientation of the Establishment press, this is the picture of a war with Iran that they would like to portray. They will ruminate about the low intensity warfare capability of Iran but always in the sense of a “war.”

Iran has a feeble land force capability. Its regular army, poorly equipped and trained, offers very little in offensive capability, and in terms of tactical or strategic mobility even less. It has no real capability to cross the Persian Gulf to attack its adversarial Arab neighbors. While some may point to Shi’a dominated Iraq as offering a land bridge through southern Iraq are seriously lacking understanding of the Arab-Persian rivalry going back centuries. The strong Iranian influence of Iran in Iraq, especially southern Iraq, is real but the welcomed presence of Iranian IRGC trainers for Shi’a militia is a far different matter than hordes of Persian troops movingIranian troops through Iraq to fight fellow Arabs.

After so many years of death and destruction, the last thing the Iraqis want is another divisive struggle in which the Sunni Arabs (and Kurds as well) would violently resist massive Iranian presence in Iraq.  Moreover the Jordanian, Syrian. and Turkish regimes would be put on alert, already fearful of the “Shi’a arc.'”

On the other hand, It is difficult to seriously believe the timorous political class of America would venture to become involved in another land war in southwest Asia. Not with “shock and awe” or incrementally.  The “Military Intellectuals” who hover around the Washington think tanks and the Pentagon would bring strong influence to bear to desist from such a venture. Their eyes are on Russia and especially China. China with its huge conventional force is a more agreeable and comfortable military to deal with. Being roundly and soundly skewered for “losing” the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the military knowledge class is hoping these low intensity wars, especially in the Middle East go away. The high technology and expansive military force required for conventional war is more amenable to the military leadership. Not that they want these wars, but preparing for them is what military leaders dote on. Recommended reading in this regard, Sean McFate,.Goliath, Why the West Doesn’t Win Wars and What we Need  to do about it

So what kind of war are we likely to see? The kind of war Iran has always excelled at; a low intensity, war of disinformation, low intensity attacks, infiltrating elitist groups in the States, influencing  the media and press of the United States with their well oiled and funded lobby.  Useful fools in Washington,  who abound in academia and the media. have shown a rather sickening susceptibility to their messages.

Iran oil

The Iranian mullah leadership, originally created the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps ( IRGC) to counter balance the regular army,  which the leadership does not trust, but now they have fashioned the IRGC and components of it such as the Al Quds organization into a very effective Low Intensity Conflict( LIC) offensive unit, combining all the elements of hybrid warfare.

They would also use surrogate terrorist groups to carry out plausible deniability attacks, for example using various Iraqi, Lebanese and Palestinian militia groups, in the pay of the Iranians, to carry out continual pinprick attacks, just enough not to arouse popular American opinion, but enough to induce a “is it worth it” mentality among American public opinion makers. It is the kind of war at which we are woefully unskilled and despite the acclaimed DOD Counterinsurgency manual 3-24, years of fighting COIN wars, and dozens of “military intellectuals” weighing in and writing tomes on counterinsurgency, we are not really much better off. Perhaps, Colonel Harry Summers was right when he told my class the American soldier is culturally incapable of fighting a successful COIN war.

iraq_map

So it would seem that Iran holds all the cards……..But not quite, as they have two major vulnerabilities. One of course is the vast number of people within Iran who are not Persian and would happily undermine it if given a chance.. The Arabs, Baluchis, and a host of others are fifth columns lying in wait for the right opportunity. Unfortunately Americans have never been much good at the type of operations required to stir up sectarian strife.Inevitably the  “save the world but trash America” types who  infest the media, journalism, and Academia will salve their consciences  by exposing the programs.

We went through this in the 70’s with the Church investigations. Recently the State Department ended a program aimed at counteracting the Iranian propaganda the supporters in the U.S. dish out every day on American media. The reason, as similarly in  the Church affair,    was due to  revealing the backgrounds of the more vociferous Washington supporters of the irredentist Iranian regime.

iran nuc

. Secondly, the Iranian regime is vulnerable to economic warfare. They have a population with rising expectations of a higher living standard and are dependent on oil and gas, probably around 80%. Trying to limit their export through sanctions and pleading with “allies” and enemies to shun import of  Iranian oil is a non-starter.

In response to the continuation of  Iranian “pin prick” attacks we must retaliate, not proportionally, but rather exponentially. and attack their oil exporting infrastructure, refineries, and pipeline pumping stations, port loading facilities. Their ports and terminals must be first to be hit. And in a reprise of the “Tanker wars” of the 80’s we should sink their navy again.We cannot allow ourselves to play the tit for tat game.

Iranian attempts to close down the Hormuz straits must be met with overwhelming force which renders the Iranian regime militarily  and economically impotent.

 

 

Iran-Terrain

If this seems extreme and we lack the courage to do so at the right time then we should pack up and come home now to avoid any further humiliation We will have given up our role as a world leader ,which would make many here and abroad temporarily giddy with  happiness, but the world and its people who strive for a light on the hill would suffer. The last hope for millions is intervention to stop genocide by a world power.

.

