Iran the Apocalyptic Empire

It has been a trend in current analyses of Iran to minimize the Shi’a brand of Islam as a critical motivator and factor in Iranian ideology, particularly in policies and the confrontation with the West. The Iranian protection off al Qaida leaders, whose Wahhabi hatred of Shiism would have seen to present a total block   to Iranians sheltering al Qaida  leaders.  The presumed leader of ISIS today is Said Al Adel who is happily ensconced in Iran, one of many Al Qaeda operatives and their families who have traveled back and forth through Iran. Iranian leaders had copied the Marxist doctrine of promoting and uniting with ideologically and religiously impure organizations  with an anti -Western animus. This led many analysts to downgrade the  Shi’a end of times apocalyptic beliefs among their religious and ruling clerics.  The same problem Western analysts, imbued with secularism, always have … of not understanding the critical impact on every aspect of Islamic influence.

Ismail Qanni typical Iranian terrorist in uniform Leader in the IRGC


Bernard Lewis,  some time ago, wrote an article warning western analysts that indeed the apocalyptic aspect of Shi’a Islam was a critical point to consider in assessing Iranian way of war .Most analysts  did not take this viewpoint  seriously, including myself,  despite my tremendous admiration of Bernard Lewis. I thought at the time he was going too far, but I do not anymore.

In particular, the impact of this Shi’a messianism on the current leader, Ali Khamenie  is a vital aspect of assessing the Iranian threat, particularly as the nuclear watchers recently  say they have the fuel at 80% purity just below the level required to have nuclear weaponry. Having irrational people with their finger on a nuclear trigger is a scaring thought.

Emir al Thani of Qatar getting instructions from Khamenie. Qatar has been playing the three sides adroitly for years… The Muslim Brotherhood, (the Sunni imperialists), the Shi’a imperialists of Iran, and the US diplomatic novices.

Khamenei belongs to the school of Mashad, which is very different from the quietist school of Najaf….. which teaches some separation  between the clerics and the State.  The Mashad school deals in anti-rationalist and anti-philosophy , disregarding the use of reason in interpretation of religious texts. Ali Khamenei makes decisions based on superstitions such as bibliomancy….. randomly turning to pages of the Qur’an and interpreting the text as to what course of action they should take. But they are also smart but much of their success is based on the weaknesses of the European and American. based on their  response to Iranian provocations. The slightest hint of Iranian softening of their outrageous conduct elicits slobbering Western diplomatic entreaties  to “making friends with Iran again.”

Of course the Western diplomats are very  susceptible to outward appearance, as is  for example, the hapless Antony Blinken,   America’s worst sec state in recent history He was schooled in expensive European schools and has never  had an idea of the real world(.1) .He has no clue what people like then Iranian tyrants are capable of. Blinken and his ilk are not only naive but …plainly speaking…. stupid. They  (the establishment elite) believe that deep down the islamists and quasi military leadership of Iran think just they way they do. I say the Iranian quasi-military  because the so called military leadership of Iran are not really soldiers..they are terrorists in military uniform.   They are smart however, and smell weakness. The odor coming from the West is overpowering at present. The so called accord between the Saudis and Iran graphically surface two points. The Saudis are no longer consider American protectionism a  sure asset and secondly they see the Russian-Iranian- Chinese troika  as the coming power force in the world.  They figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Not that trust the the Iranians any further  than they could throw  the Kaaba. But the Saudis are great supplicants. For years they bought off the PLO and now it will be the IRGC.The Iranian regime has survived the upheavals of recent vintage and are now punishing those it felt responsible…including women by poisoning them.   They were, for a spell feeling vulnerable,  with riots and protests, but as expected the Western leaders issued feeble protests and avoided offending the regime being  anxious  to seek a nuclear accord…probably as valid the Nazi-Soviet accord in 1940…. but the Clerical-Terrorist organizations  are back in firm control and feeling their oats…so to speak.


WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 08: Alba Rueda, from Argentina, is presented with an award by first Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken at the 17th annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Ceremony in the East Room of the White House on March 08, 2023 in Washington, DC. First Lady Biden and Blinken hosted the ceremony to award women from around the world who have shown courage in their careers ranging from journalism, advocacy, the military and more. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images) MY COMMENT…. OH WELL …NEVER MIND….I MIGHT OFFEND SOMEONE BUT YOU YOU KNOW WHAT I THINK OF THIS.

THE MIGHTY MBS. BIDEN on his visit to Saudi Arabia refused to shake hands ( in accordance with orders from Washington Post..the Khashoggi thing) instead he fist bumped MBS. MBS returned the courtesy by ramming it up Biden ’s rear end. And unfortunately All us Americans.

(1 )the Left wing Uber woke magazine Rolling Stone  had a lovely puff piece on  Blinken and his love of rock and roll music. It figures.

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The Ukrainian War and the Middle East One Year Later

The Wall Street Journal, one of the remaining few American  mainstream print media sources with any credibility at all,( at least as long as Trump is not the subject)  had on 24 February, a very informative collection of news articles on the current state of the Ukrainian war. One article ”Invasion has Reshaped the world,” was mostly upbeat opining that the United States has regained  its world leadership role, our industry base rejuvenated, that NATO has been revived, and has put China in the drivers seat in the Chinese-Russian relationship,  as well as reducing Russian share of the  world energy market. About the only drawback, according to the article, was world wide inflation, which of course the Biden administration denies exists. In fact the polls in the United States seem the reflect broad American public approval of the way the war is going. As Winston Churchill once said, during the period when he was desperately trying to get the US into the war, “Americans are good at lauding the valor of others,” He was referring to the fact that the British were fighting the Nazi juggernaut alone with the Americans cheering from the sidelines. Now we have Americans cheering from the sidelines as the Ukrainians fight the Russian Goliath alone.

MY GUESS …which is unfortunately as good as those offered by the that if Putin can be assuaged with just one hunk of Ukraine instead of all of it it would be the Donbass region. It is the mining and industrial center of Ukraine. Hitler’s reluctance to give it up to the reconquering Russians in WWII led to several military disasters.

Except for the fact that the Ukrainian casualties are exceeding the  the level of America’s Iraq’s and Afghanistan casualties, and the Ukrainians do not have the population base to support reconstituting these losses in a possibly interminable war, it would seem the war is a fortuitous event.

But being counter-cultural and living long enough to know that trends are often quite unexpectedly reversed, and that the American  media has become infected with the Arab media syndrome of  being primarily a  “bought and sold “ institution, I see the darkening clouds not being touched upon by the Western “Quality” media. It is  now difficult to know if one is being gaslighted or if we are living in a Disney fantasy world.

To cut to the chase, the primary trend I see is not included in the WSJ article,  is the deepening chasm between East and West. As I wrote in a previous blog posting, increasingly the so called “third world, “ the “South” of the North- South term once used to identify the “underdeveloped” world has generally been much more “understanding” of the Russian story. The divide , in many respects coincides with Samuel Huntington’s “The Clash of Civilizations.”

The Middle Eastern states, with the  possible exception of Jordan and Morocco, have given only the most tepid support to the Western “Bucharest Nine” and have not supported any meaningful measures, militarily, economically, or politically to undercut Russia. The  best they can offer is  encouragement to “end the war,” a placebo to pacify the Western politicians, most recently offered by President Erdogan, a  chameleon par excellence.

The Biden speech in Europe during his trip to Ukraine  exemplifies the problem. Well received generally in the West, he spoke of sovereignty, freedom, democracy, unity of the West…etc. These terms do not resonate with the East. Most have no real idea what they mean. They have never experienced them.  He went on to speak of money and weapons, certainly subjects well understood by the Easterners, but with a very different connotation than understood by Western audiences.To the Easterners  money and weapons are simply tools of oppression used by the Westerners and their  own  despotic and corrupt rulers.

A snippet of OBL’s view of the US unfortunately shared by many in the East….. America appeared so mighty..but it was actually weak and cowardly. Look at Vietnam, look at Lebanon.” Were he still alive he could add…. look at Iraq and Afghanistan.!

On the other hand,  Putin played the East-West card very well dwelling on the moral disintegration of the western societies, their oppression of countries than stand against them, putting Russia of the right side of the imperialist/colonialist- –  “Wretched of the Earth.”  He adroitly talked of Western  child abuse, the destruction of the family, gender  confusion, anti- spiritualism, all fitting very nicely into the common Easterner  view of the West . These may bring smirks from our intellectual elite  and ruling class who laughingly denigrate such notions as taking religion seriously but not from the Easterners  who have been saying this for decades.  All this before a rapt audience who appeared to be as attentive as those listening to Stalin.  This surfaces a major advantage of a dictatorship versus a democracy, and one not be easily dismissed. As Churchill knew a democracy in wartime has to be protected  by a “bodyguard of lies.”

His quote.” In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Unfortunately, in the West, it now appears that it extends to peacetime as well.

One wonders what the coming  year will bring. Is there a plan “B” as the influx of weaponry from the West does not stop the Russians. What next? A foreign legion of Western “Volunteers, “ Western Air Force overhead protection? Perhaps a diversionary attack on a Russian satrapy in Asia or the Balkans?  Perhaps Iran? The latter is probably too imaginative and requires far too much courage  for the current Western leaders.

