Military Orientalism? A Response

Iranian troops

Academia in lock step

CSIS just published an article that should be  required reading  for anyone interested in Arab culture in general or particularly Arab military culture and more specifically Arab Gulf military culture. It is at

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

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

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

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

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

In fact the Arabs are so wedded to tradition and culture ( or what they believe to be their culture) The Islamic State warriors  tried to re-invent  the way the Prophet Mohammed taught them to wage war 1400 years ago.    see my blog:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a thought.










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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2 Responses to Military Orientalism? A Response

  1. Connie Piper says:

    Hi Tex, I’m writing a paper on T. E. Lawrence for my history class and am going to read your paper “Western Influence on Arab Militaries.” I read the first 10 pages just now and love how your papers are so easy to read and fascinating since you have so many personal reflections. I thought it’s sad how the enlisted are treated in these mideast armies – the officers are so selfish and short-sighted – like how they went to Cairo on Thursday afternoons and left the soldiers stranded in the desert. But, like you said, “it’s their culture.”

  2. shfranke says:

    Hi again, Tex.

    ** Another timely and insightful post. Thanks for posting. Hope you get lots of feedback, especially from readers who, like you and me, have direct field experience (pardon the pun) “down in the dunes” with Arab counterparts and contacts in the CENTCOM AOR (SCOs, DAOs, MTT members,, JCET participants, etc.), advising / instructing / coaching Arab IMET students attending courses at TRADOC schools, or in PEP participants at hosting U.S. Army units in CONUS.

    ** FYI, one of that interesting article’s references (citation includes URL) about the Military High Schools (MHS) system established in various emirates of UAE. That system seems to be another indication of the UAE national government’s campaign to reinforce building a collective sense of national identity of (ahem) “Emirati-ness” in the younger generation, versus the lingering and more-localized identification of a citizen’s original self-label as being (ahem) “Dubyanii, Ainawii, or Sharjawi,” etc.). Ditto as an explicit goal of national conscription for male and female Emirati citizens.

    ** As we have discussed before, most of the GCC countries — especially Saudi Arabia and UAE, and in marked contrast to the Egyptian military, as you have well-characterized — do pursue professional development, education / training, and career-path / MOS-like management of their still-small-but-expanding — NCO ranks.

    ** Also, senior NCOs can be also appointed as WOs in their specialties, a la our USMC.

    Best regards,

    Steve – San Pedro

    “FAOs Forward!”

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