Iranian Way of War

My Paper presented at the 13Th ASMEA conference (virtually) Without footnotes ….Slides inserted in the paper.


 Historical Considerations in Understanding Iran’s Military and Their Way of War

 By Norvell B DeAtkine


Academic and media angst at the early January killing of Qassim Al-Soleimani, head of the Iranian state-sponsored terror organization, al Quds, by an American missile, exposed the long history of American ignorance of Iranian strategic objectives at every level of foreign policymaking by successive administrations. Many saw the event as portending a spiral of violence leading inexorably to all-out war. However, the unpalatable truth is that Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979, a fact well documented by David Crist in his book,The Twilight War.[1] The Iranians have mostly used surrogates to perpetrate a litany of terror attacks and provocations, which, until the killing of  Al – Soleimani, were usually met with angry denunciations but little action. In a region of the world where strength must be constantly demonstrated, the U.S. influence has declined precipitously. We have been unable to contend with an Iranian way of war that is ignored or submerged in a morass of academic and political wishful thinking. The fundamental problem is a prevalent one. Americans lack interest in history, and tend to view other peoples’ actions through the lens of our own culture. The manner in which different cultures fight should be the starting point in understanding our adversaries, especially one as crafty and intractable as Iran. There are many sources covering the direction of Iranian strategy, but generally they do not adequately cover the historical and cultural environment in which the Iranian way of war has developed.[2]


Way of war is best defined as a pattern of fighting which is recurrent in history of a people.   The weapons change, perhaps tactics, and newer ideologies are introduced, but underneath it all, the culture, inexorable, near immutable remains.  I hope to depict in this paper the continual cultural thread, which defines the Persian way of War. In doing this it critical to view the military history within the overall Persian culture. Military culture is a subculture of the general culture, and in fact it generally is more conservative and more resistant to change than other institutions. However, the concept that there is such a thing as a “way of war” is a contentious issue and applying it to specific peoples or cultures is fraught with the dangers of walking into an academic minefield, especially given the current academic inability to separate cultural studies from dark illusions of racism. This is particularly true in writing anything  seemingly critical of non- Western military cultures, which are apt to bring on charges of “military orientalism.[3] Nevertheless, one need not  be an anthropologist, or linguist in classical Greek, but merely a serious student of military history to understand that culture is the primary determinant of a way of war.  Edward T. Hall,[4] in his series of works on culture conclusively demonstrates that culture determines every aspect of our lives. It is illogical to assume that warfare is the exception.

This word “orientalism” has become a pejorative term in much of the Middle East scholarship, and has often clouded useful scholarship.  In other words, hoping to find continuity, in the current Iranian way of war to that waged by the Achaemenid Persians is too theoretical and fanciful.  Based on my personal on-the ground experience and many years studying warfare, it is true that one can find exceptions to a continuity of military culture, but they are rare.  It is not an aberration that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) looked back to the era of  early Islamic conquests to model their method of warfare. [5]  The Islamist concept of war as envisioned by the Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik in his much-read book, The Quranic Concept of War, laid out a doctrine that was fundamental to the ISIS conduct of its operations.[6]


In examining ways of war, several American military historians turned it into an analytical industry that continues to pull in increasing numbers of young psychologists, historians and innumerable pundits.[7] In his book, The Western Way of War; Infantry Battle in Classical Greece,   American historian Victor Davis Hanson, defined a Western way of war, exemplified by the Greek method of fighting  the Persians, who have been described as fighting an “eastern way of war.”  The western way of war was predicated on the spirit and martial élan of the citizen soldiers disciplined by military training and city-state loyalty. They were citizens with leaders elected or appointed on the basis of a meritocracy. This was in contradistinction to the Persian habit of leaders appointed on the basis of loyalty to the King or part of the royal family – a system followed by most Middle East countries today based on loyalty to the regime as the major factor.




There are massive volumes of work on culture including a number of approaches which often tend to obfuscate more than clarify.   Using a definition presented to my classes at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School by redoubtable professor Gary Weaver, of the American University, culture is defined as a “way of life of a people passed down from one generation to the next through learning.”[8]   Culture is formed by a myriad of factors, e.g., history, language, religion, geography etc. The people of a culture are shaped by the culture in the form of a bell-shaped curve, some totally, some not at all, but the vast majority to a considerable degree, resulting in a predominately common world view.  Moreover, as studies indicate, cultures change very slowly, especially in more traditional societies.


The Greek view of the Persians was usually derogatory[9], but often  because the Persians preferred to fight their battles in a different manner, eschewing the all-out frontal assault.  Many historians[10] analyzing the warfare of that era, including John Keegan, in his History of Warfare, have depicted the Persian way of war as one of evasion, delay, and indirectness, particularly gifted in psychological warfare, and the use of intelligence.  Because of these attributes, the Persians were usually pictured as effeminate, weak, fighting for pay only, and linked together by chains to prevent fleeing from the battle. Unfortunately, we do not get a full picture of the other side of the story as the Arab invasion of Persia[11]destroyed much of the narratives of earlier Persian history. Moreover, the multilingual aspects of the Persian Empire inhibited a large volume of historical narratives being produced, so the Persian version is largely unrecorded.  in his book, Shadows in the Desert, Dr. Kaveh Farrokh, [12]gives a more balanced view and points to the superiority of the Greek armor with their longer spears, and better swords to the inferior fighting equipment of the Persians. The Persians depended upon their mounted and infantry archers to decimate the enemy before having to close for hand-to-hand combat.[13] One of the major problems of the ancient Persians warring against the Greeks was the multilingual nature of the huge Persian armies. The linguistic issue inhibited transferring commands to the diverse national units who fought with different equipment, doctrine, and varying loyalty to the Persian royal house. Against the Greeks this was fatal.


It was Russell Weigley, in his American Way of War[14] that brought the theory into concrete reality, especially for American veterans who observed on the ground the accuracy of his analysis of the American way of war in WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam, which could be compared to in a large degree, to the Iraqi wars.  He and his acolytes hammered on the thesis that Americans demanded a total military victory, crushing the enemy with the use of overwhelming firepower, relying on technology, and mostly ignoring any ambiguities surrounding the issues involved.  From these cultural attributes the fascination with technology of weapons of war permeated the American way of war.  As many have pointed out, American dependence on technology was one of the primary problems of their forces in Vietnam and Iraq.[15]


To a degree the “Persian “way of war is the epitome of an Eastern way of war[16], and while it as certain similarities to the Arab way of war it has significant differences.  The ancient Persian method of war was centered on the archers, many of whom were mounted. They could “cloud out the sun” with cascades of arrows. In a modern sense, their way of war was based on standoff weaponry, preferring to win by decimating the enemy without close combat.  Fast forwarding to Iraq, the vast majority of American casualties against the Iraqi surrogates of the Iranian regime resulted from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and mortars – not close quarter combat. Also, in the Persian- Greek wars, the Iranians depended on surrogates as much as possible. This was not to say that the ancient Persians lacked courage or ability. As Herodotus wrote, they were proud men and brave fighters, and esteemed courage more than any other nation[17]



The military historian, John Keegan while acknowledging the importance of technology and other factors, basically and unequivocally viewed way of war as rooted in culture. He wrote, “Culture is nevertheless, a prime determinant of the nature of warfare, as the history of its developments in Asia clearly demonstrates.”[18] He expanded the thesis of Victor Hanson, demonstrating that the Muslim disrespect  and ignorance of Western Christianity and European culture debilitated their ability to defeat Western armies beginning with Napoleon’s invasion of   Egypt in 1798.[19]  The tenacity of Middle Eastern cultural values is evident in only superficial absorption of Western doctrines, military ethos, and techniques, which  has continued in Middle Eastern military establishments to the present day.[20]   For instance, many of the deficiencies of the Egyptian army recorded by Winston Churchill in The River Wars were still apparent to this writer[21] a hundred years later. The June 2014 dissolution of the Iraqi army in the face of a numerical smaller ISIS force, gave rise, belatedly, to the exasperated, “It’s the culture, stupid!”