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Soft Power. The Chinese Way; Wooing Saudi Arabia

The last couple of weeks there have been a flurry of articles describing the increasing level of ties between China and Saudi Arabia. This has probably  been prompted by the visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Saudi where he met with King Salman and Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

But in fact this Chinese soft power invasion of Saudi Arabia has been going on for over 20 Years, with MBS visiting China in 2019, agreeing to coincide their strategic economic projects, the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)) and Saudis 30 Year plan.

Many commentators are quick to assert that the relations are based solely on the Chinese need for Saudi oil. Oil is important as the Saudi’s provide about 15% of Chinese oil but that belief in oil as the major  reason for Chinese interest in Saudi relations  is erroneous and simplistic…..and dangerous. In fact the Chinese see Saudi Arabia as a strategic economic, military, and geo-political target. Saudi Arabia sits astride the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Both are critical to oil producing and  access to it plus world wide shipping in general, including access to the Suez Canal.

Why has China had so much success? One can go to Wikipedia for the long list of Chinese programs and initiatives which have drawn the Saudis and Chinese together but I will look at the cultural aspect of the Chinese success in Saudi Arabia.

  1. The Chinese have no colonial past in the Middle East
  2.  The Chinese are an industrious people without the superiority complex of the Germans or other Westerners.
  3. The Chinese ability to integrate into other cultures is phenomenal.



Taking the last one first, the Chinese have the advantage of overseas Chinese. They are ubiquitous  over the world, particularly in other parts of Asia and Africa. In Saudi Arabia there are about 180,000 Chinese living in Saudi Arabia  not including about 60,000 Peoples Republic of China, workers, military advisors, and diplomats, ( with a healthy number of intelligence personnel.)  The number of Chinese seems surprisingly large in that they are not often visible . In fact that they are so really seen is a facet of their self- effacing national characteristic. The amazing part of this statistic is that most of the 180,000 are Uyghurs, the Muslim people of the Xinjiang Province of Eastern China. These Muslims in China are victims of relentless oppression by the Chinese Government which advocates the policy of ” sinification” the forcible melding the many various communities of   Chinese into a unified ethnicity.  There is no Uyghur Lives Matter in China. These people living in Saudi Arabia , despite  being in Saudi Arabia for decades,( only a few are actually  Saudi citizens  keep in touch with relatives and news from Xinjiang. They also apparently have some influence on the Saudi government. The  communist, militantly anti-religious regime of China would seem to be incompatible  with the Saudi Wahhabi regime.

The Crown Prince. MBS No more Mr Nice Guy


So the question is…. how do the Chinese continue to construct and increase relations with Saudi Arabia? Partly it is the construct dating from early Leninism…the “United Front ”   which entailed a policy of coexisting and working with non communist movements and parties with a common anti-Western policy. This the Chinese in Saudi Arabia do. For instance,  when the establishment elite in Washington and much of the European elite were incensed by the fate of Adnan Khashoggi,  the Washington Post journalist and full time Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer, who was sliced and diced on the orders of MBS,  the Chinese kept silent. Meanwhile the Saudis keep quiet regarding the Chinese oppression of their Muslim population.The Chinese assiduously work on all fronts to cultivate neighborly relations  using festivals, Chinese holidays, and every people -to -people event is used to establish good relations at the village level. In every event the glories and sanitized version of  Chinese history is demonstrated.  The objective is to enhance the power and culture of China.  The Chinese educators  convey the same message.  They have had some success in winning over the mostly hostile Chinese Muslim  population that resides in Saudi Arabia. This is  in contradistinction to the current American educators with whom I have experienced  teaching in the Middle East. They are almost always leftists  who seem to reinforce Middle Eastern views on the perfidy of the US and the West in general.They seek to enhance their reception by  talking  the talk they presume will resonate with the audience. George Orwell was wrong when he wrote that,”England is perhaps the only great country  those intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.” He was wrong in that American “intellectuals”…have taken over that  distinction.(1)

Probably most observers  would be surprised to know in addition  to the overseas Chinese residing in Saudi Arabia there are around 70,00o Chinese in China. , PRC officials, workers, and military personnel . They are building, teaching, advising all over Saudi Arabia- and they have been doing to for years. One has to understand there is no distinction between commercial and government enterprises in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis are not stupid. Unlike the a large portion  of the American present leadership, the rulers know there is no free lunch,  and no purity in foreign assistance. However the Saudis, at present,  benefit from Chinese assistance, assistance that seems to come without strings – at least for now. They do not need to endure lectures on human rights, the protection of gays, LBGT. They have received weaponry from the Chinese that were forbidden to them by various American administrations.  These are advantages of an authoritarian regime… a typical communist tyrannical system, not one we should seek to emulate, but we should understand and work to contest, not on their selected battlefield but one of our own. Perhaps we should not preach democracy in cultures that do not understand the concept or they do and don’t want it…such as the Middle East.  Perhaps pursue our own version of a” united front.”

One other remarkable feature of Chinese soft  power  in the Middle East is the adroit diplomacy that allows them to maintain very cordial relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Adversaries for sure.The Chinese  seem to sense niches in strategic, economic and military fields that they can fill. Again this is not an argument to provide our most sophisticated weaponry, especially since  since the Saudis have problems operating them and an almost non-existent ability to maintain them.  But  again we should realize that denial of weapons will be met by others, China, Russia, or even some of our “allies” such as the French. Simulated outrage by our foreign policy wonks are  not a  deterrent.

(1)The assumption that the intellectual  class is reserved for the Left is a predominate  leftist political and academic media invention.Read Paul Johnson’s dissection  ( The Intellectuals) of the intellectual class. Not a pretty picture.

Much of the numbers data was taken fromMohammed al- Sudairi’s monograph “The Communist Party of China’s United Front work in the Gulf: The “Ethnic Minority Overseas Chinese.” of Saudi Arabia as a Case Study.”  Research Fellow at the King Feisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.





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The Russians and the Eastern World

Since I wrote my piece on the Russians using Syria as a test  bed for the war in the Ukraine, things appear very differently. The seemingly more professional Russian army has not been evidenced in the war so far. The military reforms sought by the former minister of defense, Anatoliy Serdyukov have not been properly  implemented and the same basic aliments that have plagued the Russian army since WWII, and many even during that war, are still relevant and embarrassingly so. I leave to those more familiar with the war of the ground in terms of tactics and strategy to keep us informed on that but I will concentrate on the human aspect of this war, factors which have afflicted the Russian army since WWII.

Syrian students wave the Syrian, Russian and Palestinian flags under a billboard bearing the portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a demonstration in support of Russia, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the Aleppo University campus in the Syrian city on March 10, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The first one is that the Russians have long considered the Ukrainians “little Russians” And many have assumed that the Ukrainians  would see them as their “big brother” as did then Serbians in the Kosovo war of 1998-1999.  NATO intervened on the side of the Kosovo Albanian Muslims using air bombardment including B-52’s to force  the Serbs into a negotiated agreement resulting in the creation of an Albanian  Muslim Kosovo. The Russians saw themselves as defenders of the Serbs against an anti Slavic coalition led by the United States.  The Pan-slavic ideology is an old one. Like the pan-Arab movement that resonated in the Middle East in the 60’s and  70’s , one that advocated a united Arab World ( especially pushed by the wannabe leader  Abdul Nasser) pan -Slavism was once a very powerful ideology, especially in Russia.  It includes some 14 nations, including ; Ukraine,  Belarus,  Serbia, and Russia. Although it is no longer a front page ideology, traces ( or more) of it are still powerful in Russia.

Tolstoy believed nothing could be learned from the West. Admired the people of the caucasus

Hans Kohn in his book, Pan-Slavism; It’s History and Ideology,   describes the feeling of  indissolubility of Ukraine from Russia. ( The Ukrainians, among the peoples of the Soviet empire furnished the second highest numbers of troops to the Soviet war against the Germans ). This  despite the Holodomor, the Soviet Russian famine imposed on the Ukrainians.  Moreover many Ukrainians , especially, those of eastern Ukraine, long for the certainty and nanny state of the Soviet Union and view the Kiev government as fascistic.  The omnipotent, omnipresent, Soviet/Russia propaganda has implanted this view. No doubt the majority of the Ukrainians, especially in the Western part of Ukraine are anti-Russian. One example of this is their often hearty welcome of the German. invaders in WWII. They flocked to the banners of the Nazi troops  that invaded the Soviet Union and provided some of the most anti-semitic auxiliaries to the German army, such as concentration camp guards. The many scenes of Ukrainian crowds cheering as the German  SS   troops  led away their Jewish neighbors, people they have lived with for generations, should not be forgotten.

The present situation in Ukraine…more or less

The Russian elite have always been antagonistic  toward the West, even using the  animosity between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church ( and Protestantism) as part of an enduring  war of existence. All the great Russian writers, with possible exception of  Turgenev  have been anti Western, including  Dostoevsky. The intelligentsia of the  “Eastern world,”  “Third World,”  the “South”…other outmoded terms for non Western nations,-  share this view. This evident in the tepid support  (or total opposition)of the Eastern world nations for Ukraine, despite the Western exhortations for their support.