Qasem_Soleimani_with_Zolfaghar_Order

Qassem Suleimani Celebrity Iranian IRGC commander

 

 

 

I remember very well the period in the 70’s when our hostages in Iran were undergoing psychological torture and we seemed to be a tiger without teeth., Thugs and tin horn dictators saw an opportunity to kill our diplomats, our soldiers and tourists with seeming impunity, The Russians taunted our airmen and sailors in the air and high seas. Weakness perceived or real, engenders aggression as there will always be the Saddam Hussein’s,  Putins, ISIS and al Qaeda thugs to test for weakness and exploit it

 

Of course there will be complications and blowback,  and the media will be there to film it and turn the aggressors into innocent victims …..such as the infamous milk factory in Baghdad. Yes, as there always is, there will be innocent victims and the “Just War” advocates will be on home screens every night exhibiting their erudition. But as any one who has carefully analyzed the Just War concept, strict adherence to the criteria for offensive war gives enemies such as the Iranians clearance to do as they please They do not abide by such rules and have only contempt for those who do. The Iranian military and intelligence operatives   are a very intelligent and cunning  enemy and totally without any moral or political check on their ambitions.

So as I see it , we do the right thing, or like the Brits in the late 70’s,  we retrench and hand the globe over to  the Chinese and Russians. They are happy to seize the mantle of leadership. But you won’t see people lining up at the Russian and Chinese consulates  for visas.

 

 

 

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Women in King Hussein’s Life. Intrigue in the Palace

Zein_Sharaf_portrait

King Hussien’s mom Zain al Talal  Her husband Talal bin Abdullah, Hussein’s father,  was declared incompetent to rule and sent off to Turkey.  He was a schizophrenic.

King Hussein had four wives. The first, Queen Dina was was of impeccable  Arab ancestry. Her Hashemite ancestry ( on her father’s side)  could be traced to the Prophet Muhammed. On her mothers side her ancestry was Circassian, the ‘Slave kings” of Egypt who ruled it for hundreds of years. King Hussein’s mom, the tough Queen Zain, picked her out. She was an urban, sophisticated  and well  educated  young woman of considerable charm and beauty. She studied at Cambridge and despite her Hijazi roots, she was a raised in Cairo.  She was six years older than Hussein at the time of their marriage.  They had one child, a daughter, who has remained out of the limelight, and as  one might expect, the incompletely  educated young king and his cosmopolitan wife  had major problems in their short two year marriage. But most importantly the Queen mother began to dislike her and urged her son to dump her. He did so advising her of the intended divorce by phone while she was visiting Egypt..  A s one might imagine  she has not been entirely silent about it and has written a number of very unflattering portraits of young King  Hussein, mostly implying that he was stupid. She later married a high officer of the Palestinian Liberation Organization ( PLO) and as King Hussein’s most inveterate enemy, the Palestinian fedayeen,  she proved to be a great embarrassment to the royal Hussein regime for a number of years.

Queen Dina of Jordan Cutting Wedding Cake

Original caption: Photo shows Jordan’s King Hussein with his new bride, Queen Dina, at a reception after their recent marriage. the new Queen cuts immense four layer wedding cake as the bridegroom (right) and Sherif Hasan (left), the Queen’s uncle, watch. April 23, 1955 Amman, Jordan

Next  the king married Pricess Muna , ( born Antoinette Avril Gardiner), the daughter of an English  colonel serving in Jordan.  I had the pleasure of meeting her several times.  Unlike the other wives past and present, she was sort of a plain Jane ( but over the years she transformed greatly…underlining the fact that money may not buy happiness but goes a long way in buying beauty) . Neither beautiful  or  highly educated, She was however very athletic, and by all accounts a very nice person.  They had four children, the present king Abdullah, Prince Feisel,  and two twin girls. After a marriage  of 11 years they divorced in 1972.  Princess Muna, as far as I know, never got the  Queen title but spends some  time in Jordan, occasionally  doing official functions, reportedly much to the displeasure  of the last wife, Queen Noor, who apparently does not like any competition for the spotlight.

Princess_Muna_with_sons_1964

Princess Muna and future King Abdullah on right

King Hussein had spotted his next wife at the airport in Amman.  She was working for the Royal Jordanian airlines and my wife and I met and knew her much better. Alia Toukan, was from a prominent Palestinian family and a very fun loving, animated young woman, sort of the life of the party type. She was attractive when we knew her  and after her nose job, a fairly common  operation among wealthy Arab, women, she achieved that Nordic look that so many aspire to.   She was a very hard working queen and had a rather large fan club, doing a lot of charity work and visiting various hospitals.  However her spirited former single life left the Royal House with many ugly rumors that  had to be constantly refuted. Alas she died in a helicopter crash in 1977. They had two children, and one adopted daughter, Prince Ali and princess Haya, and adopted daughter,  Abir. This in itself it remarkable because adoption is not a common occurrence  in Arab society, with the emphasis on blood heritage.