World View


The elite of Iran see themselves as perpetual victims, surrounded by enemies, in a virtual state of siege. From this, they perceive Iran as insecure, and this is aggravated by a hidden sense of inferiority.[22] This sense of inferiority is often disguised by bellicose pronouncements of military[23] and national superiority. The elites see Iran as the indispensable and leading power in the Middle East, kept from their natural role by surrounding regional enemies and international great powers, in the most part of the last century, by Russia and Great Britain, and now the United States.[24] As Sir Percy Sykes so undiplomatically wrote, “Persians are remarkably vain, and they think so highly of their barren desert country they cannot conceive of any power failing to covet it.”[25] The renown historian of Iran, Richard Frye, wrote, “The central fact of this culture ……is the rather intangible feeling among the people that Persian culture – traditions, outlook on life, and the like – will always survive political domination and the onslaught of new ideologies.”[26]


Despite the plethora of invasions by alien peoples, Arab, Turks. Mongols, Afghans, and the later era, control by imperial Russians and British forces, the Iranians were able to maintain their distinct Iranian culture. But politically each era of foreign domination brought with it the factionalism of those who resisted and those who bought into it. The long history of foreign involvement in Iran has produced a strong element of xenophobia.[27]


 The Influence of Iranian National Character on their Way of War


There are many critics to the whole idea of a “national character” or the “modal character” or other appellations used by anthropologists to characterize a people. The quest to understand their politics, daily living patterns, and especially the below the water “ice berg” effect that often bewilders casual observers, and infuriates those who view Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword as racist or pseudo-science.   Without getting into the exotica and esoterism of cultural studies my study of military culture indicates, the near immutability of cultural norms, despite generations of changes in technology, political rule, foreign domination, and the much-ballyhooed “the global village.” This can be demonstrated by the observations of Iranian/Persian culture over the centuries.  The Greeks, Romans, Byzantines all saw the Persians as an implacable enemy possessing imagination, guile, and a disarming ability to suborn factions of their allies. Their ability to turn the Greek city-states into warring factions, using propaganda and diplomacy, was unmatched.  The historians noted the Persian use of intelligence, and psychological warfare, including “psychological profiling.“ Unlike the Greeks, who often buried their heads in the sand and hoped for the best, the Persians maintained agents moving about the city states, gathering information, dispensing stories to add fuel to the fires of the perpetual city -state rivalries and jealousies. Backing up their “soft power” the Persians intimidated their enemies using their ponderous armies, “that drank the rivers dry”[28] as they passed, terrorizing towns that lay in their path.


Darius the Great spoke for all the Persians when he identified himself as the center of justice and righteousness. Tom Holland in his book Persian Fire, wrote, the hubris exhibited by Darius was, “Closely reflecting how they (Persians) saw themselves. No people had a greater faith in their own virtue.”[29]     Other observers added that the Persians were so convinced of their superiority, they were susceptible to ridicule, often reacting in a thoughtless manner and given to raging desires of reprisal and revenge. They could tolerate the occupier’s foreign cultures, but at the same time viewed them with contempt.[30] They used this feigned tolerance to undermine their enemies by cunningly using their own traditions against them. The quick and inventive Iranian mind was captured in   the seminal work on Iranian society by J.J. Morier, The Adventures of Haji Baba of Isphafan,“ In the preface Sir Walter Scott wrote, “the genius of the Persians is lively and volatile to degree much exceeding other nations of the East.” [31]


The topography of Iran is a critical factor in the formation of an Iranian character. Iran is very large country with population centers mostly along a very narrow ring[32] around the sparsely populated central barren areas of Iran. The vast distances have created an insular culture among the Iranians, with a strong element of provincialism.[33] Creating an Iranian identity is still an ongoing process.

The diversity of peoples and city-centric town dwellers was observed by Edward G. Browne’s, A Year Among the Persians, one in which the inhabitants of one small city could not find a generic word for city, only the name of their city.  In the passage of a century, that has changed only incrementally.[34]


Critical to the study of the Iranian   national character is the hubris and self-confidence of the elites, long commented on by visitors and observers. As aspect of this among the elite, is the appeal of irredentism. They feel their place in the world has been stymied by Western powers and seek to redress it.  Graham correctly assessed the Persian elite’s sense of their place in the world as beleaguered, yet being the center of the universe.[35] When I traveled in Iran in 1968 and 1969, the elite of Shiraz and Isphahan, were not reticent in speaking of Basra as a part of Iran.  To them it could be considered as a sort of Anschluss with Iraq. Of course, in the Iran -Iraq war, the Shi’a of Iraq, much to the chagrin of the Mullahs, turned out to be more Arab than Shi’a.


The Impact of the Shi’a Clerics


Shi’a clerics have an immense impact on the national character.[36]  They were never dominated by the political leaders of Iran, and now constitute a critical part of the ruling class.  Reza Shah tried to secularize Iran and limit the power of the clergy by undermining them, with some success, but he realized he did not have power to destroy their power.[37] His son, Mohamed Reza Shah, however, tried to confront the clergy head on with disastrous results.[38] The immense power of the mullahs, fueled by their religious endowment money and popularity among the poor and urban lower middle class was something that the governing elite and Western intelligence agencies missed in 1979.[39] Historically, the Shi’a clergy,  has been a restraining influence on modernization, and dichotomous in terms of a unifying force.[40] As one of the unifying forces among the rural and poor Iranian people, their influence conversely, has also been a divisive factor.  Many of the more educated class have been agitating for an abolition of the overall authoritarianism of a state-imposed religion for close to a century. In fact, the irony of the secular vs. religious battle in Iran is that current rulers of the “Islamic” regime have gained total control of the religious clergy as in the words one authority on the subject, Mehdi Klalagi,

“Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—the current supreme leader, or ruling jurist, of the Islamic Republic—has bureaucratized the seminaries and created a vast administration to handle every aspect of clerical life, including health insurance, student housing, curricula, clerical credentials and more. The establishment now has very strict rules regulating admissions, the issuance of credentials and granting permission to wear clerical clothing.”[41]

 Strategic Considerations.

 A critical aspect of the way of war is the military topography.   In this, despite the record of many foreign invasions, Iran enjoys a relatively favorable defensive military topography and climate. While psychologically paranoid about the aggressive intentions of the regional countries around them, and more emphatically, the Western powers, which in the Iranian mind includes Israel, the Iranians enjoy a favorable geostrategic environment that few in the Middle East do.  The Zagros, and Elburz Mountains, the forbidding interior, the lack of water, severe climatic conditions, and a mostly urban population, present tremendous obstacles to any modern invading army.  As those who have studied Middle Eastern urban warfare,[42]

including the Iraqi occupation of Khorramshahr, and the Iraqi retaking of Mosul from the ISIS can attest, it is a laborious and bloody operation. Therefore, paranoiac suspicions aside, the Iranian regime is relatively safe behind their topographical obstacles, giving them latitude to concentrate on their strategic offensive goals, fairly confident no one will be foolish enough to launch a land war against them. The addition of nuclear weapons, which will inevitably be added their arsenal, will give them additional freedom of maneuver.  Ironically, the nuclear agreement made by Western powers, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran by Western powers,[43] facilitated their capability to employ their unconventional way of war.[44] The relative safety offered by Iran’s military topography enables it to concentrate on its expansionist designs, an offensive strategy, rather than defensive posture.  It is a distinctly Iranian form of Lebensraum, ingathering the Shi’a of the world under the Iranian embrace. The weak Western and Gulf Arab response to Iranian provocations have created a vacuum in the Middle East and the West is not inclined to militarily challenge Iran.