The anti- Westernism of the Russian elite   is congruent with the prevalent  feeling among the so called intelligentsia of the Muslim and Eastern world., including the Chinese. Make no mistake about it, the Eastern  intelligentsia is hoping for a Russian victory. They don’t see the unprovoked  Russian attack on a  smaller sovereign state as a bully on a weaker underdog. They see it  as a war against the arrogant, colonialist, supercilious, immoral, society of the West against a more traditional, uncorrupted Russian society. It has to be  understood that the result of a Russian victory may be very detrimental to the interests of the Eastern world, but the  imbedded, nativist, animus against the West prevails. The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr  Zelensky being Jewish, dovetails nicely into the  paranoia prevalent in the Eastern world. In the Islamic world, the Protocols of Zion is still a big seller. They see  Ukrainians as  simply  naive shock troops used by the new Romans (Europeans) using the Gauls  (Ukrainians)against the Easterners (Persians) manipulated by the Jewish financiers.

Rudyard Kipling “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”

The Western establishment  elite, the policy makers, opinion makers, especially in the United States, know little of ancient world history.  Who reads  Will Durant,  Edward Gibbons, or Arnold Toynbee today?# Those that do are usually buried in some dark, dusty ivory tower, isolated from the power elite– leaving the field to ill-educated academics who claim to be experts. They abound in the “Think Tanks,” carefully providing  suggested policies and opinions that are in harmony with  the views of wealthy benefactors of the Think Tank. As Durant wrote the best preparation for study of the present is the study of the past-for that is where you will understand the nature of mankind. He wasn’t referring to last weeks news either.

Will Durant and Wife Ariel. Philosopher-historian. Translated history into philosophy.


I began this blog post quite some time ago and since that time the momentum of the war has changed. Its is now  apparent that time is not on the side of the Ukrainians . Several pieces of information indicate this. First of all the millions of Ukrainians who fled the country, (about 20% of the population) only a small percentage have returned, indicating they are not sure that Ukraine has long term viability. Secondly there have been several purges of the Ukraine government officials in a country notoriously corrupt, and there has been a  number of command  changes in the military as well  indicating dissatisfaction of the way the war is going.  In the U.S. those wishing to find out what is going on in the Ukraine  military situation( like me) have had to resort to understanding the trends by what is not covered by the media– much like Soviet citizens have for decades– an exception being a  a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Western Media’s favorite picture of a WWII Soviet soldier

So  now the  question is this……… If the Russian juggernaut  begins to crush Ukrainian resistance  what happens to Western resolve? With the possible exception of Great Britain and  few other smaller nations European resolve will melt. What will the US do?   The Eastern nations will no longer be coy about support for the Russians. The idea that  the weak Biden government  will rise to the occasion  is beyond possibility. The US public has been very happy to cheer from the sidelines but being physically involved will not wash.

And no doubt a conclusion of the war with Russia driving the train, whether a political settlement with part of Ukraine remaining in Russian hands or a Russian occupation  of all the Eastern Ukraine will be seen as a Russian victory and a win of a resurgent East over a weak and hedonistic West.

# I would recommend Samuel Huntington’s The  Clash ofT Civilizations. Despite vociferous  and trenchant criticism by the” we are one village ”  ersatz historians, his observations are evidenced everyday. Also Charles Hill’s  Trial of a Thousand Years. He discusses Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West



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The Danger to Israel Comes from Within

P.J. Vakiotis , a famed Greek-American Middle East scholar, in a talk to students  in the  late 60’s at the American University of Beirut opined that the enmity between the Arab Staes and Israel was not only beneficial but necessary for the two warring sides. He explained to the perplexed students that the hostility on the part for the Arabs was useful for the rulers of the Arab states because politically there was nothing else to hold together the myth of Arab unity. For the Israelis this animus was critical because Israel was a centrifugal  society and the continual Arab and Islamic pressure on it kept the Israeli state from flying apart.

In the Middle East Justice and everything else comes from a barrel of a weapon

By using the term centrifugal Vatikiotis was referring to the  diverse and often conflicting political, religious, and ethnic forces within the state of Israel. I was thinking of this as I see the political chaos that has afflicted Israel for the past two years and seems to be boiling over with  the election of  Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel. The losing political parties, especially the socialist labor party, seems too be unable to accept the defeat and many followers have taken to the streets  streets  to “rage” and protest against a plan to reconstruct the supreme judiciary body in Israel, which according to  the Likud party leadership, has shown itself to be be very leftist in their rulings. However their main objective is to overturn the results of the election.

The Assyrians, Romans], Greeks all dispersed the Jews from their homeland. They rarely found a safe and secure home.


But the problems are much  deeper than mere politics; it has more to do with some basic building blocks of the Israeli society. Leaving aside the issue of the Arab citizens living within Israel (about 20% of the total population) who for the most part are a fifth column inside  Israel ( with many exceptions among  the Christian and Druze Arabs). Despite the long history of Israeli efforts to establish some cordial relations or at least tolerance between the two peoples it has not happened.The Palestinian Israeli citizens do face discrimination…no doubt about that…but to some degree it is their own fault as they refuse to integrate or assimilate into the Israeli society. In my travels in the Arab areas of northern Israeli I found that the local Arabs act as if they live in an autonomous region and  do not accept the Israeli state as a reality.

The most pressing problem  however is not the Palestinian Arab problem. The Israelis have learned to to live with it.  The real problem is Israeli vs Judaism.  Israel was founded by  socialist European Jews, who were nationalists first and Jews secondly. They were a minority among the world-wide Jewish community as most Jews at the time were against a state for Jews in Palestine, some for religious reasons ( Jewish nationalism was a secular movement) and others because they were quite comfortable where they were, ironically especially  in Germany . This was not true for the Jews  eastern Europe but most were too poor to leave Russia until later. The movie  “Fiddler on the  Roof,” is a fairly good representation of their lot in life. In fact the Western Jews referred to the Russian Jews in derogatory terms.

This brings us to another big divide…i.e. Oriental vs. Western Jews. The Oriental Jews, came from Middle Eastern countries, and spoke Arabic, Farsi or Aramaic rather than Hebrew.  The Sephardim are also non European Jews  who resided In Spain for hundreds of years until evicted by Queen Isabella, under the inquisition,  (or faked conversion to Catholicism)1 Most went to the Ottoman Empire.Many spoke a language known as Ladino…a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew. Mizrahi Jews are also Eastern origin Jews  but are often included within the Sephardim category.

The Western Jews known as Ashkenazi came primarily from Germany and other  Western countries and many spoke Yiddish, a  combination of German and Hebrew. They founded the State of Israel…….or I should say a small minority did so  because until the  beginnings of the holocaust in Germany, Jewish immigration was a trickle. In this regard it should also be mentioned that the British government, tried desperately to limit Jewish immigration  to Palestine in order to maintain good relations with the Arab world, owners of the Suez Canal and oil.

This needs a two hour lecture. Suffice it to say that Everyone involved had an ulterior motive…except the zionist leadership. They knew what they wanted.

With the forcible eviction of Jews from the Middle Eastern and Islamic world after 1967…a torrent of oriental Jews came to Israel. They came with basically the shirts  on their backs. From Egypt, Iraq and all Arab countries they came by the thousands. Many were once wealthy and would have happily stayed  where they were but were violently evicted.  The Yemeni Jews were a separate entity…one of the most primitive of the Jewish immigrant groups coming to Israel. In the 70’s the Israelis began bringing in Falashas or Ethiopian Jews to Israel. When I was traveling in Ethiopia in the sixties, the urban Ethiopians considered them as the most primitive people in the country. Their Jewishness dates from the time of the Queen of Sheba.

Yemeni Jew

At this point I will not get into the “who owns the Land.” It is the subject of a zillion books and a futile question to pursue  at this time. Far too much time and effort is spent on that subject.  I will only say that, unlike most of Western academia, I do not consider it the major issue in the Middle East or Islamic world.

IDF USO group

So in this swirling mass of languages and ethnicities and race and ideologies, the Israelis have near miraculously created a state and revived a near dead language, Hebrew.  But like the America fallacy of a “melting pot”   this myth bedevils the society of Israel. The European Jews are still predominate among the establishment elite.  There is intermarriage between the Sephardim and Ashkenazi, and a common bond exists as Jews,  nailed together by their common history of persecution in  most of the world,2 and the forever Arab/ Islamic threat.

Generally the  Western Jews are more liberal and secular and constitute the bulk of the Labor party while the  Eastern Jews are more conservative and more religious and form the the core of the Likud Party.There are many exceptions and gradations within these parameters but this holds true almost always.

The new danger as I see it is simply this. Too many of the mostly Western   Jews of Israel act and live as if  they live in  Europe or the United States. They do not not. They live in one of the most volatile, unpredictable, violent regions of the world, surrounded by implacable hostile peoples outside their borders and a considerable number within. They cannot afford the infantile antics of a “woke” society, making issues out of gender  roles,  constantly undermining authority, and demanding concessions for every cause or movement  that abounds in the West.

Negotiate! But with whom?

Moreover the support Israel once enjoyed from the world wide Jewish community has dwindled, especially in the United States. I remember visiting Brookln NY in the  50’s and seeing the banners strung across the streets urging the purchase of Israeli war bonds. But no more. Now one is more likely to see anti semitic graffiti  scrawled on the walls. The America Jews who rushed to Israel to help defend it in the 67 war are now more likely to be involved in anti-Israeli protests at the spearhead of “woke” mobs.