Queen_Alia_of_Jordan

Princess Alia. third wife

 

Next and last was the “Princess Di” of the Arab world, Queen Noor, born Lisa Najeeb Halaby,  Daughter of the CEO of  Pan American airlines and a former high official in the Truman and Kennedy administration, Najeeb Halaby , a Christian Syrian American.  She  also acquired a career of note as an architect and urban planner. They married in 1978 and had four children, Prince Hamzah now  29 years old old, Princes  Hashim, now 28, Princess Iman,  and Princess Rayah . Queen Noor converted to Islam ( or reverted as the Muslims would say) prior to her marriage. As the Plucky Little King’s (as some diplomats called him)  health deteriorated Queen Noor took on a very assertive role and was behind many of the King’s decisions.

One of her primary accomplishments was to influence the King to change the heir apparent to the throne at the last moment. Returning from the US after unsuccessful cancer treatment he unceremoniously dumped his brother Prince Hassan., and appointed his son Abdullah as his successor.There were a number of factors involved.\

Queen_Noor_1999

Queen Noor

When I was there during the Jordanian civil war, between the PLO and the Jordanian army, the conflict evolved into a Jordanian-Palestinian struggle.  The bold and charismatic Plucky Little King was very cautious and somewhat indecisive in major crises, and often influenced by friends and relatives. In this case Prince Hassan was known as a proponent of a very tough stance against the PLO and  gained a reputation  as being anti-Palestinian. In that at least 50% of the population of Jordan is originally Palestinian, many of whom have never accepted Jordan as their country, the vision of Prince Hassan  as ruler became problematic.

Sarvath

Princess Sarvath wife of Prince Hassan

However  a further and important reason was that Prince Hassan’s wife,Princess Harvath, a highly educated and impressive lady born in Calcutta of Muslim parents, who served as  crown princess for 30 years and was always involved in all the royal functions was suddenly displaced. She and her husband, Prince Hassan took his  demotion in amazingly  good grace. And many, including me,  believe that Queen Noor, never on very amicable relations with Princess Sarvath, joined others, particularly Palestinian advisors around the King, to urge the change of successor.They told the king,  Hassan  was  too dogmatic, too disliked, also a bit too fervent in Islamic beliefs etc. One story, true or not, is widely held that in anticipation of the imminent  death of Hussein, Sarvath ordered the renovation of the royal palace apartments to her taste, and Sarvath was rumored to be grooming her eldest son, Rashid as Prince Hassan’s heir apparent. Whether these stories are true or not, most believe Queen Noor took them  seriously.  Queen Noor, a strong personality,  is not a person to be trifled with, and  prevailed upon her husband ( in concert with others) to set aside Prince Hassan as heir apparent.  No doubt she had her eye on installing her eldest son Hamzah, as the heir apparent. After all Hamzah was 75% Arab whereas  Prince Abdullah, the eldest son of Princess Muna was only 50%.  In the West these things are considered racist but not so in the Arab world, where ancestry is everything.

Queen_Rania_of_Jordan_Official_Release_05_(cropped)

But installing Hamzah after all these years of Prince Hassan waiting in the wings would have roiled the Royal infrastructure too much. so the King wisely chose  to reach back to the progeny of wife number two, Princess Muna, who wisely stayed out of the melee,   and now we have King  Abdullah.  Abdullah despite his reputation of not being being the sharpest knife in the drawer, with little of his father’s finesse, has done fairly well, marrying a Palestinian, Rania, a beautiful and talented  young women who is  undoubtedly  a competitor to Noor for unofficial first lady status.  But she has had a couple of social misfires including a festival at Ajlun that went awry as needless ostentation and her expensive wardrobe. The king’s mom. Princess Muna stays out of the firing line, probably a very smart thing to do/

But wait …. there is more. Recently the  would be queen for life Queen Noor sent out a twitter message sending her condolences on the death of Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood poster boy and ex president of Egypt,  lamenting the death of the only “democratically elected” ruler in the Middle East. That set off the social media rumor mill. The Muslim Brotherhood is strong in Jordan and one of the last elections King Abdullah  thwarted their ambitions only be manipulating the election process forcing people to choose between Islam or tribe. Moreover much of the strength of the Muslim Brotherhood  is in the Palestinian community. Once the choice was  between the Hashemites and Arabism,  and now  it is between the Hashemites and Islam.

So the social media question is …was this a rather not so clever way to light the path for Hamzah to the future  royal crown ,or simply a nice to do gesture to throw a sop to the Jordanian  Islamists  touching  the Islamist  base without doing it from the very top.

hamzah-852

Hamzah and Bride Basmah.  Noor’s  son

It would seem from the history of Queen Nour,  and her  excellent  media visibility she is planning for the future.

Who says women are no consequence in the Arab world?

 

 

 

 

 

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The Tragedy of the Christians in the Middle East

https://www.jns.org/opinion/the-tragedy-of-the-christians-in-the-middle-east/

The above is my article as it appeared in the Jewish News Syndicate, (JNS) an on Line periodical,

I think the article fills a void, in that the West mostly ignores the plight of the Christians in The Islamic East and the Christians of the East and those of the West must apportion much of the blame on themselves. In my church one often hears “God is love,” And pontification about the Sermon on the mount as abjuring violence. Of course …. but only an idiot, as apparently many Christian clerics are, would interpret that to mean one stands idly by as his family, home or country is attacked. It is a liberal invention to justify cowardice. It seems to be widespread in the Western ” “Christian” world.