Strategic Goals

 Michael Eisenstadt, an astute expert on Iran at the Washington Institute of Middle East Policy, defined the major strategic goals of Iran as first, attaining self-sufficiency, particularly in military industry, secondly, transforming Iran into a regional power projecting influence through the Middle East, and thirdly, building  up their military strength to preclude another tragedy such as the Iran-Iraq war.[45] Following the dictums of the early Persian kings, it is far better to intimidate enemies into submission that beat them into it. I would go a bit further. Iran wants to be on the world stage as a world power, perhaps a second tier, but a world power nonetheless.   Moreover, I would point out the fourth strategic goal as being the control of the Persian Gulf as a standalone objective. In my view it has been a primary goal of Iranian regimes for centuries. The view of Iranian elite, secular or religious, has always been that their well-being depends upon their control of the Gulf. Even using the term “Arab Gulf” infuriate them. To the Iranian elite, the Persian Gulf is considered a Persian lake. The media in Iran repeatedly hammered that theme.  From the time of the Achaemenid era, the Persians have regarded the Gulf as vital. An Iranian article from 1968 in their state – run media accurately conveys the Iranian historic view of the Gulf, and stands as an example of long-term objectives outliving regime change.  The media of Islamic regime could have been this written today:

“…Iran today represents the most important factor in the future of the Gulf, and that our population is more than twice the size of the Arab littoral states. Nevertheless, we are ready to collaborate with the sheikhdoms to safeguard the security of the Persian Gulf – but they must never forget, so long as Iran is there, the Persian Gulf will never be an Arab Gulf.”[46]


      Iranian Military Following the Achaemenid Empire

 After the destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander the Great in 331 BC  A measure of military glory was regained  by the successor dynasties, the  Greek Persian Seleucids, followed by the warlike  Parthians, a tribal nomad people from the East who destroyed the Seleucid dynasty  and created a diverse tolerant civilization and perfected long  distance warfare , being particularly adept on   horseback firing arrows that penetrated Roman armor. They were particularly famous for mastering the technique of being able to launch their arrows riding away from the battlefield, apparently quite effectively.[47]  The three Persian dynasties that followed the demise of the Achaemenid empire, the Seleucid, Parthian, and Sassanian continually fought wars against the Romans, the Byzantines (Eastern Roman Empire) and later the Arabs.[48]

The following empire, Sassanians, revived the old Persian empire, as many Persians saw the Parthians as foreigners.  The Sassanians introduced a number of military reforms such as the use of heavily armed cavalry and reestablishing units of elephant-borne infantry.  In fact, the East Romans adopted the Sassanian reorganization of military administration. The Sassanians continued the Persian traditional effectiveness with propaganda, the use of intelligence and surrogates for certain types of warfare.[49]  Their type of warfare struck the Arabs, who were beginning their wars against the Persians,  as effeminate and degenerate.[50]  The long Byzantine wars against the Persians prompted Maurice, one or the Emperors of the Byzantines, to sum up the lessons learned in the wars against the Persians whom he depicts as “wicked, dissembling, and servile,”[51] in his treatise Strategikon. At the same time, he pictured them as brave patriotic, obedient, prosecuting war with precision and persistence inducing a war-weariness on their opponents.[52]


After the Arab invasion of 641 until the buildup under Shah Mohamed Pahlavi, the bright spots in Persian military were that achieved by Abbas the Great (1588-1629) and Nadir Shah (from 1736-1747).   It is important to note that from 1055 to 1501 the Persians were ruled by Turks, and traditionally the Persians have seen the Turks as warriors but a dull unimaginative people.[53] Most of the wars fought by the “Persian” empires were by Turkish tribes and mercenaries.  However, the Safavid dynasty was of great importance establishing Shi’ism as the state religion, and establishing a strong central government which lasted for 200 years, but they were not successful against the Ottoman Turks in warfare.[54]



The Persian/Iranian Military in the Modern Era

 After humiliation by the Afghans in 1722 and the demise of the Safavid dynasty, the advent of the Qajar dynasty with the exception of the reign of the Shah Abbas and massive European intervention in Iran, Persian rule did not extend much beyond Tehran for two centuries. Throughout the colonialist period, the military units were either under British, Russian, or Swedish command.  Under the Pahlavi’s, despite the attempt of Reza Shah to build up his military, most observers at the time opined that it was only useful for parades and ceremonies.[55] The Persian army was ineffective against tribal pro-German uprisings in World War I and even worse in World War II.[56] The Iranian flirtation with Germany incurred the invasion by Russian and British forces to which the Iranian resistance lasted only 48 hours.  Despite the exorbitant taxes levied on Iranian merchants to build an effective army, the majority simply fled before the Soviet and British attacks.


The massive military buildup under Shah Mohamed Pahlavi, beginning in the Sixties, and continuing until his departure in 1978, primarily with American equipment and trainers, at one time reaching 35000 military and contractor personnel. The American training missions in Iran (ARMISH and GENMISH) did manage to instill a degree of professionalism in the Iranian military, especially the air force, but following the revolution, as is usually the case in the Middle East, Western training quickly dissipated,  but did  endure long enough to give Iran an advantage in the Iran-Iraq War.[57] The increased size and assumed prowess of his army prompted the Shah, at the request of the Sultan of Oman, to test out his military by deploying units to fight the Dhofari rebels in Oman.  These units were a combination of recruits bolstered by Special Forces, some of the best Shah had.  The results were mixed.[58]

The rapid collapse of the Imperial government in 1979, was brought about by a number of factors,[59] one of the most salient being the poor health of the Shah, his perpetual indecisive nature, and the authoritarian nature of the regime in which officials were unable to take bold action on their own.[60] From the military point of view, the lack of discipline in the military and the lack of leadership exhibited by the officer corps, especially senior leadership was striking. In the run up to the “Islamic” revolution and the return of Ayatollah Khomeini the perfidy, cowardice, and treacherous nature of many senior leaders was repulsive.  But the cultural lesson imparted by General Robert Huyser’s  mission to put backbone into the Iranian military leadership was even more telling. The Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Staff, General Gharabaghi explained to him.

“You should understand that things are very different from your country. If you expect an individual to accomplish anything, you give him a specific order. Once the order is given, the person then has to be constantly supervised, otherwise you see no progress. People in my country have been trained that way for hundreds of years.”[61]

General Huyser’s observations, who had visited Iranian military prior to this visit, undercut his contention that the military could have created a military regime if allowed to by the Washington squabbling bureaucrats. I would suspect that General Huyser’s optimistic view of the Iranian military was colored by the very accomplished Iranian penchant for pageantry…the “dog and pony” shows always presented to VIPs, which were very impressive[62]


The Washington squabbling itself was true enough[63] and a difficult obstacle, but the real problem was explained by General Abbas Gharabaghi, and some of the other top military commanders; the military did not know how to work as a team because they had always simply awaited the Shah’s directives. No one wanted to take responsibility. Cross cultural analyses invariably point out that Iranian culture requires a visionary leader to lay out the plan and then direct the subordinates on how to accomplish it.[64] They eschew collective tasks and basically trust only their family or very close friends. Other experts on Iranian politics have pointed out the Shah’s regime was an edifice built on mistrust. He designed the structure that way – as most Middle Eastern leaders do.  One edge of the army sword points toward the enemy and the other toward the capitol


 The Iran-Iraq War

To some Western observers the Iranian military performance in the war was a surprise, fighting much better than had been expected [65](especially by Saddam Hussein) but my analysis is that the Iranians demonstrated their continued ineffectiveness fighting a conventional war. Their enemy, the Iraqi military, was “professional” in name only.  Iraq went to war with incompetent military leadership, mostly old and inadequate equipment, having only about a third of Iran’s eligible males to fight the war, a poor logistic system, total lack of strategic planning, and an army held together primarily with fear. The political leadership was unable to rouse a national war spirit in which most of the people referred to it as “Saddam’s war.” [66]

Despite the paeans of praise from Western pundits who had apparently expected the Iranians to crumble,[67] in conventional war Iranians were equally hapless., resorting to using young men in mass human wave attacks to open gaps in porous Iraqi defenses for the elite units to move through. While much of this ineffectiveness is laid at the door of Khomeini and his purge of the military, in reality, most of the senior army officer corps was deadwood anyway, and the Iranians would not have fared much better had all of them remained in the army. In fact, the imagination and effectiveness of the smaller Iranian units were a direct result of the field grade officer corps being drastically thinned allowing younger, more zealous officers to take the battle forward. The influence of years of American training given to the Iranians was valuable in this regard. Certainly, in the air force the Iranians were far superior in tactics and flying skill.