The United States is huge and has  no enemy on its border and can (hopefully) get through this period of abysmally weak government, managerial rule by an establishment elite isolated from the indigenous Americans,  the prostitution / erasure of history, the institution  of rights without duties, and confusing freedom with license. Israel does not have that margin of comfort.

1.They were called conversos. It is interesting to note that  among the grave markers of the Spanish conquistadors of the American southwest some had the Star of David engraved.

2. It is often assumed, sometimes among the Oriental Jews themselves, that because of their heritage and language they could serve as a bridge between the Israelis And the Arab world.  This is a chimera.  While is is true ( probably) that the lives of the Jews were more secure under the Muslims than the Europeans,  lives of the Jews under Islamic rule was one of a second class citizen, frequently punctuated   by periods of blood libel conspiracies  and pogroms.

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The Mirage of Successful Counterinsurgency in the Middle East

From my research over the years is that the only successful counterinsurgency conducted by a Western power in the Middle East was by the Italians in Libya.1  See Vincere, The Italian Royal Army  Counterinsurgency 1922-1940 ( Federica  Saini Fasonatti.)The Italian counterinsurgency has been roundly criticized ( justifiably) as brutal and based  on brute force and purely  kinetic measures, ignoring population based doctrine..i.e.” hearts and minds,” the doctrine adhered to by the U.S. military Americans and most of the Western  world. The hearts and minds counterinsurgency as detailed in the American counterinsurgency manual  FM 3-24 espouses a population centric doctrine  “by focussing on efforts to secure safety and support of the local populace.”The doctrine emphasizes that  the US forces should support then local forces primarily with training and materiel support.

Unfortunately the last three counterinsurgency wars has not turned out well for the US Forces beginning with  Vietnam. Certainly lessons learned in  Vietnam were ostensibly widely available to commanders and troop leaders with the time and desire to read them.The FM 3-24  is an excellently written work with good historically derived information ,that if properly digested,  would provide an excellent starting point for in country on-the -ground learning process for commanders.

Reading a book I recently acquired entitled The Afghanistan Papers ( Craig Whitlock) the same mistakes and lack of veracity by government officials and military leader harked back to then Vietnam war as depicted in General McMasters Book Dereliction of Duty. In both cases the American political and military leaders lied about the progress and security situation in Afghanistan and Vietnam. As he wrote “Cultural ignorance and misunderstandings vexed military units for the entirety of the war, hampering ability their ability to conduct operations, collect intelligence, and make tactical judgements. Most troops deployed to the war zone for six to twelve months. By the time they had started to become comfortable in their surroundings it was usually time to go home. Their untutored replacements repeated the cycle year after year.”

It was exactly the same in Iraq and Vietnam. 12 to 13 month tours were the norm. Because of that it was a bloody and chaotic learning environment for the whole war.  This policy  also resulted in multiple tours with some units repeatedly deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq, One might think that the soldiers who had been there before would be culturally attuned to the environment, but this was not usual the case;  they may wind up in a culturally different region, for instance it was a totally different environment to be deployed to Ramadi or Mosul Iraq than the Southern mostly Shi’a areas or those of the Kurdish people. Moreover the lessons learned in 2005 were quite different from those  of 2011.In Vietnam this was particularly true as the early years were fought the indigenous Viet Cong in a totally counter guerilla war, while the later years we found most the enemy units were north Vietnamese conventional soldiers, fighting a conventional war.

As one who conducted hundreds of  briefings  for units deploying to the Middle East, I realized most of them were check the block exercises as I wrote in my presentation the ASMEA conference  entitled “Checking the Blocks” at  The title was a distillation of my view that the scheduled briefing were simply a means for commanders to be able to say their  units were culturally oriented. I did not blame the a commanders as I was in a similar position deploying my artillery battalion to Germany in the late seventies. The amount of actions and procedures required to get a unit from their home base in the U.S. to Germany were overwhelming, particularly in personnel affairs.  I had a similar experience as a artillery assistant S-3  deploying to Vietnam in 1966. Now in the past decade or so the social engineers and social justice warriors have unloaded on deploying  military units additional requirements of no combat value whatsoever.   Combat Training time is precious and too much time is allotted  for administrative requirements and leftist political subject that are irrelevant to soldering.

When I gave these briefings I realized that the preponderance of the soldiers present had very little interest in the briefings and classes. Those troops married were  thinking about how their wives and families would fare during their their absence and the personal actions that had to get taken care of prior to departure……. And the younger generation has very short attention spans, a result of the declining academic standards of American education in general, and social media. But I tried my best sometimes inserting portions of sex and sexual roles  in the Arab-Islamic world, which would get their momentary attention.

I consoled  myself  that perhaps some aspects were absorbed by the troops and something is better than nothing, and very often there were  individuals who became interested in the subject and were motivated to learn more.

Many, if not most of the Italian troops fighting the Libyan insurgents, were Ethiopian or Eritrean.

So after this prologue the point is this. Our Counterinsurgency doctrine  ( Hearts and Minds)based on the FM 3-24 is not the answer. Why? Because throughout the  manual the various aspects of the doctrine depends on a deep  understanding of the host culture …which is a true assessment… and we can never get to that degree of knowledge imbued among the majority of the troops. The fact that some may become well versed in the future or know how to use indigenous experts…a very complicated process with many pitfalls, is not enough. This is true because in these long irregular conflicts  such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, every soldier needs to be a “strategic Corporal,” i.e. a soldier who understands the strategic importance of his actions in dealing with a society in which non combatants are indistinguishable from combatants. His actions  will have repercussions at political and social levels and reverberate throughout the area.

The soldiers at the entrance of the Green Zone in Baghdad who ogled or sometimes harassed the Iraqis girls coming into Green zone has implications, as do every contact between the locals and soldiers. The enemy has the communication means to blow very unsavory action into a major adverse event, religiously, politically, or racially.

A worse case of example of this is one depicted in the book Religion is Resistance ( Eileen Ryan) concerning the Italian war against the Arab  resistance fighters in Libya. Some Italian soldiers “baptized” an orphan Libyan girl,  which of course became  widely known and provided gasoline to the fire that the Italians were in Libya  to make Christians of the very conservative and often radical Senussi Muslims of that unhappy land.

To return to the Italian campaign in Libya, it was a bloody inhumane war waged by the Italians, especially when the Fascists under Mussolini took over the government. They followed the Russian method of counterinsurgency which is in its most elementary form, is simply to make life unlivable for the people from which the insurgents draw their soldiers. It consists of mass “resettlement ” of insurgent populations to areas where they can be more easily controlled, killing livestock, destroying crops, ruthless nondiscrimination between civilians and the guerrillas.

Rodolfo Graziani Italian general who led the total war methods employed by the Italians to subdue the Libyan insurgency. As conventional Italian army commander against the British he failed totally.

But the Italians won. The Libyan resistance was ground down. The “total war”concept works. The Russians against the Chechens, and   Sri Lankan  against the Tamil insurgents  are other examples of this “successful” type of counterinsurgency.

Gian Gentile’s ground breaking book, Wrong Turn America’s Deadly Embrace of Counter-Insurgency  succinctly demonstrated that the hearts and Minds doctrine as espoused by the authors and aficionados of   FM 3-24, did not and does not work.I agree with Colonel Gentile and my input is that to implement FM 3-24 we must have the cultural social expertise at  ground level  that is impossible to acquire and more importantly to maintain.

Even in the miraculous event we possessed an army of anthropologists, my experiences lead me to have doubts that even that kind of socially conscious army  would have any better success. I think back to the sixties when I met an American officer training Saudis. He had developed an unusual level of rapport with his Saudi soldiers and Officers. He was invited to their personal fetes and celebrations, and had learned to speak a creditable level of Arabic. He told me quite sorrowfully and somewhat perplexed that following the 1967 war the Saudis absolutely shunned him.  He was devastated. To me it was a simply a truism that so many have to learn….the hard way ….. you will  never be one of them. When crises occur they go back to blood lines.

Libyan leader of resistance against the Italians Omar al Mukhtar, Arab hero. for many years evaded captured and attacked Italian units. Captured and executed. Betrayed by a follower.


Major Rene Defourneaux, one of our foremost (and rare) army  experts on Vietnam was visiting Okinawa and the US Marine general in charge asked him how he should prepare his marines to fight in Vietnam and Defourneaux  responded ” Don’t go there.” Rene Defourneaux, The Winking Fox.