 

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Newest Article on Russian Military Advisers in the East in Lima Charlie News

An article I worked a long time on with a great assist from my Swedish friend at LCN. John Sjoholm, Lima Charlie News World correspondent.

by

History’s superpowers have long employed military advisers around the world as extensions of a country’s power and influence. Russia has a wealth of experience when it comes to optimizing and maximizing the use of advisers. A prime example is the advisory operations of the former Soviet Union in Egypt.

I have long been particularly interested in the role of professional soldiers training foreign militaries of underdeveloped countries. I had two tours of duty in that capacity, in Egypt and Jordan. But I inherited my keen interest in what is generally referred to as security assistance from my father. As a professional Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO), my father served as an adviser to the Philippine Scouts prior to the second World War. In 1946, he was then deployed to Korea where he served in the Korean Military Advisory Group (KMAG) for 18 months. His many stories, as told to me, have well stood the test of time.

My father very much admired the Philippine Scouts, a force which fought as well as, or better than, the American units fighting against the Japanese in the battle for the Pacific. As he told their tale, he explained that these men did not need to be taught how to soldier. They were consummate professionals. Rather, my father’s contribution was technical assistance vis-a-vis signal communication. His experience during the war mirrored my own with the Jordanian forces in the 1970s. Back then, the Jordanian Army was a professional military, schooled by the British, yet it was in need of technical assistance. Today, the Jordanian military stands out as one of the best militaries in the Middle East, if not the best.

My father’s experience in Korea was far different. Korean soldiers were amongst the toughest in the world. I myself served with some in 1961-62 and saw firsthand the draconian punishment that the Korean command handed down towards recalcitrant troops. Yet, the American advisers in Korea during my father’s time, after having survived the horrors of the Second World War, held a reluctance in giving their all for a far away country that was mired in corruption and political fratricide. As my father related, the Korean soldier was inured to hardship and was a keen learner, but the officer corps was corrupt, incompetent and suffered from frequent turnover due to political infighting.

To some degree, this mirrors my experience in Egypt, 1981-1983. The Egyptian Army’s virtue was that it had soldiers inured to hardship, yet it consisted of a mostly self-indulgent officer corps. By and large, it had lost the fighting edge instilled in it by professional Egyptian officers and the hard-driving Soviet training mission to prepare for the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, more commonly referred to as the Yom Kippur War or Ramadan War. By the time I had arrived in Egypt in 1981, the general Egyptian way of soldiering was stuck in a bygone era of British colonial tradition, reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s classic “The River War: An Historical Account of the Reconquest of the Soudan” (1899). This entailed a slothful, materialistic minded officers corps, adhering to the adage that whoever sticks their neck out for anything gets it chopped off. The rule of the sage was to play it safe. I found the Egyptian Army to be demoralized and bereft of much-needed weaponry.

Yet, I knew even then that when Soviet and Warsaw Pact advisers had first arrived to Egypt in 1955, they found the Egyptian Army in even worse shape. While the Soviet training advisory mission was at first more of a political effort than military, after 1968 it had become a top military priority. It should be said, the Soviets did a remarkable job in rebuilding the Egyptian Army after its demoralizing defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Despite their commendable service in Egypt, Soviet advisers were given very little recognition. The Russian military had long held the same lack of esteem for advisory jobs as the American army still does. It’s a simple fact, if your primary orientation in the military is in security assistance (i.e. advisory roles) you’ll have a hard time making flag officer. This was true for Russian officers in Egypt and Afghanistan, and it still holds true to this day.

This brings us to the purpose of this article.

While there are rooms full of books and materials about Russia’s involvement in the Middle East in terms of political, diplomatic, and arms assistance, there is very little about the efforts of the military adviser. Yet Russia, particularly, has a wealth of in-depth knowledge and experience when it comes to optimizing and maximizing the use of advisers in sensitive environments.

A prime example can be found in Russia’s extensive advisory operations in Egypt during the presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser, prior to the expulsion of Russian military advisers from the country by President Anwar el‐Sadat beginning in 1972. The assistance Russia provided to Egypt in that era is similar in some respects to that given today to Syria’s Assad-led Damascus regime and its Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

[Russian military adviser trains Syrians in mine clearance operations (Image: Russian Defence Ministry)]
[Russian military adviser trains Syrians in mine clearance operations (Image: Russian Defence Ministry)]

The Military Adviser – An Historic Role

The world’s superpowers have historically employed military and political advisers as extensions of influence and power, often to achieve long-term goals. For instance, America has kept advisers in the Philippines since the Taft administration.

One of the earliest American advisers in the Philippines was Captain John “Black Jack” Pershing, famed for his involvement in the hunt for Pancho Villa and later as a commander of American forces in World War I. Ultimately, his work leading indigenous Philippine troops during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) in their unending battle against Islamic insurgents would earn him his Brigadier General-title.