Where the Iranians did well were in the same fields as in Achaemenid times. They were superb in intelligence, propaganda, intrigue, deception and construction of military infrastructure to further their operations. They were much cleverer than their Iraqi opponents, usually one step ahead in planning and nimbler in meeting reverses.  They also had the immense advantage of fighting to defend the Motherland and Shi’a religion against the latter-day minions of Caliph Yazid[68] represented by the Saddam Hussein Sunni regime. Their tactics in the swamps of southern Iraq were extraordinarily well executed but were exceptions. In strategic planning and execution, however they exhibited the same problems that bedeviled the armies of Darius; over centralization, lack of coordination among elements of the ground forces, in this case the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)[69] and the Artesh (army), and an overwhelming hubris mixed with contempt for their Iraqi enemy.


The ingenuity of the Iranians at lower levels of command were respected by the Iraqis, e.g. the creation of bridges using cork just below water’s surface to conceal them from Iraqi detection, deception tactics, rapid reinforcement of penetrations of Iraqi lines, small unit infiltration tactics, and dependence on small unit leader’s initiative. The Iraqi officers professed a great degree of admiration for the Iranian imagination and ingenuity. which was obviously lacking on their side[70]


There was little Iranian command structure at the beginning of the war, and individual units were left to fight for their existence on their own, in urban areas like Khorramshahr.

However, later, as the Iranian command, reconstituted itself, the authoritarian nature of the Iranian culture reasserted itself and much of the small unit effectiveness was smothered under Iranian religious leader’s direction and lack of military knowledge.

As the war dragged on, the Iranian command structure reformed, and much less initiative at lower levels was apparent. The Iranians resorted to mass frontal “human wave” attacks, which they repeated again and again despite immense casualties, attacking Iraqis in well-fortified areas.  The Iranians were fighting out of their cultural parameters, mostly out of desperation, partly out of military ignorance. Conventional war and its requirement for combined arms requirements were well beyond them. They generally failed to bring their main advantageous cultural attributes in the fighting against the Iraqis.

In some areas the Iranian resemblance to early Persian Empire war fighting techniques is eerily similar.  The great king Xerxes moved huge armies of various nationalities to attack the Greeks, some of the contingents being little more than civilians with light weapons. This was repeated in the Iran-Iraq war. As Iraqi General Aladdin Makki told American interviewers, at the first (1982) battle of Basra, “They (Iranians) used thousands of people in a way we had never seen before:

Waves of civilians with light personal armor, wearing skirts or dishdashhara. had been told by their clergy that Najaf or Karbala was there.” As Makki continued, “they repeated this tactic five times.”[71]

 Iranian intelligence was excellent as might be expected, according to the head of Iraqi intelligence, Major General Mizher Rashid Rashid al Tarfa al Ubaydi. The Iraqi intelligence organization was riddled with Iranian spies – as they discovered after the war.[72] On the other hand, the noted volubility hubris of the Iranians, noted by all the observers of Iranian society through the years, was a major factor in the poor Iranian protection of sensitive information. They used non-secure communication between units, their mullahs gave away military information in their sermons, and the Iranian newspapers, anxious to present favorable narratives about operations, gave Iraqi analysts critical information.

 Following the war with Iran and Saddam’s ill-fated attack on Kuwait and involvement in subsequent wars against the West, Iraq was reduced to the level of an impoverished third world state, with three contending ethnic factions vying for control or self-governance.  The Iranian regime correctly saw their opportunity and renewed their bid for regional power reintroduced age-old Iranian imperialism rebranded as an alternate Islamist movement. A particular trend in the Arab world extolling Sunni triumphalism, as espoused by Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State presented the Iranian regime a ready-made opportunity to brand themselves as the protectors of Shi’ism, expanding their influence into Shi’a communities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.


The Military Under the Islamist Regime

 the Iran – Iraq war and the IRGC absorbed the role of leading the Iranian worldwide offensive. Their specific function was as an expeditionary force using small detachments similar to the special operations force of the United States to assist and train other surrogates to do the dirty work of killing and destruction.[73] Their prize accomplishment was the training of the Hezbollah, and the reflected glory of purportedly driving the Israelis out of Lebanon. The successes of the Huthis in Yemen, Iraqi militia groups, the tenacity of the Hamas in Gaza, as well as their critical support of Assad in Syria, have added immensely to their reputation.

Their primary instrument was to constitute a force which contained all the attributes of those things Iranians have always excelled in, to wit; subversion, intrigue…in short…. political warfare executed with verve and professionalism.

The primary weapon of Iranian expansionism, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, (IRGC), a force composed primarily of ethnic Persians, with impeccable Islamic credentials initially was formed to serve as a counterweight to an Iranian military, tgat was not trusted by the Islamic regime. However, as the Iran-Iraq war dragged on, the IRGC was equipped with heavy conventional weapons to fight as a spearhead in several major Iranian attacks. The hyped effectiveness of the IRGC in the Iran -Iraq war, was largely the result of a media campaign, not only in Iran but also in the Western world, that gave them a luster not wholly deserved. [74]


The IRGC, as part of the strategy and doctrine of the Islamist regime, has been written about and analyzed in copious amounts of literature, but usually based more on current indicators than historical and cultural factors[75]. With the secrecy that surrounds all of the Islamist regime in Iran, hard information is difficult to acquire and much of it is what they want us to know.  However, some observers view the future utility of the IRGC with skepticism. Ostovar wrote, “Conflict has driven the IRGC’s institutionalization as a military, security service, political entity, socio-cultural force, covert operator, economic conglomerate, media mogul and mechanism of foreign and strategic policy.” [76] 

They also have psychological operations units, and civil affairs units for the tactical and operational levels, presenting soft power force multipliers that are of utmost importance to the Iranian way of war.[77] Human intelligence work is a special forte of the IRGC as well.  However, like most Middle Eastern countries there are multiple intelligence and security organizations overlapping and watching each other.  No one, or any organization, is totally trusted.  The non-lethal branches of the IGRC are critical in that it is a basic premise of the Iranians that they will be at war against a superior conventional military force and have to win wars avoiding head on clashes with the modern hoplites, eschew conventional war, and win using other means.



 In the evolution of the Iranian Islamic regime, the IRGC, and its spawn, the Basij, has evolved from a force to safeguard the Islamic regime to become inextricably part of the regime.  The IRGC spawned the Quds force as the ultimate weapon to continue the irredentist aims of the regime. Unable or unwilling, and smart enough to avoid fighting a conventional war, the Quds force has expanded and matured into a first-class subversion and terrorist organization, to continue  Iranian illusionary dream of becoming not just a regional power but one recognized as a world power.[78] The Quds force working within the culture of Iranian penchant for intrigue, indirection, and subtle maneuvering, has become the premier Iranian tool for advancing Iranian national goals.