1. Another excellent article to read about the Italians in Libya is written by my good friend Youssef Aboul Enein .

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My Paper At the ASMEA conference November 2022

Counterinsurgency in the Greater Middle East: The Russian Tar Baby


According to my father[1], a Russian born in Vitebsk, the son of an officer in the Czar’s army, the Russian soldier is the best soldier materiel in the world. Despite fighting for despotic governments, under mostly incompetent officers, usually with inadequate equipment, and very little training, he still defeated the German army; a superb fighting machine in WWII. So why the debacle in Ukraine? The surprise has not been the been the apparent ineptness of the Russian forces, which has characterized the Russian army in the beginning of every conflict, but the loss of the soldierly ardor which characterized the traditional Russian army. The flippant, but not untrue answer, is that the Russian military has been involved far too long and invasively in the maelstrom of the Greater Middle East.[2] The most persuasive of the more recent evidence of this intense interest is the manner in which the Soviet leadership played nuclear roulette with United States in 1967 and 1973. They have continued this pushing against the red lines of American reaction in Syria. The long held conventional histories of the Arab Israeli wars and Soviet roles in them have held that while the Soviets amply supplied the Arabs with military equipment and thousands of advisors, they did not plan or actively participate in the wars. It has always been asserted by the major American leadership at the time, that the Russian nuclear threats were pure bluster.  Not so wrote, Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez in two exceptionally informative books who posit that:

The evidence now shows that Kosygin’s threat was not an empty one: The Soviets had prepared a marine landing, with air support on Israel’s shores, which was not only planned but actually set in motion; they had readied strategic bombers and nuclear armed naval forces to strike; and thy had even committed their most advanced, still secret experimental aircraft and top pilots for provocative reconnaissance flights over Israel’s most sensitive installation – its nuclear complex.[3]

Integral to the Russian centuries old interest in the greater Middle East is the rather startling similarities in political/cultural traits. These traits have produced a sort of cultural bonding[4], being played out today in the reluctance of Middle Eastern countries to blame the Russians for the war in Ukraine.  Nevertheless, despite the many congruencies in culture, there has never been any love lost between the Russians and Middle Easterners, both sides seeing themselves at being threatened, particularly the Russian fear of Muslim encroachment on their empire. This is one of many contradictions in Russian -Middle Eastern relations.


In this paper I hope to surface the corrupting and debilitating influence on the Russian army as a result of its the long involvement in the Greater Middle East. In this I concentrate primarily the impact on intangibles, the ethos, character and spirit, “soul” of the traditional virtues of the Russian army.[5]


My contention is that the long Soviet/Russian involvement in the Middle East has corrupted their military ethos, and given the Russian military leaders a false sense of capabilities in conventional and unconventional warfare they did not demonstrate and do not have.

Since the massive wave of Soviet weaponry and trainers pouring into Egypt in preparations for the 1973 war, the Russians have been deeply immersed in Middle Eastern culture, and feeding a militaristic trend in the Middle East.[6] This has had an adverse effect for both Middle Easterners and Russian military effectiveness.

I will support my contentions by first examining the congruities of Russian and Middle Eastern cultures. In part two I will assess the Russian military problems in Afghanistan and Chechnya, and how they impacted the Russian soldier and officer, and the illusion of the “success” in Syrian war experience, which supposedly served as test bed for the new Russian weaponry, training of their army, organization, and battle worthiness of their forces. Finally, I will conclude with a cautionary tale of the similarity in Middle East experience for the past near 50 years of our own forces and the dangers of confusing our lessons in low intensity conflict with the conflict ongoing in Ukraine.

Previously I have written extensively on the Arab military cultural affinities and way of war,[7] and also on the generally ineffectiveness of Western training of Arab militaries[8]. In my experience the Russians had somewhat better fortune training Middle Eastern militaries, not because of better systems or more knowledgeable trainers, but because of the many cultural affinities of the two cultures. They were immersed down to battalion levels for longer periods of time, and concentrated on the simpler soldier tasks. Nevertheless, observers have rightly explained the Russian military advisors were generally not popular among the Arabs[9], and Arab and African military students training in the Soviet Union frequently encountered a crude type of discrimination and were never very comfortable in public.[10]  At the top, especially in Egypt,[11] there was considerable rancor but at the bottom, Russian advisor and Egyptian soldier, got along well enough to fashion an army that crossed the canal to everyone’s surprise.

Absorbing cultural traits is a two- way impact on both the foreign trainers and the indigenous students. I learned this serving with Arab and Korean soldiers.[12]  I saw the way American liaison officers and advisors with the South Vietnamese assumed the laid-back tempo of fighting a war[13]. Those that were unable to conform to the Vietnamese way of war became frustrated and ineffectual. As T.E. Lawrence so sagely advised, one must allow the Arabs to do it their way This was certainly my experience serving with or instructing Arabs. The quantum space between what should be done and what could be done is a perennial issue. While hopefully one can pull the students up, all too often the environment pulls the instructor’s standards down.  It is true Russian military advisors who have served in the Middle East generally achieved a measure of temporary political success, especially in Egypt, but they did it at the price of lowering their own military proficiency. Cultural collision can also result in an abrupt realization of one’s own societal defects. This was true when the Russians occupying Germany came into contact with the culture of western Europe. As an example, the more educated and observant officers and soldiers, kept in isolation and ignorance by the Communist regime, saw the much higher standard of living of the West, impelling them to redouble their efforts to catch up with West.[14] But since then, their long involvement in the Middle East and renewed isolation from the West, has exposed them to a military culture less advanced their own.  In a military sense it entails osmosis and social proximity as one absorbs the traits of the general ineffectiveness of the Middle Eastern militaries.[15]

Since the 1960’s, with a hiatus after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians have been immersed in the third world, particularly the Middle East, training Arabs for conventional wars, fighting counterinsurgency in mountain, or urban terrain, and at times complicit in terror operations.  For several decades the Russians have been trying with varying success to maintain political and military relations with constantly shifting Middle Eastern alliances, involving brutal, corrupt despotic regimes, and terrorist organizations.  They exhibited a duplicity which entailed supporting a regime, while at the same time supporting insurgents against the regime.[16] Inevitably this immersion in the morass of Middle Eastern tribal, sectarian, and religious conflicts has had a corrupting influence on the human materiel of their officers and soldiers. This is not to propose that the brutality so common in Russian conduct of warfare was acquired from the Middle Easterners, but it has certainly had an inevitable and unenviable reinforcing effect.

 Now we are witnessing a drawn-out war of attrition in which the Russians seemingly learned very little from their combat experiences in the Middle East, particularly their counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Nor did they learn much in assisting regime militaries to fight rebels in Angola, Libya and Syria.[17]  No doubt the Russians did achieve political influence, fleeting as it turned out to be, however, in none of these countries did they create a professional army among their hosts. Their seemingly omnipotent presence sometimes did create a “the Russians are coming” mindset among the Western media, particularly the seemingly new Russian doctrine and way of war, particularly based on the ostensibly impressive reentry into the Middle East by way of Syria and Libya.

Congruencies in Russian and Middle Eastern Culture


My sources on middle eastern culture include my nine years’ experience studying or working in a number of Arab countries, often working with their militaries in which I made a point to understand their impressions of their earlier training by Russians. Raphael Patai’s[18] and Sonia Hamady’s [19] books, as well as the works of Ali Al Wardi[20] were the guideposts buttressing my observations of Arab culture. To the extent possible, given the covert nature of their military culture, I have studied the available information on the Russian experience training and maintaining their Arab and Greater Middle Eastern clients as well the wars fought against them. On military effectiveness I emphasize the mutual reinforcement of the cultural attributes of both cultures. They directly influenced one another and often reinforced weaknesses in their respective military’s capabilities. These congruities worked to the detriment of both Russian’s clients and the Russian military. Below, I detail some of the most important.[21]

Paranoia on Western influence

Like the Middle East, Russia was cut off from Western influence for centuries and during those centuries developed a scornful ignorance of European culture, as did the Middle Easterners.

As Isaiah Berlin wrote,

It is interesting to note that with the possible exception of Turgenev, there is no great Russian writer who did not suffer from xenophobia, amounting at times to acute hatred of the West. There is a permanent neurosis resulting from this uneasy position which Russia feels she occupied- ‘Scythians’ belonging a neither to West or East.[22]

Bernard Lewis captured the essence of the impact on the Middle Easterners in which the Islamic peoples lived in a bubble of serene self-confidence, confident of their superiority over the dark civilization of Europe.

For centuries then world view and self-view of Muslims seemed well grounded. Islam represented the greatest military power on earth-its armies at the very same time, were invading Europe and Africa India and China. It was the foremost economic power in the world, trading in a wide range of commodities through a far-flung network of commerce and communications in Asia, Europe and Africa….[23]

While their power was crumbling the Islamic rulers were blissfully unaware until the French invasion of Ottoman – ruled Egypt. The shattering of this illusion by Napoleon’s armies in 1798 had impact that has persisted to this day.  Today on one hand we observe the fascination of Middle easterners with Western technology, particularly gadgetry, but there is a distaste for our way of life. The Middle Eastern intelligentsia and religious clerics constantly rail about “Westoxification[24],” the supposed evil of Western Godlessness and materialism finding a home among the young and urban of the Islamic world. Similarly, the Russian elites often decried “Anglophilia,”[25] an admiration among some of the intelligentsia in the 19th century for all things English., or Gallomania,[26] the love of French culture, The Russians elite have always claimed the West was “without soul.” This soul is the essence, they assert, of being Russian.[27]

In the Middle East conservative Islam remains the prime defense against creeping westernization, while with the Russian elite it has been the deeply religious spirit of Russian nationalism combined with Russian Orthodoxy. As the Russian elite constantly affirm, they are not part of the West and do not want to be. While the militant secularism of the communist regime (and the proto capitalist regime of Putin) would seem to clash with Islam, it never has in terms of political objectives. Both have totalitarian aspects that produce the same mind set.[28] In fact, the totalitarian aspects of the radical version of Islam are very compatible with Marxism, particularly in the total control of every aspect of human life.[29]