Another famed military adviser was one of General Douglas MacArthur’s aides in Manila. Future president Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower, then a middle-aged U.S. Army Major, sought to define and organize the U.S.-supported Philippine national army in the mid-1930s. A Herculean task that few dared, it no doubt honed his skills, which would soon be tested during the D-Day invasion in Europe.

From Latin America to the depths of Asia’s jungles, America has dispatched military advisers throughout the world. Often these advisers have succeeded in accomplishing the impossible. And as warfare continues to move towards more asymmetrical micro-conflicts against non-state actors, the military and political adviser has grown in importance. This is an aspect that the U.S. government has thankfully realized.

The U.S. Army recently deployed the first Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) out of Ft. Bragg to Afghanistan in mid-2018. Its operation was a measurable success and upon its rotation completion, it was quickly decided that the 2nd SFAB would deploy to Afghanistan. The plan is to eventually create a six brigade force of soldiers specially trained to assist host countries to combine nation-building with assistance in military training of indigenous forces.

This is an innovation of some note, as the U.S. Army has seldom given much priority to the act of military assistance. This despite the fact that it’s one of the premier roles for the U.S. Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, since the group’s inception in 1952.

The mission to train and assist is vague enough to allow virtually any type of training mission. Officially, the training program is modeled after the standard Infantry Combat brigade, leaving one to wonder what modifications and extensions could be made to encapsulate artillery, armor and other modern warfare tactics. At any rate, the most urgent issue for the SFABs will be the level and scope of the training they receive at the Military Training and Assistance Academy at Ft. Benning.

Will their training model include the cultural preparation needed? Will it require the seldom remembered but important study of lessons learned from other nations, not just the U.S.?

[Activation ceremony for the U.S. Army’s 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB)(U.S. Army photo)]

The Unrecognized and Unsung Role of Russia’s Egyptian Advisers

No one knew, or knows till now
About the awful heat and scorching sands
How in the fiery Arabian desert
We suffered thirst and yearning.

We defended the Fellah’s home and life
But no one ever thanked us
No one but Allah knew
How it was there and what happened.

And there in the sands on the Suez canal
It was as any war is:
Fate did not spare my comrades
But commanded me to remember them.

And to my last day, I’ll recall them
Whose life they gave for the struggle
Let the [Afghans], my friend and heir,
Sing about their fate and his.

-Vassily Murzintsev, “No One Knew”

The act of supporting Egypt was not a painless one for the Soviets. In a published poem entitled “No One Knew”, found in the excellent book “The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973” (by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez), Soviet veteran Vassily Murzintsev laments his time in Egypt. The poem captures the vital, yet usually unrecognized role of the so-called Security Assistance, more commonly known as an adviser, professional.

Russia’s military intervention in Egypt was a mammoth effort to rebuild the Egyptian army after its demoralizing defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War. Russia’s involvement with the Egyptian military was all encompassing and essential. The Soviets would become instrumental in Egypt regaining the honor of its military. General Saad Shazly, the Egyptian Army Chief of Staff at the time, wrote in his monograph “Crossing the Suez” that this accomplishment would have been impossible without the assistance of the Soviet advisers.

Can we learn from Russia’s experience in Egypt?

[Soviet maps of the region in 1953 and 1967]
[Soviet maps of the region in 1953 and 1967]

Cultural Clash: Russian Advisers and their Egyptian Hosts

In examining Russia’s experience in Egypt, many of the same problems the United States experienced in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even Iran prior to the revolution, were similarly experienced by Russian advisers. With around 20,000 Russians in Egypt, friction was bound to occur.

Soviet advisers were at every level involved in every aspect of Egyptian planning, training and logistics. Many senior advisers even brought their families and they lived in tightly guarded compounds where access in and out was rigidly controlled. At times the Russian commander in Egypt prohibited Russian families from leaving the compounds at all.

Once let out, the bumptiousness of Russians – from an Egyptian standpoint – was often on display. In one instance while traveling in Egypt in 1968, my wife and I took a small ferry across the Nile along with a number of Russian women and men. The women wore short house dresses with short-sleeved blouses. When we reached the other side of the Nile, the Egyptian boatman, his face twisted in disgust, kept repeating the word “zift” — a colloquialism that denotes anything dirty or lowly.

After some probing, the boatman said that his primary problem wasn’t so much their attire, but that the women had copious amounts of hair under their arms. To Egyptians, who prefer their women to have hair only on their heads, this was a massive breach of accepted behavior. To the ultra-conservative Muslim fellah this was more than a breach of etiquette, it was blasphemous. Understanding these norms is essential to intercultural relations.

Another cause for friction involved the apparent frugality of the Soviets. Russians in Egypt were paid relatively well, and were often granted monetary bonuses. Yet, when they left the compounds, often in groups, merchants complained they spent very little money, that they were cheap. Many Russians had volunteered for Egyptian duty in order to buy cars upon their return to Russia. At that time, this was beyond the dreams of most Soviet citizens. It was widely known that the monetary incentive was far more attractive than the patriotic duty of opposing capitalism.

