Why Arabs Lose Wars…twenty years later!

The annual ASMEA conference  covering Middle Eastern topics will be held at the Key Bridge Marriott in Washington DC, 1-3 November . I plan to submit a paper on the above subject. Since I wrote that paper, many wars have been fought and are still continuing and it is time to reassess the Arab effectiveness using their conventional forces against mostly internal enemies.

Recently King Salman of Saudi Arabia fired the top layer of his military  leadership for,among other reasons, their inept campaign against the Yemeni Houthi tribesmen, The Syrian Assad regime, with massive outside help,  still struggles against a myriad of Islamist organizations, the Iraqis have seemingly crushed the Islamist  threat but indications of a resurgence are obvious, and the Egyptians are struggling to contain an islamist threat that seems to be spreading into the Western desert.

In the case of the Saudis , we and the British have been involved in training the Saudis since the 1970’s and no doubt the  commanders  of our training contingents have issued  favorable assessments of their progress, year after year. Why with all their expensive equipment and excellent Western trainers are the Saudis still so ineffective?

The Saudis are only one example of the basic issue…culture! We can train people to shoot, move and communicate, but we cannot change the culture.  So it is time to to take another look at the issue ans spotlight success stories, as well as the failures…and why?


In 1998  I wrote an article entitled “Why Arabs Lose Wars.” It was published in 1999 in the Middle East Quarterly ( December 1999) and had been one of most read articles in the magazine since that time. It has re circulated on the internet to this day. It has been unofficial required reading for American soldiers and officers deploying to train Arab soldiers since  it was published. The premise of the article was that that cultural barriers are the most serious impediment to Arab militaries developing an effective conventional fighting force. I emphasize “conventional” because as I wrote later, Arab irregular forces have been much more effective, again for cultural reasons. ( “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent.” Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East, ed. Barry Rubin, London: Routledge, 2009.)

Twenty years have past and Arab conventional forces have been involved in many conflicts. The Iraqis in three, two against the United States, Syria against the Islamists, Egyptians against the Islamists, and Saudi Arabia against the Yemeni Houthies. The fact that the Arab forces have been largely engaged against irregulars, is not relevant because the Arab forces have fought the rebels using conventional forces in a largely conventional way.


So in this paper, using sources both published and from my personal contacts, I will analyze these conflicts in the context of the cultural factors I surfaced in the original paper. These include:

Information as Power

Education Issues

Officer and NCO Issues,

Decision making

Taking Responsibility

Security and Paranoia.

I will also examine these cultural factors within the background of American military trainers working with Arab militaries, especially in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in the latter, working with them since the 1970’s. I will expand on issues I surfaced in my article, “ Western Influence on Arab Militaries, Pounding Square Pegs into Round Holes. “ in the online periodical MERIA, 13 March 2013

Within the cultural factors surfaced, I will also underline the political factors and newly emerging factors such as sectarianism and Islamism, which have always had an immense impact on the overall trends in Arab society, but have become increasingly apparent. As I have always written, it has never been a matter of intelligence or personal bravery but rather a culture, that like all cultures, even Western ones, change very slowly and not always as an advance in societal mores.

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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7 Responses to Why Arabs Lose Wars…twenty years later!

  1. Laura DeAtkine says:

    Dad add warmackm32@gmail.com to your distro !

  2. Michael Warmack says:

    Tex. Just returned from four months in The Emirates , and working with former military colleagues in the Middle East, my colleagues often quoted “Why Arabs Lose Wars,” and that it was required reading. I told them I was very familiar with this paper as it was written by my Father in Law. From then on I was introduced in relation to you. As “ Mike is the son in law to Tex DeAtkine, the author of why Arabs Lose Wars.” My friend Dan who was a former 5th Group Commander, and a former OSD expert on the Middle East, explained to me the relevance of this paper 20 years later. I met with some other U.S. colleagues at an Irish Pub, and again this paper came up in conversation. Dr Powl Smith, asked for your address to send his current paper. I tell this story to point out that this paper is widely acknowledged as being operationally relevant even today. BG (R) Mike Warmack

  3. Jenni Juan says:

    I’m doing a research about the us military in the Middle East.
    Do you think it’s better for the military to work with and do a joint military operation with middle eastern countries such as Saud and emerite, kuwait, Bahrain and Egypt or just leave since there are lack of benefits, usefulness to have bases there and lack of cooperation and performances from?

    Especially when things are bad happening in Yemen. Why are they still there?
    I’m thinks it’s best for everybody to pull out.

    • Tex says:

      Jenni that is the perennial question. Do American troops in the ME attract problems and violence or do they help pacify a violent region. ? Well sometimes both. When we pulled most of our troops out of Iraq we left a void for the Iranians to fill. In Yemen we have only a few special operations people and it is not a big issue

      • Jenni Juan says:

        What’s the point of pacifying the region?

        What’s the benefit and use of the region unlike South America, Asia, Africa and Europe with its vast majority of resources.
        It just confuses me the most that wars happens due to land benefits and resources if you look at the past history. I mean oil is available in other regions.

        But still it’s a desert arable land that I’m still trying to figure out what’s so useful and why is the world so fixated in such an obsessive way over that region?

        Why not focus on Ukraine’s Russian land grab and what about China building islands and japan’s security?

        What’s so special about that region I would seriously would to know? I don’t think it benefits the US at all.

        Thanks for replying.

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