Armies Protect but Also Threaten the Ruler


Arab armies have always suffered from the ruler’s fear of a military coup. Because of this the combat readiness of their forces are always secondary to their control by the ruling circles. Command structure is always fragmented, divided and created to ensure that no one person other than the ruler can exercise control of the armed forces.[30] Because of this, large-scale exercises, especially live fire exercises, are few and far between. Obviously because of this the readiness for actual combat is dismally low. Typically, the Arab rulers have a myriad of intelligence agencies and special pretorian guard units to protect their regime. In Russia the omnipotent and ubiquitous Federal Security Service, (FSB) of which Putin and many of his inner circle are former members, keep tabs on the Russian military. [31] Ambitious officers with initiative and an independent mind are often seen as potential rivals and ousted from power. In both the Arab world and Russia top officers are careful to not step too far beyond the green lines. The nail that stands up gets hammered down. It should be remembered that Marshal Zhukov, “Hero of the Great Patriotic War” was made an “unperson” by Stalin.[32]

Communism is officially dead in Russia but the imprint remains strong. Putin keeps a strong hold on the military remembering the 1993 October coup in which Boris Yeltsin had to use the military anti- coup operations.   Partly as a result of the involvement of the generals in politics, the vaunted Russian General Staff, excellent in meticulous planning and compiling operational history, became enervated by factional politics and proved to be inept in the Afghanistan war. Lester Grau wrote,

Though the military leadership had unparalleled opportunity to study Afghanistan and rehash the lessons of previous insurgencies of their huge empire., they continued to see everything through Marxist-Leninist – filters. This combined with usual and pernicious   Soviet compartmentalization of information blurred the General Staff’ perception of the realities of Afghanistan[33]

Authoritarian cultural characteristic of the Russian and Arab military leadership.

While traditionally the Arab culture was individualistic based on the Bedouin trait, the modern history of the Arab world and greater Middle East has been one of despotic or authoritarian regimes.  Ali al Wardi, the Iraqi historian, attributes this to the gradual usurpation of power by the town/urban population[34]. Others point to the necessity of a central powerful ruler to manage hydraulic society such as Egypt. Whatever the reason the Middle East people have inured to despotic rule for the past several centuries and the trait is manifestly visible in the military subculture.  Authority is absolute and obedience to the higher ranks is absolute. Nor has there been any dramatic change in the way Arabs organize, train, or conduct warfare. [35] Thousands of Arab officers have been trained in the United States and most are sent off to their countries with enthusiasm hopefully to introduce lessons they have learned, only to butt into a stone wall of resistance to change by senior officers. The inviolate rule remains in force; the nail that stands up gets hammered down[36]

Among the Russian military the character trait of deference to authority is even greater and of a longer history. As Christopher Donnelly in his superb study[37] of the Russian military opined, the Russian belief in the necessity of despotic rule dates from the Mongol invasions of the 14th century.  The Russian national character accepted despotic rule, back by force of arms and a need to expand national borders to protect the heartland. This has evolved into a militaristic society.[38] The authoritative and ultra conservative nature of both Russian and Greater Middle Eastern societies has acted as a bulwark against change and has to a large extent has enervated those who advocate change in society and the military.  Reading World War II German observations[39] of the Russian army one is struck by the continuity in Russian way of war from World War II to the present time.  These historical documents   have drawn a great deal of criticism of by using lessons learned in WWII [40] related to the Russian doctrine and conduct of warfare, and applying them to the Ukraine, However my extensive examination of the Russian methods of warfare in WWII, and the works of German generals on the Eastern front. I have seen nothing dramatic to differentiate the Russian method of conventional war in the Ukraine to those of WWII[41].






Russian Counterinsurgency. Historically A Russian “Success” story but failure in Afghanistan and Chechnya.


The vaunted Russian successes in counterinsurgency,[42] and the lessons learned were apparently completely forgotten in the succeeding wars earlier in the Greater Middle East, has had the unfortunate effect of further eroding the efficiency and effectiveness of the conventional Russian warfare.  Prior to Afghanistan the Russian army, had forgotten their counterinsurgency successes in Central Asia, and had only to put down revolts in highly urbanized civilized countries, i.e., Hungary and Czechoslovakia where armored units using the excellent road networks were able to crush resistance in a matter of hours or days. To an extent the Russians used their experience in an effort to quickly subdue Afghanistan’s command center. Spetsnaz troops invaded the presidential palace and killed the president, seized likely centers of likely resistance and assumed that all was well.  The somewhat amazing fact is that although the Russians had been intimately involved in Afghan affairs for ages, they seemed to know nothing about the people or the country. The resulting guerrilla war again evidenced the fact that counterinsurgency carries a special brand of poison that is detrimental to traditional soldiering and fighting a conventional war.[43] The inability to distinguish the enemy from civilian, and indeed whether or not there is a significant difference, turns a warrior into a killer. The enemy is dehumanized and the Geneva convention is ignored, discipline breaks down, morale plummets, and objectives become blurred and in the long run usually unobtainable.


Angelo Cordevilla, probably most cogently explained the Russian method of what passes for Russian counterinsurgency, writing that the Russians harkened back to the Roman style of counterinsurgency, “Secure the most valuable parts of the conquered country through a massive troop presence and offer then inhabitants the choice between reasonably normal life under Roman rule or certain death.[44]

This is evident in Syria as the Russian backed Syrian forces have gained control over the most critical areas of control and population leaving large, mostly thinly populated areas to the insurgents or various anti Assad forces. There has been no pretense of population -centric measures as would be integral to the American doctrine.[45] Intrinsic to the type of counterinsurgency is the use of brutal massive force, with little or no distinction between combatant and civilian.

The Soviet Union successfully practiced this pattern against the Muslim Basmachi rebels of central Asia in the 1920’s.[46] In the 1930’s it did so preemptively in its drive to collectivize the Ukraine, causing mass starvation among those who resisted or might have resisted.[47] The Soviet Union repeated this pattern in the 1940’s in the Baltic states and in the 1980’s in Afghanistan.”  The Russians made no distinction between these wars and conventional wars. As Lester Grau wrote,

“The Soviet army that marched into Afghanistan was trained to fight within the context of a theater war against a modern enemy who obligingly occupy defensive positions across the northern European plain.[48]

   A major tenet and insidious aspect of the Russian mindset was a total disregard of collateral civilian casualties. This was engrained in mind set Russian advisors deployed in the greater Middle East, and especially the many thousands on Middle Eastern officers who attended Russian military schools,[49] who undoubtably absorbed the Russian methods. Certainly, the Middle Eastern armies in their forever wars against dissidents use these methods.[50]

Rather than population-centric as formulated in the West, it is regime centric, meaning the3n primary purpose is to protect the regime in power. Russia basically has no counterinsurgency doctrine, as a distinct way of combat. They talk of something they call “hybrid warfare”[51] against an enemy defined as “illegal armed forces.” These are semantic inventions   in which they do not differentiate between terrorism and Guerilla warfare and The Russians do not even use the term counterinsurgency.  For instance, Humanitarian and stabilization operations, which, Russians define as primarily consisting passing out food parcels, is not done conducted until the area is cleared of the enemy.

The primary point here however, is not which variety, American or Russian, is successful because in retrospect neither has well, but rather the fact that the long Russian campaigns in the Muslim East has fortified an indelible trait of brutality and corruption long extant, in the Russian way of war[52]. The histories of the Afghanistan, Chechen, and Syrian wars has shown that in stark terms. The casual brutality inflicted on the civilian populations combined with rampant corruption has become a tenet in the Russian way of war.  The history of barbarity of Russians toward non-Russians, or even their own, plus the lack of discipline within the armed forces has been well documented, but more importantly it is a stratagem with the objective of cowering the enemies and their base of supporters. [53]

The sad story of Russian interventions in all its brutality, inhumanity, revealed the worst about the effects of long-term war in the middle east, aggravated by the the pervasive imprint of Islamist beliefs on war and its effects on the combatants of both sides.  The effect of Islamist war doctrine cannot be lightly dismissed especially in the tribal societies of the Greater Middle East.[54]

Vladislov Tamarov, a talented soldier with the Russian army in Afghanistan poignantly related his memories, “Our base, where kind people transformed into vicious ones. Where the vicious became cruel. Where they made boys into murderers.”[55]

The Russians traded with the Afghans in the day time, selling and buying, and fought the same people at night.[56]Corruption was endemic, as it has been in the Russian army for ages but this war aggravated it as discipline eroded and neither the NCO’s or officers, with a few exceptions, sought to alleviate the miserable conditions of the ordinary Russian soldier.[57] This was exacerbated by the low pay of the Russian ordinary soldier in Afghanistan was about eight to eighteen checks a month[58]..