The elite Quds force trains surrogate forces, as they have in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. They are also particularly masters and specialists in terrorism, so much so that the US Department of State considers Iran the world’s premier sponsor of state terrorism. In the 2019 report correctly singled out Iran as one of the world’s worst sponsor of terrorism. The regime has spent over 700 million a year to support terrorist groups that serve its proxies and expand its malign influence across the globe.”[79]

The Quds force is far more than a terrorist organization however, as it assiduously cultivates allies in the Middle East and throughout the world. Iran depends on these allies to carry Iran’s water in regional conflicts. As Afshon Ostovar wrote,” at the spearhead of this effort, Quds has become a pillar of Iran’s strategic and foreign policy.”[80] Unlike many terrorist organizations, they do not generally crow about their successes.  They also are very adept, as one might expect, in covering their tracks. For instance, the Iranian terror attack on the Khobar Towers in 1996 went cold as it took a year to pin it on the Iranians. For a number of years, a number of Western academics maintained that Iran was on our side in the war against the ISIS. This fiction was maintained (and still is by some) until it became clear the Iranians, consistently downplayed the ISIS threat, and were assisting the travel of ISIS terrorists through Iran into Iraq.  The enduring strength of Iranian support among the Western “informed” class is demonstrated by the persistent lament that the Iranian terrorism is simply a defensive weapon of the weak, or fearful, very similar to the appellation applied for so many years –by some of the same people- to Soviet aggression[81].

The Quds force was buoyed in influence by the mythical persona of Qassem Soliemani who had become the Che Guevara of the Middle East, popping up all over the trouble spots. Western media has embellished his image and warrior reputation, but he was undoubtedly a key and important asset for the ambitious Iranian regime.  His enlarged ego and propensity to seize authority not given to him by the Islamic government, was illustrated by his communication in 2008 with General David Petraeus offering to meet and work out a security arrangement for Iraq.   The Supreme leader was not amused and he was passed over for command of the IRGC but remained in command of the Quds force. His loss to the ambitions of the Iranian regime is considerable but not irreparable.

The Basij

A very important, although less glamorous organization, is the Basij organization. In the Iran-Iraq war they were the fanatically loyal cannon fodder of the Islamic regime. Their mission was to run through the Iraqi minefields and barbed wire fortifications, opening a path for the IRGC and army infantry to advance through. Today, nearly four million of them are engaged in public works, businesses, producing propaganda, and in their morality role, similar to that of the shorta el Din of Saudi Arabia, harassing women for improper attire, and maintaining ideological and Islamic purity of Iranian society. To do so they are embedded throughout all the towns of Iran and civil institutions of Iranian society. It is a strictly volunteer organization, and like the former Ba’ath party membership in Iraq, it is very helpful to members in pursuing other more lucrative employment. Its central role in the Iranian power structure has inevitably evolved into an institution evidencing corruption and massive nepotism. The diversity and sociology of Iran has always mitigated against unity and it is one of the missions of the Basij to remedy that problem., The Basij will be the ideology commissars among the people, informing, providing networks of security neighborhood watches, propagandizing the people with entertainment such as festivals,[82]

They have become their own huge monolithic industry and public service practitioners. Free from competition in bidding for the massive government contracts, their agencies, contactors, and public officials are everywhere.[83] Nothing ensures public support for a Middle Eastern regime more than a capability to provide employment, not even the fear of the security apparatus.  This is the primary reason for the bloated bureaucracies in the Middle East.  Having connections with the Basij is an important   factor in gaining employment, university entrance, and social elevation. They will also perform the disagreeable tasks of putting down sectarian and tribal disturbances with extra judicial punishments handed out randomly.


Surrogate Warfare

The Iranians use surrogate organizations like Hezbollah, Amal and Hamas to do their dirty work. The bombing in 1983 of the Marine barracks in Beirut is one example. Another is the 1994 bombing of the Israeli embassy in Argentina. When that is not possible, they pay organizations or individuals to carry out the terror attacks.   Multiple organizations such as the PFPLF, the Abu Nidal organization, none of whom are Shi’a in composition, have been used.   For quite a while they tried to cultivate the PLO under Arafat but their wholehearted support of the rival HAMAS organization in the Gaza undermined that alliance. The Iranians used a Libyan connection to carry out the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, apparently in revenge for the accidental shooting down of an Iranian airliner by an American warship in July 1988. They usually maintain some plausible deniability, but their predilection to boast about their “successes” in these actions often undermine their credibility. All this is in consonance with great Persian empires who used the many dominated nations, and tribes as cannon fodder and auxiliaries.


The Shi’a factor in Iranian Military Culture

 Religion in the form of Islam is a great galvanizing factor in consideration of the Iranian Way of War. Islam and the near mystical power of the Prophet’s sayings and the Qur’an are difficult for Westerners to assess in estimating the combat abilities of Islamic armies.  However, the use of Qur’anic verses and slogans have been critical elements of success through the ages. Moreover, the Shi’a sense of martyrdom provides an additional emphasis to the power of Islam among the soldiers and officers. Shi’ism is the religion of sorrow and martyrdom. Martyrdom is a celebrated status among the Shi’a and is exemplified by one scene a Western observer recorded, noting the anguish of several Iranian soldiers, returned from Iraqi prisoner of war camps.  They were weeping at the grave of Ayatollah Khomeini, lamenting their guilt at being alive and not dying for their leader.[84]

The doctrine of the Shi’a revolves around the twelve Imams, all of whom, with the exception of the last, called the hidden Imam, were killed, allegedly by Sunni intrigue. The last Imam went into occultation (941 AD) and will someday reappear.  Until that time the Shi’a clergy evolved a system allowing clerics to guide the faithful until the Hidden Imam returns. With advent of Ayatollah Khomeini, this was further drastically modified to provide for a “government by the expert,” wilayet e- Faqih. This gave Khomeini, (the expert) dictatorial powers. So, in distinction from Sunni Islam, the Shi’a have a centralized hierarchy of authority, which crosses national borders. This gives the Iranians regime a particular and powerful source of power not available to the Sunni Arab leaders.[85] A third factor which gives the Shi’a clergy of Iran increased influence in all spheres of Iranian life is the use of Ijtihad a doctrine that evolved among the Shi’a scholars, providing the ability to basically reinterpret Islamic traditions and law – a factor theoretically not available to the Sunni. In this way the senior Shi’a clerics can and have

interpreted Islamic law to fit their military and political doctrine.[86] A fourth factor is the Shi’a use of taqiyya, which originally was to protect themselves from Sunni persecution often strays into a characteristic of Shi’a in a crisis allowing Shi’a to disavow their religion to protect themselves. [87]



The Artesh (Regular Army)

Most importantly many of the faults that plagued the Imperial army and the Islamic Iranian army in the Iran -Iraq war are still present. The mostly peasant soldiers are given mediocre training, suffer draconian punishment, are officered by second rate quality officers, and with the Islamic “Jihad” motivation fading, morale is low.[88]  Training is imparted largely by rote and most of the units are hollow in that they are severely under-equipped and under- manned.  The sectarianism of the Pahlavi era still exists and, in some areas, has been exacerbated by Basij fanatics imposing death sentences for “immorality.”  A major weakness is the lack of combined military operations, partially because of intra service and personal rivalries and also because the Islamic regime prefers it that way as a method of coup-proofing.  The embedded rivalry between the IRC and the regular armed forces remains as the primary obstacle to overall Iranian military effectiveness.[89]


The excessively large regular army (Artesh), an army of mostly rural peasants, barely literate, with health problems, particularly strength issues from lack of proper nutrition, exists primarily for intimidation purposes.[90] These weaknesses are compounded by leadership and command and control issues, the politicization of the officer corps, Iranian traditional distrust of anyone outside their family, unquestioning obedience to authority,  bureaucratized logistics system, a culture of people who generally waits for instructions, and a very thin layer of elite officers able to exercise initiative and operate without stultifying authority.[91]


In this article I have emphasized the Iranian use of deception, guile, indirection, and byzantine methods of warfare. Some would see this as simply a broad-brush demeaning of a people and their moral compass. It would require a thesis of considerable length to accurately compose   how the Iranian culture evolved into this type of warfare.  But suffice it to say that the Arab, Mongol, Turk, Afghan and more recently British and Russian rulers of Iran have left a residue of extreme xenophobia and a personality that hides behind subterfuge to maintain self-respect. It was Ibn Khaldun   who aptly described this characteristic among subjected peoples.[92]  Iran

way of war sets them apart from the Western made it difficult for Western leaders to recognize.  The subtle Iranian methods have prevailed from the time of the Achaemenids. Their irredentism, contrasted to the ham-fisted Turkish method of leveling Kurdish villages, is habitually concealed behind a benign face molded by the latest in soft power, and the ill-wlll residing in the Islamic world toward the West, especially the “great Satan”, the United States.    Behind this face will be an imaginative brain   featuring  programs of indirection, disorientation, dissimulation, Islamic piety, and the particular Iranian trait to be all things to all people. This approach allows the Iranians to support a Sunni Hamas organization as the ruling regime in the Gaza strip, a regime   beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that sees the Shi’a as little more than infidels.