[President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser greets First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev (L) during his visit to the United Arab Republic in 1964. (Photo Vasily Yegorov / ITAR-TASS)]
[President of Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser greets First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev (L) during his visit to the United Arab Republic in 1964. (Photo Vasily Yegorov / ITAR-TASS)]

A favorite item for Russians returning home, however, was gold. At one time the Egyptian security services complained to then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat that the Russians were depleting Egyptian stocks of gold. This vignette is symptomatic of the basic distrust, which characterized the Egyptian-Soviet relationship.General Saad Al Shazly probably expressed this tension best when he wrote:

“The Russians have many qualities, but concern for human feeling is not among them. They are brusque, harsh, frequently arrogant and unwilling to believe anyone has anything to teach them.”

Meanwhile, the Russians were highly critical of their Egyptian military hosts. Most irritating to Shazly was the condescending and preachy attitudes of Soviet officials. They often accused the Egyptians of failing to mobilize their people and seeking luxury instead of putting all their energies against Israel. They frequently asserted that the Egyptian army was largely composed of peasants, most of them poorly educated, and that officers were self-seeking, using their position for personal gain. The Russians also complained that the Egyptians did not know how to use Soviet weapons, and that the problem was low training standards of the Egyptians.

Despite some public acknowledgements of appreciation by the Egyptian embassy and Egyptian press, many sources, especially Israeli ones, described the eventual departure of Soviet advisers as a welcome relief to both Egyptians and Russians. Dan Asher in his book, “Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur” wrote, “most Egyptian personnel loathed the Soviet’s self – righteous and heavy-handed involvement in all levels of the army.” A classmate of mine, Colonel Nicholas Krawciw, attached to a United Nations unit at the time, once recalled being invited to a party by Egyptian officers celebrating the departure of the Soviets.

The training of over 20,0000 Egyptians in Russia didn’t promote intercultural relations either, according to Colonel E.V. Badolato and the Egyptian writer, Mohammed Heikal. Social mixing between the Egyptians and Russians was almost non-existent. Nevertheless, in some aspects, the cultural hurdles were less for the Russians than Americans and other Western advisers.

[Soviet military advisers against the background of the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx, 1972]
[Soviet military advisers against the background of the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Sphinx, 1972]

Combat Training and a Tower of Babel

The Russian system was to instill in the trainee confidence and knowledge by using set-piece drills over and over. Generally speaking, trainees were never expected to exercise initiative or innovation but rather go through drills repeatedly until it was second nature. Basic soldier drills were emphasized, especially survival on the battlefield. If an Egyptian unit stopped for just a brief break, soldiers would immediately dig foxholes.

The Soviet training compared to Western training could be explained this way: in American training of small unit commanders the instructor would say, “This is the situation, as commander what are your actions?” In the Soviet system of training the instructor would say, “This is the situation, and this is what you should do. Now we will practice this until you get it right.”

Most of the training was “show and tell” in order to mitigate the language difficulties. Few Russians knew Arabic and fewer Egyptians knew Russian. The Cyrillic and Arabic writing systems are so difficult that translations were poorly done and often translations at general staff levels forced the Egyptians and Russians to use English.

The Russians also had immense problems with translators and interpreters qualified to work in the military field. In many cases, they were pulled out of language schools before they had completed their training creating a very disgruntled group. The translators were usually only half trained and were not at all happy being dumped in the desert when most were expecting some cushy foreign service posting.

There were often times when translators arrived without any tropical clothing or lodging arranged. Translator social media groups in the Glasnost period often complained about the shoddy treatment in Egypt at the hands of Soviet authorities. According to General Shazly, the Egyptians were often given no notice of the arrival of translators and had to produce clothing and living arrangements for the bewildered Soviet students in a matter of hours.

One of the facets of the Russian interface with Arabs, was that often Russians who spoke Arabic didn’t seem comfortable in their use of Arabic. Perhaps it was their fear of misspeaking creating a security breach. For instance, my counterpart, the Soviet assistant Army attaché in Jordan spoke modern standard Arabic quite well, but he continually asked the Jordanian officers if my Arabic was better than his. It was not, but the Jordanian officers would, just to “pull his chain” heap praise on my mixed Bedouin and Levantine Arabic. Like many KGB officers assigned to the Arab world, he had received two years of Arabic study. Yet the Arabic taught was of the modern standard variety, never used in normal Egyptian conversation.

Training the Trainers and Surviving Egypt

In both the Egyptian and Afghan interventions the Soviets had little time to train or acculturate their officers and troops. While staff work was excellent, it was largely modeled on Soviet intervention in Eastern bloc countries. As the dust settled it became clear that trainers had much to do to become competent at their jobs.

While advisers did do longer tours than American advisers in Iraq and Vietnam, usually about 18 months, and two years for senior officers, interpersonal skills were largely absent and they received no cultural training of any significance. The vast majority of officers knew nothing of Egypt and its people. What they were told was that Egypt, despite the so-called Nasser revolution, was still a “feudal state”.