 As the British Ambassador to Russia (1988-1992), Roderic Braithwaite wrote,

“So, both Officers and men turned to various forms of corruption. The 40th Army was not unique: the victorious Allied armies had done much the same in Europe after 1945. But the corruption of the 40th army was on a heroic scale.” [59]

The detachments guarding the Salang highway would shake down passing Afghan drivers. Storekeepers and lorry drivers would conspire to take their cut from cargoes they were transporting. Some sources relate that these Russian sentries would take the Afghan drivers behind a wall and kill them for their goods. Punishment except for selling arms punishment was light and rarely pursued.[60]

Just as the American soldiers had little faith in Afghanistan’s government army neither did the Russian soldiers. They were always suspect, frequently deserving that lack of respect by desertions, and rallying to the Mujahadeen. The widespread feeling among the Russian troops was if the Afghans do not want to fight the mujahadeen why should we.?[61] . They learned to hate the Afghans, whom they began to see as sub-human. The Afghans earned the hatred they instilled in the Russian soldier by murdering prisoners, mutilating the dead, carving the Russian star in dead soldier’s chests, etc.  As one soldier explained, “Our base, where the kind people were transformed into vicious ones. Where the vicious became cruel. Where they made boys into murderers. For what?[62]

 Perhaps nothing destroyed morale more than the system of dedovshchina, loosely translated as hazing. But this should not be compared to college fraternity hazing. Recruits were beaten to an inch of their lives by senior soldiers and NCOs as a sort of traditional welcome to the Russian army.  The officers turned their eyes the other way, and were indifferent to these activities.

A new recruit arriving in Afghanistan recorded his initiation, “That night they (senior soldiers) beat me up, eight of them, and gave me a good beating kicking with their army boots. My kidneys were crushed and I passed blood for two days.”[63]

The Russian soldier was poorly equipped, fed, and medically cared for. When killed he was shipped home in a zinc casket and it could not be opened. Many used narcotics, looted dead Afghans, who were, in many cases, were better equipped than the Russian soldiers.

One could write volumes about the many faults of the Russian commanders[64], tactics, weaponry, organization, and strategy but the most important deficiency – from the standpoint of a continuing odious legacy – was the Russian military leadership’s total and utter disregard of the well-being of Russian soldier who was fighting for a cause he knew nothing about—despite the many political sessions in which the sleep deprived soldiers used for much needed sleep. This continued in wars in Chechnya and Georgia.


The horrors of the war in Afghanistan for the Russian soldier were, if anything, dwarfed by the savagery and cunning of Chechen rebels, spurred by nationalist fervor, radical Islam, and the history of hundreds of years wars against the Russians. [65] Tolstoy captured the hatred very well, in his story, the Raid in which he wrote that the Chechens saw the Russians as less than human beings. The Russian soldiers were reciprocal in their view of the Chechens.

Going into the first war against the Chechens the Russians the commanders had learned nothing from the pain of Afghanistan.   The first of the two Chechen wars (1994-1996) was a total Russian disaster.[66]  The Russians assumed once again that a show of force would be sufficient entering Grozny and occupying the main governmental center. The Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev hoped to declare victory on his birthday the 31st of December.

A force of 5000 Chechens and 85 Russians with 170 Russian tanks attempted entered Grozny to overthrow the Chechen regime by coup de main as they had initially in Prague and Kabul. They failed and lost 67 tanks.[67] The Russians regrouped and with pride badly damaged, assembled a force of 24,000 men to counterattack.[68]. At first there was no opposition and the Russians left their vehicles and did not post guards, and suddenly ‘all hell broke loose.” The Chechens demoralized the Russians with clever deception, excellent communication and excellent urban warfare tactics. The Russians resorted to using artillery fire of the buildings along the route of advance but the fighting was tortuous for the raw Russian recruits.

The Chechens, however, like the Germans at Cassino, dug in the ruins, and took advantage of underground tunnels and passages from one building to another. The Russians had to leave a few troops in each building they occupied to keep the Chechens from reentering. In doing so they diminished the number of troops available for the next buildings. Unity of purpose among the units, many hastily thrown together, was totally lacking. Small unit leadership, the most important element if urban warfare was nonexistent. The disorganization of the Russian forces was apparent in that a leading cause of casualties among the Russians was fratricide.  As always there was a paucity of competent small unit leaders. After over a month’s fighting the Russians managed to finally occupy the mostly destroyed city of Grozny, and then the warfare shifted to the mountainous rural countryside and small villages.

The Russian ineptness continued in this later phase of the first war. By the end of 1996, the Russians using air attacks and ceaseless artillery strikes had pushed the Chechen territory to a small portion in the south but in general the Russians controlled the rest by day and the Chechens by night. Even Grozny continued under a curfew as rebel Chechens remained in the city. While the new Russian President Yeltsin declared victory, Russians troops were pulled out of Grozny and the number of Russian troops in Chechnya were reduced. At that point about 1500 Chechens infiltrated back into Grozny and within three hours seized control of the city again. The 7000 Russian troops in Grozny were in disarray and panic. The Russian commander threw available units into the battle piecemeal and they were chewed up badly by well entrenched and city-savvy Chechens using their favorite weapon, the 2.75 RPG. They also had many captured Russian weapons from the earlier battles which used with greater competence than the Russian soldiers.  This time, rather than another house-to-house battle, Russians chose massive air and artillery, firing mostly indiscriminately into the high-rise apartment buildings and were guilty of gratuitous and heinous cruelty[69]. By this time, the Grozny war, deemed unwinnable, had deeply alienated the Russian population and the army professionals as well. It has become the Russian “Tet offensive.” After another month of fighting the Russian Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed engineered an accord with Chechen leader, Aslan Maskhadov.

 For three years desultory fighting continued and during this time frame, a critical element was added – the rise of Jihadism among the Chechens, heavily inspired by a rather infamous individual   a Saudi called Emir Khattab,[70] a ranking member of the ISIS, a charismatic and well financed terrorist. He was instrumental in turning the Chechen struggle from a nationalist one to an Islamist Jihad.  As the Jihadi fervor grew, the Russian military leadership was inching for a rematch accelerated by the Islamists continuing attacks on Russian units in Chechnya, Dagestan and inside Russia itself. This made it easy for Putin to make the case for the second war. The war fever in Russia also enflamed the Russian leadership, who felt humiliated by the way NATO conducted the war in Yugoslavia against their fellow Slavs, (1992-1994), while curtailing the activities of the Russian brigade in Serbia. This figured in to the anti-West theme of Putin and heightened Russian resolve to erase the ignominy of the first Chechen war.[71]

The Russians in the second war digested many lessons from the first war and now with strong-willed Russian nationalist, Vladimir Putin, as president, war became inevitable.  Putin saw the first Chechen War as a stain on the Russian army and nation. The Chechens with their new spirit of Islamist irridentism also pushed the envelope perpetrating horrific deeds of terrorism, facilitating Putin’s approval by the people to act.[72]

Ignoring any pretense of fighting a population centric counterinsurgency war the Russian commanders in their third reconquest of Grozny used massive air and artillery bombardments to level building after building as the motorized units moved cautiously down the avenues.  It was a slow methodical operation of brute force in which civilian casualties were of little consequence.[i]  For over a month the Russian forces ground away bit by bit savaging the areas they occupied.  Using self-propelled artillery as the lead elements in their attacks, the Russians verified their claim that artillery is the God of War.[73] They also cleverly used mercenary Chechen soldiers opposed to the rebel Chechen leadership to do as much of dirty work as possible.[74]

  Finally On 2 February 2000, the Russians were able to hold a “Defender of the Fatherland” parade in the center of Grozny. However, the ordeal of the inhabitants was only beginning as the enraged Russian soldiers  engaged in  “a brutal vengeful’ time, as apartments were looted, men accused of being rebels were dragged off to filtration camps (or simply shot in the street)  as stray rebels continued to mount bomb and sniper attacks.”[75] The war dragged on for nine more years of desultory Chechen attacks,  featuring Russian army sweeps, burning of villages, atrocities on both sides until the Russian and Chechens, exhausted from the mutual killing brought a gradual end of the Chechen war , but did not end the conflict; it moved on to Dagestan, Ingushetia Kabardino-Bakaria and Georgia. The ultimate triumph was indeed a hollow one in that 70000 to 200000 civilians[76] died in the war, with over 400, 0000 refugees.   While this war continued the Russian forces enjoyed a brief fillip in the “successful” conclusion of the three-day Georgian war. The Russians trumpeted that they vanquished an American trained and equipped Georgian army.  That was not the whole truth however.[77].

Throughout the Afghanistan and Chechen war, a prime and grievously critical problem was the absence of a “strategic corporal.”[78] The Russian army lacked these soldiers who provides experience and leadership for a small unit in combat. Lacking competent noncommissioned officers in a war against guerillas, especially in mountain or urban environment is particularly unnerving for the best of soldiers and terrifying for recruits. Some of the Russian airborne, naval infantry and special forces interior units, which have more cohesive structures, performed better in Grozny against the Chechens, even in the first conflict, but that was not the norm.

In the regular units, besides the total incompetence of their NCO’s, the officer corps was not up to the task of filling the void left by NCOs but rather compounded the problem. The officers were frequently drunk and seldom took pains to ease the pain and fears of the young recruits. The fear of the Chechens, a tradition historically potent in Russian history, was justified by the Chechen propensity for gratuitous cruelty. The lot of incoming new soldiers was as brutal as in Afghanistan but against a more innovative and sadistic enemy.  Moreover, in the barracks they had to contend with dedovshchina.