Like the strategy of Darius, every Iranian move will be backed up by intimidating threats, belligerent boasts of power, and a well-advertised military with videos of Iranians firing missiles, conducting military training operations, [93] and a nuclear capability only coyly denied.    Meanwhile their well- funded lobbies and well-intentioned (some not so) supporters in Western capitols, will always be available to disseminate enough doubt to sabotage any strong reaction to Iranian provocations.[94] The elite of the Western world, comfortable in their environment, seemingly will grasp any exculpating argument, however weak, to avoid confronting Iran. The tepid Western response to numerous provocations has not gone unnoticed by the Islamic leadership.


 U.S. Army literature[95] on the Iranian methods of war-fighting concentrate on the traditional methods of war, apparently from study of Iranian training and operational manuals, going into detail on Iranian tactical offensive maneuver concepts, and movement to assembly areas etc.   There is also the usual bean counting e.g., numbers of tanks, artillery pieces etc. This is largely a waste of time except as exercises for tactical intelligence operators.   The Iranians are not going to fight a conventional war unless forced to do so as in the Iraq war. The grievous economic and human loss of the Iraqi war taught them the folly of that. Their culture society and economic structure cannot sustain one.

 It is very likely that the Islamic rulers in Iran will continue to instigate many small and perhaps some major disturbances in the Middle East and worldwide. The Islam regime survives on the fuel fed by their real and fabricated enemies. They need an enemy and the promotion of violence in order to stoke the flagging spirits of the faithful.  To always assume they will act as rational actors is a debatable point. [96]

An old Kurd addressed his people after hearing the great Persian Shah give fulsome promises of security and peace to his tribe.  (related in the great book describing the Persians, The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Isphafan).

You have never had any dealings with them [Persians], and therefore you permit yourselves to be lulled into a sense of security by their flattering expressions and winning and amiable manners. But I have lived long among them and have learned the value of what they say. Their weapons are not such as you have been accustomed to meet in the bold encounter and open attack.; instead with spear and sword, theirs are treachery, deceit, falsehood…………Lying is their national vice.[97]





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Azerbaijan Vs Armenia. Small State Conflicts With Centripetal Possibilities.

One of the conflicts in the Caucasus

There are few places in the world that can outdo the Caucasus for having an Alice in Wonderland attraction, a fatal one however, especially the two nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Once, both entities, the Azeri and Arminian communities, were under the Ottoman Turks. When then Ottoman Empire collapsed after WWI, and the Russian Czarist empire collapsed with it, the two communities established themselves as nations. and immediately went to war against each other. Massacres of civilians were perpetrated by both sides, but particularly, by the Azeris, as they -as today- had regular Turkish and Islamist groups fighting for them.

. The discovery of oil in Azerbaijan was very important to the British and there is much to read about that… try Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game¹ or his The Hidden Fire².” The British were changing from coal to oil for their Navy’s fuel, and Azerbaijans immense quants of oil g fueled British interest in adding Baku to their empire.  As quoted in Hopkirk’s book,  he described the city of Baku,   as a city where “huge fortunes were made or gambled away overnight. Baku’s new rich, some of them barely literate ,  built themselves  on the seafront palaces of  great opulence. Famous European luxury stores opened branches on Baku’s elegant tree-lined avenues, along which ran smart horse drawn trams.” However by the time the British arrived in 1918, labor strikes, ethnic fighting, and  oil discoveries elsewhere, Baku   was “only as ghost of its former self.”

With the resurgence of Russia under the Bolsheviks, the two communities became part of the Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Republic. But shortly thereafter, the Soviets divided it into two Soviet Republics, the Armenian and and Azerbaijan. Both republics had a mixture of Kurds, Armenians and Azeris, but with the exodus of Armenian refugees pouring across the Turkish border, trying to escape the genocidal Turkish policies, the Armenian population grew much larger and with a better educated population.

Initially the enclave of Nagorno Karabakh, within Azerbaijan, but populated primarily by Armenians, was promised to the Armenian Republic by the Bolsheviks, but in the Stalinist era, It was officially awarded to Azerbaijan. It was part of Stalin’s divide and rule policy.

Occupied by Soviet troops until the USSR fell apart (1991), the two nations redeclared their independence and immediately were again  at each other’s throats. Despite having most of the military advantage,in terms of Soviet weaponry ( the collapsing Soviet troops basically just left weapons in place and departed) leaving most of it in the areas controlled by the Azeris, the Armenians long known for martial prowess, gained the military advantage. Many Russian officers joined the Armenians and a few joined the Azerbaijanis. In the truce that followed, Armenia maintained control of the Nagorno Karabaugh enclave and gradually the Azeri inhabitants were evicted or fled. ( depends on who you read) and a very narrow corridor, the Lachin. The Armenians also occupy other parts of Azerbaijan surrounding Nagorno Karabakh including a narrow corridor called the Lachon corridor which is a life line connection between Nogorno Karabakh and Armenia proper.
Armenian troops on parade
Azeri armor mostly supplied by Turkey.

In the Caucasus region, the Armenians who are Orthodox Christian, have few friends, even their fellow Christian Georgians, are not particularly well disposed toward the Armenians. (All the pipelines pass through Georgia which brings employment and transit fees). However the one critical support the Armenians have is their support from the world-wide Armenian diaspora, mostly Armenians who fled the Turkish genocide following World War I. The Russians also have a soft spot in their heart for the Armenians, as many of the early Communists were Armenians (example: Anastas Mikoyan, and despite the fervent anti religious attitude of the Communists, the Russians still see themselves as protectors of the Slavic and Armenian Christians. The pan-slavism of Russia was very evident during the Serbian wars in 1991-2001.  Gorbachev in his memoirs called the Armenians “brothers” and was very much kinder to the Armenians than the Azeris in his memoirs, frequently citing Azeri massacres of Armenians and their suffering under the Ottoman Turks.

The Azeris are Shi’a Muslim, but after 70 years the anti-Muslim politics of the Soviets has produced a more liberal variety of Islam, enabling them to be friends of the Israelis, the United States,  and especially their fellow Turks of Erdogan Turkish government. One of the many odd facts of this conflict is that both Turkey and Israel have supplied weaponry to Azerbaijan.  As one of the few Islamic countries with diplomatic relations with Israel, they are an important facet of Israeli diplomacy. The  Muslim world, in terms of words, at least, support Azerbaijan, and the “Christian world” of Western Europe is dependent on oil from the Caucasus. However Iran is a special case. Despite their affinity with fellow Shi’a of Azerbaijan, the Iranian government is covertly supporting Armenia, while placating their links with Azerbaijan with soothing words about a negotiated settlement, allowing the clerics to mouth  anti Armenian cliches and Islamic brotherhood.

Why this anomaly? Well because Iran has a very large population of Azeris, whom the Persian leaders do not wholly trust. They fear some sort of nationalist movement on the part of the Azeris to consolidate all Azeris with the Azerbaijan nation, including a large hunk of Iran.In fact the Azeris of Iran have revolted twice, the last time in 1946.