While in Egypt the enemy was boredom and a lack of any diversions. Soviet troops, like most troops everywhere, were unimpressed with officially conducted tours of museums and historical tourist sites. Russian trainers worked hard and mostly learned on the job what they needed to know, but there was a lot of downtime. Examples include Ramadan, when training virtually shut down, and weeks of overwhelming heat which often limited training to a few hours a day.

Two major problems evident among the Russians in Afghanistan, vodka and drugs, were mostly absent in Egypt, but psychiatric problems were not. Junior officers and NCO’s found their spartan existence tough, and according to one of my fellow Egyptian instructors, a former Egyptian military psychiatrist, there were many cases of Russian soldiers and officers being sent home because of their inability to adjust to the environment.

Overall, the Russians were generally found to be dedicated instructors and stern masters. Despite the grumblings of senior Egyptian officers, President Nasser gave the Russian advisers carte blanche in training scenarios, all the while keeping a certain security distance between them. Nasser made it clear that the Russian instructors were the bosses and in time the Russians were even involved in promotions and assignments.

Russian advisers were intimately involved in the planning for the Ramadan War. Yet later, according to Yevgeny Primakov, former head of the Soviet Foreign Intelligence Service, President Sadat denied any Soviet involvement in the planning. As many sources attest, this is not true.

On an early official visit in 1978, with the U.S. Army Assistant Chief of Intelligence to Egypt, we were shown some of the minutely detailed and beautifully hand drawn cartographic depictions of the Suez Canal Israeli defensive positions and devices installed on the sand berms on the Israeli side. On many documents, in addition to Arabic text, I saw notes in Cyrillic. It should be added that the Russian skill in river crossing techniques was obvious in the Egyptian assault across the canal.

Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Air Force, Chief Air Marshal P.S. Kutakhov with the squadron pilots of the 135th air regiment, February 1972, Egypt.
[Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Air Force, Chief Air Marshal P.S. Kutakhov with the squadron pilots of the 135th air regiment, February 1972, Egypt.]

The Russian Equipment and Logistics System

The Russian logistics system and equipment tend to be better suited for third world recipients; for the most part, simpler to operate and maintain. The Russian “push” logistics system worked far better for the Egyptians than the U.S. “pull” system which depends on better educated and more mechanically inclined crewmen, as well as a systemic approach to logistics.

For instance, the common toolset, which, at that time was found in the American battalion maintenance, would be found at depot level in the Egyptian army. Egyptians were also incapable of battlefield recovery and getting damaged heavy weapons back into the battle. The Egyptian system, based on their level of training and education, was very single task oriented. For example, each tank crewman had specific jobs and the cross training required to do multiple tasks was not usually done.

The Russians reinforced their method of compartmentalized instruction. This seemingly inadequate training has to be understood within the context of the reality of the Egyptian educational level at the time and the general unfamiliarity with machinery. An example, the Egyptian army had to establish a driving school just to train drivers on the rudiments of driving wheeled vehicles.

Military logistics systems are culturally based. The Soviet/Russian system was predicated on a lesser degree of mechanical aptitude and education, which fitted into the Egyptian requirements and educational environment much better than the American systems. Many times in the interminable meetings with Egyptian officers I heard how much better American equipment was than its Russian counterpart, only to hear a few minutes later how “delicate” American equipment was compared to the Russian equipment.

No doubt this was true. For example, repair work on a tracked vehicle, which included pulling the engine out of the chassis, could be done at a U.S. battalion level. Yet, Egyptians did not have the expertise to use the required U.S. equipment (or perhaps the commanders did not want the responsibility). It had to be sent to the rear. In some cases, I felt this was simply a matter of certain officers maintaining their prerogatives and exercising the Arab military cultural tendency to hoard supplies and information.

Russian-Egyptian Cultural and Political Advantages

Despite the above, I do believe that at the time many similarities between Russian and Egyptian cultures existed. A general acceptance of authority, paranoia about military security, and living with few if any amenities are a few examples. The Egyptian soldier expected very little and received even less. Russian junior officers and NCO’s also had lower expectations.

The U.S. Department of Army Pamphlet, A Historical Study of Russian Combat Methods in WWII had described the Russian soldier as one who, “in addition to the simplicity which is revealed in his limited household needs and his primitive way of living, the Russian soldier has a close kinship with nature.” The forbearance of Russian advisers in Egypt suffering 120-degree temperatures, sleeping on the ground in cots just high enough to get them above the scorpions crawling around at night, were some of the privations endured by junior Soviet officers that bewildered Egyptian officers who themselves detested the desert.

Unless they were on exercises, most advisers retreated to their compounds in the evening, a policy acceptable to both the Egyptian and Russian security apparatuses. Personal relationships were abjured. In neither the Soviet army nor the Egyptian army were junior officers and NCO’s expected to exercise much initiative. In both militaries the NCO was simply a higher grade enlisted man and simply relayed and enforced orders. This made the training scenarios much easier for the Russians to conduct.

