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
Officer and NCO Issues,
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.