The light  blue in the northwestern corner of Azerbaijan is the Azeri region


Pipelines from Azerbaijan

At this point the main pipeline is routed from Baku through Georgia to Ceyhan in Turkey.It handles over a million barrels a day. The second pipeline runs from Baku through Georgia to Georgian port of Supsa. the third one runs from Baku to the Russian port of Novorossiiysk on the Black Sea. All bypass Armenia. But the conflicts (Ossetian break away) in Georgia, and the fact that two of the pipelines run close to Armenian territory Making two of the main pipelines very vulnerable to Armenian or tribal sabotage. Armenia get its natural gas from Iran through the Iran Armenia pipeline and most of its oil from Russia.
The bottom line is that Western Europe has become largely dependent on oil and gas from Azerbaijan and Russia. To an extent Western Europe lives in a fear that Russia can economically strangle Europe by withholding oil and gas. Hence their milquetoast pandering to Putin’s aggressive moves. It should be added that The US has been almost inert in responding to Erdogan’s to Erdogan’s blatant aggression as well. In that respect, Europe has become beholden to the good graces of Azerbaijan and Turkey, a fact that Erdogan has been using very successfully to cover his irredentist intentions.

Turkish soldiers WWI. The picture is stylized since many Turk soldiers lacked having shoes or a complete uniform


Kemal Ataturk

Why is it an centripedal conflict? Despite the new  apparent agreement to meet and negotiate, the last sessions were simply shouting matches and nothing was accomplished. So it is no guarantee of any success. Armenia is isolated with only the world-wide Armenian and tepid Russian support, with a few friends like Assads’ Syria. On the other hand  Azerbaijan with Turkish support as part of Erdogan’s Pan Turanism ambitions, creating a United Turkic federation from Istanbul to the Border of China, holds most of the cards. But the immense economic and geo-political  factors involved could possibly create a  Bosnia-Herzegovina situation dragging in other reluctant regional and world power involvement.

The UAE and Sudan establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, Oman hosting the Israeli PM  visit, and Israel  supporting the Azeris are harbingers of a new face of the Middle East. As a inveterate skeptic on anything pertaining to diplomatic alliances in the Middle East, I am on a wait and see watch.


¹The Great Game is primarily about the British-Russian rivalry across Central Asia. A very good and readable history of the competition.

²Like Hidden Fire is about the German insinuating itself into the Eastern question, (Turkey)  Central Asia, and India to overcome the power of the British empire.  It was generally termed the drag nach  osten  policy.


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World War II Propaganda in the Middle East. Lessons for today

Mark Pomerleau writing on information warfare had this to say:

“I think the United States is being strategically defeated in the information environment. We’re not even holding our own. We’re being defeated. We’re being outmaneuvered, we’re being outflanked, we’re being out persuaded,” Michael Nagata, a retired three-star general who spent most of his career in the special operations community and served as director of strategy for the National Counterterrorism Center, said Oct. 2 during a virtual presentation at a National Defense Industrial Association conference.”

He is right, of course, but this is not new. We have been losing the propaganda war in the Middle East since WWII. Partly this is inevitable and partly is a result of our inability to wrap our heads around the political culture we are trying to convince…of what I’m not really sure. From my visits to the Voice of America and the old US Information Agency, we seem to concentrate on the theme that we are really nice people and Muslims who live here feel good about it. But for Arabs, who are probably the most cynical people in the world, that doesn’t cut it. They rarely believe their own leaders – why us?

The Kaiser Wilhelm the Second

Nazi Propaganda For the Arab World by Jeffery Herf

The Arab Island and Dust in the Lions Paw both by Freya Stark

The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis; The Berlin years by Klaus Gensicke, and perhaps a thousand bits and pieces half remembered over some 50 years of books, papers, conferences, lectures and conversations.

Mufti Haj Amin Husseini

So to start with the British were at a disadvantage in that they were the colonialists, in Iraq, Egypt, and Palestine, and to a large extent in Iran as well. But to Ms. Freya Stark the real danger was Zionism. As she wrote, “nearly every serious observer in the Middle East looked upon Zionism as our greatest danger.” She meant of course, the danger to British influence in the Islamic world. Ms. Stark was a famous Arabist, even an Orientalist , and like most orientalists, she was pro Arab (because it suited British interests) and a true expert on Arab culture. She was also a prodigious writer and an excellent one. She was the WWII version of Gertrude Bell. Most of the British officialdom agreed with her view of Zionism as did most of the high level British military leadership. However, Winston Churchill did not, and neither did the flamboyant and dashing General Ode Wingate. Despite the prevalent view of the British movers and shakers, the overriding British objective was to get the United States in the war. To do this, one avenue of approach was to appeal to the Jewish Advisors around President Roosevelt such as Bernard Baruch and Judge Louis Brandeis, Hans Morgenthau etc. pushing a vaguely pro Zionist viewpoint. So as it happened the British were forced to tread a delicate line, which appealed to neither the Palestinian Arabs or Jews. It severely hampered their ability to counter Nazi propaganda which focused on the zionist “threat.”

Freya Stark

Freya Stark considered herself a sort of leading propagandist for the British viewpoint in Arabia ‘ although she did not seem to have any official position. She preferred the term “persuasion for propaganda. In her books she constantly complained about the albatross of British “support” for Jews entering Palestine, and how difficult it made her job of persuading the Arabs to support the British war effort. No doubt it did. But it was by no means the whole story. Like it seems, the British psychological warfare efforts was a bureaucratic maze…a bone of contentious rivalry between various parts of the British government. Particularly between the Ministry of Information (MOI) and the brain child of Winston Churchill, the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Even when the British were fighting for their survival, British officials were fighting over control of the psychological warfare effort. Carrying on the British tradition of viewing psychological warfare with distaste, Sir Horace Wilson the Prime Minister’s principal advisor warned the PM,” that propaganda was not a good substitute for calmly getting on with the business of government.” Churchill was depicted as being disinterested in political warfare.Not only were the Brits hampered by intramural power struggles but they had no clue as to the sentiment of the German people. At the beginning of the war the psyops creators listened to the voices of the thin anti Nazi element among the German intellectuals and assumed that there was a wide division in the feeling of the German population toward their leader Adolf Hitler. Actually there was very little. Attempts to widen a non existent crack in the view of the beloved Fuehrer was a lost cause, particularly at the beginning of the war.

The Mufti and Hitler

The British approach to political warfare was mostly poorly organized, poorly conducted and generally not given much credence by the British leadership. For instance in the biographies, and memoirs of the three main British commanders ( Wavell, Auchinleck, Montgomery) in the African desert war, I could not find any reference to propaganda or political warfare.

Duff Cooper, the head of the MOI, for one long year expressed his disenchantment with propaganda business this way.” a monster…so large, so voluminous, so amorphous, that no single man could cope with it.”Harold MacMillan, the future two time prime Minister of the UK as the British Minister Resident in North Africa, during WWII spent much time trying to moderate the squabbles of the political warfare people, writing, “All the people concerned with propaganda and publicity and political warfare are a neurotic, feminine type, and quarrel with each other a great deal.”