Renowned Sovietologist Walter Laqueur explained in his seminal studies of Russia in the Middle East that the Soviets came in with a relatively clean slate in regards to colonialism and attitude toward Israel. Western egregious political mistakes, such as the ill-fated Baghdad Pact, paved the way for Soviet involvement. Admiration among Arab intellectuals and military officers for the rapid Soviet industrialization and military prowess was also an important factor.

The large Muslim population of the USSR also enabled Russians to find enough compliant Muslims to present a “Muslim face” to the Arab World. Despite the earlier effort of the Stalinists to eradicate Islam in the USSR as incompatible with Marxism, according to American premier Middle East historian, Bernard Lewis, in consideration of geopolitical reasons, a great deal of intellectual outreach was expended to surface compatibility of Islam to communism.

[VIDEO: Russian advisers train Syrian troops – Zvezda]

Lessons Learned: A Look Forward

The Soviet experience in Egypt can be narrowed down to three salient lessons.

First, one cannot expect gratitude from even the most expensive and elaborate military assistance programs. Egyptian sources, other than Saad Shazly, scarcely mention the real impact of Russian assistance. Upon their departure, they also left behind a residue of ill-will.

Second, no long-term benefits accrued to the Russians. While Russia seems to be regenerating its relations with Egypt, both are very wary of political entanglements.

Third, and most importantly, the cultural component of the security assistance programs is vital. Despite the massive transfer of arms and equipment, along with the best professional efforts of competent Soviet officers, the constant friction between the two sides, especially at the top level, negated the Russian investment.

Some might say it has been quite a number of years since the last Soviet soldiers left Egypt, that times have changed. Yet it is well established that cultures change very slowly even as technologies surge ahead. The culture of societies, particularly the military subculture, changes almost imperceptibly and not always in a “progressive” sense.

An analysis of Russian military attempts to modernize and reform have been well captured in the book, “Military Reform and Militarism in Russia” by Aleksandr Golts. Attempts by a series of Russian Ministers of War, particularly Anatoliy Serdyukov, to institute reforms in the Russian armed forces were ultimately defeated by the colossal Russian military bureaucracy. As Golt wrote, “a Russian officer should stop being a minuscule cog in a huge military machine, deprived of the right to initiative, who acquires knowledge to the area relevant to him.”

Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has apparently chosen a somewhat different path in Syria. Russia’s specialized forces, the Spetsnaz, have been engaged in combat alongside and sometimes commanding units of the pro-Assad regime forces. Rather than instituting the more formalized training that characterized the training of Egyptians and Afghans, it would seem that Russia has opted for a sort of on-the-job training offered by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Putin may not wish to face the issue of attriting young soldiers lives in another Afghanistan, an increasingly precious commodity in view of the rapidly declining Russian population. He has wisely chosen a sort of “hybrid warfare,” using irregular forces, mercenaries, clandestine methods, information and disinformation programs, at which the Russians have excelled for decades.

Professional military trainers require specialized education and personal attributes. Hopefully the American army creation of Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFAB) will develop the required attributes and knowledge. In establishing these units Americans have learned, somewhat belatedly, the unique requirements and roles of a military adviser. The SFAB should delve deeply into American Lessons learned, not just from Iraq or Afghanistan, but also from America’s training of Filipinos, Central American forces, Koreans, and irregular forces such as in the Burma Theater in World War II.

As important, while studying our own security assistance lessons learned, we should always ensure that we study those of other nations, particularly our rivals, and those of former enemies such as Nazi Germany and its training of European (non-German) Waffen SS units and the Muslim legions. In an article I wrote and published in 1999, I illustrated the failure of Western military advisers to institute lasting changes in the Arab military. Much of the failures can be attributed to futile attempts to re-create a military modeled on Western traditions and ethos.

History does not always repeat itself, and sometimes does in a modified and unrecognizable form. Charging ahead in a futurist fashion arrogantly assuming that technology and “new wave” doctrine will put us ahead of our adversaries is a recipe for disaster.

Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine, for LIMA CHARLIE WORLD

[ Edited by John Sjoholm and Anthony A. LoPresti ]

U.S. Army Colonel (Ret.) Norvell DeAtkine spent nearly nine years of his 30-year military career in the Middle East as a military attache, student or political military officer. After retirement he taught for 18 years as the Middle East seminar director at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Following his retirement from the JFK Center, Colonel DeAtkine held positions with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Iraqi Intelligence Cell and Marine Corps Cultural and Language Center. He has written a number of articles for various periodicals on primarily Middle Eastern military topics.

SOURCES:

The following sources are most helpful in terms of Soviet advisory material: Russia and the Arabs, by Yevgeny Primakov; Foxbats over Dimona and The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973, by Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez; The Egyptian Army in Popular Culture, by Dakia Said Mostafa; The Yom Kippur War, by Abraham Rabinovich (the later version); The Soviet Union and Egypt 1945-1955, by Rami Ginat; The Soviet Union and the Yom Kippur War, by Galia Golan; Armies of Sand, by Kenneth Pollack; The Soviet Union and the Middle East, by Walter Laqueur; Naval War College Review, “A Clash of Cultures: The Expulsion of the Soviet Military Advisors from Egypt”, by E.V. Badolato. – Author

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