In addition to the obvious burden the British has as a “colonial power was their zigzagging and ambivalent policy on Palestine. The Nazis had a unique confluence of interests and common hatred in sync with the intellectual political class of Arabs and Islamist view of Jews… at best….. as a tolerated second class minority, and at worst as villainous subhuman creatures. With the indefatigable Mufti Haj Amin Al-Hussein leading the Palestinian, Arab nationalist, and Islamic drive to put the Arab nations in the service of the Nazis, the Nazis had a most valuable tool for fomenting trouble against the British. The Mufti’s hatred for the Jews were very compatible with those of Hitler, who was very impressed with the Mufti. He was a charismatic figure who seemed to favorably influence all those he met. Freya Stark met him and wrote, “the Mufti sat there all in white, spotless and voluminous, a man in. his early forties, wearing his turban like a halo. His eyes were light, blue and shining, with a sort of radiance, as of a just fallen Lucifer.” The Mufti had been on the German and Italian payroll for quite some time and one can say he definitely earned his pay. The best book to read on him is Klaus Gensicke, The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: the Berlin Years.Hitler, despite the fact he was very Eurocentric, he did at one time compare the fate of the Germans in Sudetenland under Czech control with the Palestinians under British control. General Helmuth Felmy, commanding the Nazi project in Iraq, stated quite presciently, ” the only real political rallying point among Arabs was their comm0n hatred of Jews.” Unfortunately for the Germans that was not enough.

A third advantage of the Germans was the Arab idealization of violence and “strength.” An Iraq educator in 1933 gave a speech to high school students which epitomized the “new” Arab view of the “Profession of Death” as he called it. He praised Mussolini and the totalitarian government he created. The democracies were viewed as namby-bamby edifices of jello. The constant Germans depiction of their military power appealed to the Arabs. While the Allies were harping on the huge discrepancy between Nazi claims of their sympathy for the downtrodden Arabs and their Aryan racial theories…… which put Arabs and Jews on about the same level…. Arab leaders like the Mufti were not the least bit interested in racial theories. Once again the lesson that has to be relearned over and over again. Pious bleating of purity and goodness have no traction against raw depictions of power…….. Not anywhere in the world but especially not in the Arab World.

MaxVon Oppenheim German Orientalist and Von Vivant

But the Germans had a few disadvantages as well. Number one was that their kite had the Italian and Vichy French tail tied to it. Both had horrible colonial history, the French almost everywhere and the Italians in Libya where they put down a revolt with utmost barbarity. Moreover the Germans had to play nice with General Franco’s government in Spain. They were also a colonial power in North Africa. Secondly the Germans ran into the usual Arab problem, personal ambitions and disunity. n The Mufti had a rival for Axis affections, Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani, three time Prime Minister of Iraq who with the “golden square” four Iraq colonels, tried to wrest control of Iraq from the British but failed badly. With the Mufti he made nice with the Axis but was soon eclipsed by the Mufti who was much more dynamic and appealing to the Germans. They became bitter rivals. Other than usual personality clashes, Al Gaylani was an Iraqi nationalist and was only tepidly interested in Pan-Arabism or Islamism. The Mufti however was a pan -Arabist and Islamist.

It should be noted that while the Axis went down in flames, the evil has lingered after them. The Ba’ath party ideology, the Islamic State Islamist ideology, which somewhat recalls the wacko nordic mythology of Heinrich Himmler, has embedded within them the strains of fascism.

In the end, as someone quite astutely observed, the best propaganda is always on the side of the battlefield winners.

Fritz Grobba German Dip;lomat

Rashid Ali Kaylani Iraq nationalist and pro-Nazi propagandist
“The Eternal Jew” Nazi typical propaganda poster


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Recent Revisions to the lessons learned in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war

WordPress millennials and GenZ techies came up with this great new format which I, and apparently millions of others, cannot understand .I am trying to use it but has every disadvantage and no benefits as far as I can see. But time marches on. Im looking for an alternative to WordPress.

The above two articles are excellent analyses of lessons unlearned from the Yom Kippur/ Ramadan war (1973) war. There have been tons of lessons learned, many very good ones one should read and digest but these two articles point out some very critical ones that have not been properly covered.

Egyptian soldiers surrendering to Israelis in 1967

Of course a salient one always surfaced is the intelligence failure. Despite numerous warnings the Israeli intelligence just could bring themselves to predict an Egyptian crossing of the canal. Much of that was due to overwhelming Israeli hubris. As George Garaych at the American staff College at Leavenworth Ks. ( Now at Baylor University) presciently warned, next to losing a war, nothing is more dangerous than winning one too easily…as the Israelis did in 1967. See George Gawrych “The Albatross of Decisive Victory; War and Policy between Egypt and Israel in the 1967 and 1973 wars.”

The endless dissection of the near disaster to Israel in the 1973 war by Israelis and outsiders has rarely been replicated by Arabs. When one sees an Arab post mortem on the wars…if they admit they lost…… it is always ascribed to a political or military personality or to an outside power intervening. One of the main reasons their ability to improves so limited. Certainly. with an exception of a few Arab brave souls none would admit that cultural issues including religious ones limit their ability to increase their proficiency.The closest to that I’ve seen to criticism is “Crossing the Suez “by General Saad Shazli ( who was later fired by Sadat)

The first article was by Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen. He is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. He served in the IDF ( Israeli Defense Forces) for 42 years. He commanded troops in battles with Egypt and Syria. He was formerly a corps commander and commander of the IDF Military Colleges.

He wrote there are two messages written about on the Israeli view of the 1973 war; One is that there was a massive intelligence failure and the other one promises that the necessary lessons have been learned and corrected. Not so says General Hacohen. As he Writes one the the reasons for the “fiasco” went far beyond the intelligence failure. As he wrote, In fact the “Intelligence failure has been used as a coverup for the “many deficiencies” of the the Israeli Defense forces, particularly their senior leadership. The leadership was unprepared for the war and training for the officers was lacking. One of the prime Politcal-military mistakes was the religious belief in the power of “deterrence”…sort of along the lines …..the Egyptians wouldn’t dare attack etc. He gives number of other reasons. One I wrote about as a student paper at the Staff college, i.e. that the Israelis were so enamored with AirPower that they neglected artillery. Their belief was that they had “flying artillery.” Believe me folks, until now, there is no substitute for adequate artillery firepower.

The second article by Dr Hannah Shai, a lecturer in military thought in the political science Department at Bar-IIlan university takes a different and very interesting tact.

Under Moshe Dayan in 1957, the IDF became a youth camp for commanders. Commanders were expected to retire at 40-42 so they could have a second career in civilian life. Dayan did not see military command as a profession. President Ben Gurion adamantly opposed this but in the end it became part of the IDF ethos…young dashing commanders, energetic, with new ideas, aggressive and ensued with offensive spirit.

President Ben- Gurion adamantly opposed this idea but eventually it became part of IDF Ethos. As he wrote. ”

military service must be a life’s mission. Only then will someone give the best he has. A life’s mission is a mission for one’s whole life…. We cannot suffer a single defeat, because then we are lost. It depends first and foremost on the quality of the commanders, and I view the problem of the quality of the commander as inextricably linked to the fate of the people of Israel rather than a purely military problem…. What suited the Hagana [underground organization] doesn’t suit the IDF…. An army must be an army…. Two [career] cycles are dangerous for an army.

It created turmoil in stability and the officers lacked all around education in staff and command positions. In the Israeli post-mortem of the war the Aganat Commission of Inquiry stated “that that divisional battles were conducted as oof they were company- level battles

We also have those issues in out own army, maybe not as severe, but certainly they are there. The lessons of Vietnam have been hashed and rehashed over and over but as the Iraq mess showed we have not learned much. see my article.

The easy war in 1990, and the easy 2003 conventional part of the war set us up for a difficult insurgency war war in 2004 to………… ?

Moshe Dayan

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Cancelled Palestine Conference Promised Violent, Anti-Israel Propaganda

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

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


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


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

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


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Next Stop for Turkish Aggression

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

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

His conclusion and key points are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Middle Eastern Academic Amnesia on Imperialism

Cairo revolt

Napoleon’s troops put down revolt in Cairo

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

1684_ Vienna

Battle of Vienna

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

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

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






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

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

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

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


Islamist totalitarian leader

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Iran: The Enemy that Refuses to Follow the Rules

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway the article……. And my conclusion

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

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

sailors abducted by Iran

Iranian humiliating the great satan American sailors under Iranian guard

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

Iranian soldiers

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

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

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

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

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




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