“Short-headed boys, sometimes morose, sometimes laughing, beaten up in our barracks, with broken jaws and ruptured lungs, we were herded in to this war and killed by the hundred. We didn’t even know how to shoot: we couldn’t kill anybody; we didn’t know how. All that we were capable of was crying and dying. And die we did. We called the rebels ‘uncle” and when our boys throats were cut, they’d beg the rebels, please uncle don’t kill me, what did I ever do to you?[79]

 The Chechens decapitated soldiers leaving their heads on the curbs of the main streets of the cities. They took videos of the crucifixion of Russian soldiers. A Russian soldier captured by the Chechens could only hope that he was killed outright rather than hideously tortured.   The Chechens regularly baited ambushes with wounded Russian soldiers, springing the trap on would – be rescuers and then killing the wounded. In consequence, fear of their own commanders, senior soldiers and that of the Chechens led to panic. As the author wrote,

“Young conscripts flee in droves, heading straight from their beds into the steppe, barefoot and wearing only long johns, unable to withstand the nightly torment.”[80]

While ultimately the massive destruction wrecked upon the Chechens and indifference to civilian casualties by overpowering Russian use of the “God of War “(Artillery), were successful in subduing the Chechens, the moral rot of Afghanistan was revealed and reinforced by the Russian conduct in this war.   The bombardment of Grozny was an unparalleled heavy weapons assault on a city, the most since WWII.  For the Russian soldier the brutality of the Russian NCOs and indifference of their officers were obvious evidence of the rot. While much of the strategy and tactics of the Russians can be rightly criticized, it was the lack of a motivated, disciplined army, well – trained and soldiers, supported by military leadership that cared. This kind of army forced the Russians, as is their habit, to use massive artillery bombardment to simply grind the Chechens into a sullen peace.

Middle Eastern Russian Linked Terrorism

The depth of Russian immersion into the La Brea tarpits of Middle Eastern fanaticism and polarization is graphically illustrated by the level of Soviet/Russian involvement in terrorist activities in the Middle East.[81] As the flip side of Russian counterinsurgency, which the Russians always linked with anti-terrorism[82], it should be of little surprise to note that the Russians were up to their necks in subsidizing, training, and organizing terror groups. This despite the CIA in 1981 rendered a judgement that the Russians did not support terrorism.[83]  This facile judgement was based on the theory that while the Russians trained and financed them, they eschewed acts of terrorism against civilians.

Cristopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin found immense amount of materiel linking the Russian KGB to PLO terrorism, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PFLP) the Popular Democratic Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, (PDFLP), the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO) and the Black September Organization. Much of this was done through the good offices of Wadi Haddad,[84] the chief of operations of the PFLP and the primary link between the KGB. And the various terror organizations of the Middle East. Those who have closely examined the Russian link to terrorism found that the Russians were fully aware of the operations targeting civilians.  The Russians also cultivated Yasir Arafat, Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) but apparently the Russians considered him as a poseur and not useful to the Russian objectives. [85]

In consonance with the normal state of internecine warfare, murderous rivalries, and general chaos, which characterizes much of the Middle East, the terrorist groups and individuals cultivated by the Russians warred on each other and the Russians were unable to stay aloof. Much of the history of Putin’s rise to power and his decision to invade Chechnya was based on the alleged terrorist acts of the Islamist Chechens, despite the opinion of many observers who concluded that Putin used these atrocities as false flag operations to create fervor for another war in Chechnya.[86]

The Russian prepossession with terrorism, which in the final analysis, was of little value to the Russians, can only be seen as one more piece of evidence illuminating the Middle Eastern rot the Russians inflicted upon themselves.

SYRIA The experts were mostly wrong on Syria

The supposed test bed and “incubator” for the New Russian professional military was categorized in three sectors, the technological, the extensive use of mercenary forces, a new found capability of demonstrating armed forces unity of action and coordination of political- military operations. There is much to commend in these studies but my conclusion is that the most vital essentials of a competent army were not tested or addressed.

Literature on the Russian intervention in Syria generally warned of the Russian advance in weaponry, unity of command, and something termed “new generation warfare,” supposedly combining soft and hard power across military and nonmilitary domains and using the Syrian intervention as a school for the Information Technology Revolution in Military Affairs (IT-RMA)[87]. It led them to boast about their contingency deployment capabilities. It seems that Western analytical fascination with technology, obscured their vision.  Other than small units of mercenaries, Russian units and soldiers were not tested in Syria. In fact the intervention in Syria, from a real-world training standpoint, was more of a classroom war game on a huge sand table, with the added realistic ingredient of using the blood of civilians for realism. I saw nothing which indicated additional emphasis on the core Russian problems, lack of initiative, inadequate small unit leader training, and in fact, relegating troop combat experience to the Privately Owned Companies.[88]

In actuality the Syria adventure had very little to add to Russian military competence to fight effectively in Ukraine and may have had a deleterious effect. What little they learned from Afghanistan and Chechnya was forgotten and a combination of hubris and illusion gave them an unwarranted sense of comfort in invading Ukraine.  Traditionally the Russians were contemptuous of technology relying on the simple but sturdy weapons of war and the solidity of the Russian soldier. However, in Syria, the Russian military leadership seemingly became infatuated   with “technophilia, “a condition which continues to plague the US army.

Nothing was undertaken to upgrade the capabilities of their NCO corps or young officers, or to truly professionalize their soldiery, instead using Privately Owned Companies, (PMC), the Wagner units, for actual combat. The vaunted “combat experience” in counterinsurgency always has great value– as long as the military leadership view with caution the lessons learned and do not attempt to carry them over to conventional war against a first-class opponent. Like the Arab penchant for rhetoricism, exaggeration and over assertion, the Russians fell prey to their own press releases. Part of the Western journalistic peans of praise for the Russian competence in Syria arose from the Western predilection to view any technological advance Russian as “Russophrenia,” a belief that Russia is about to take over the world, prevalent immediately after the Ukraine invasion. The same way of war that exemplifies the Russian military history since WWII prevailed in Syria: the protracted and massive use of standoff heavy weaponry, and disregard of civilian casualties.[89]Aleppo became the Middle Eastern version of the Grozny bombardment.




 The Russian Military Advisory Missions[90]

To capture the depth of Russian military personnel involvement in the Greater Middle East and Africa, one must take note of the thousands of Russian military advisors with the Afghan government and thousands more deployed throughout the Middle East and Africa.

 The vast majority were hastily deployed with only about a week’s worth of training and knew nothing about the county or the people.[91] In Afghanistan many were located in Kabul and made periodic visits to their units but most were assigned to Afghan battalions and stayed with them constantly. They were envied and hated by the Russians in regular combat units because they were paid more and supposedly had a better life. The advisors, as did those in Egypt earlier, felt they were ignored in the way of decorations and promotions.[92]  For the most part the Russians were only tepidly interested in nation-building. It is to their credit that the Russian military commanders in Afghanistan, early on, recognized there was no pure military solution to the conflict but intensive nation -building programs ultimately failed.[93]

 Thousands of Russian advisors (mostly technicians) were deployed to Iraq[94] but for the most part they were not employed at unit level. Saddam was suspicious of the Soviets and possible collusion with local Communists, who had after all, been part of the political groups that brought assassinated president Abdul Qassim, a nemesis to the Baathists, to power, and he did not want any communist influence among his troops. During the Iran-Iraq war, the Russians, after some risk evaluation and a hiatus of a couple of years, supported the Iraqis. However, in consonance with duplicity innate in their Middle Eastern policy, also supported the Iranians, sending 300 Russian technicians to repair Russian tanks captured from the Iraqis.[95]

Overall, the Russian involvement in the greater Middle East, while it offered a number of advantages to the political influence of Russia, has been a draining, enervating, and most importantly, a corrupting experience for the Russian military. The greater Middle Eastern involvement of the Russians have adversely affected their military ethos in several ways: first of all, the long involvement fighting or assisting the third world societies of the region engrained an unsavory ethos of the warrior spirit by the criminal duplicity, using surrogates to do the dirty work, and immersion into a culture rent apart by corruption, sectarianism, and fanaticism. Their own national characteristics made the acceptance of the more unsavory aspects of Islamist/ Middle Eastern culture easier to assimilate.  The accompanying aspects of a war of attrition, in a quasi-counterinsurgency mode lends itself to corruption and cynicism. Part of this is dealing with the environment of an outwardly friendly or submissive people by day who seek to kill you at night; it ingrains a certain cynicism toward human nature, breeding a casual brutality that carries over to the next war.

Secondly, the nature of fighting low intensity conflicts, whether it is called counterinsurgency, small wars, or some other fashionable term, creates a mindset that is not easily erased for the next conventional war. It creates its own industry, particularly since it involves many aspects of academic disciplines, such as sociology, psychology, history, which often dilute concentration and focus on the campaign.[96] Even the Russians in the initial efforts in Afghanistan tried the nation building approach.[97] It was an unmitigated disaster as was the American attempt later.

Thirdly, these wars in the Middle East are unheroic wars, the heroes are few and quickly forgotten, or never recognized.  Unlike in the “Great Patriotic War” against the Germans, the Russian veterans of advisory and combat duty in Africa, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan often went unrecognized, not only the higher command but the general population as well.   Bodies were sent home in zinc coffins, never to be opened, casualties were lied about, the wounded returned to an ungrateful and uncaring nation. Missing soldiers were never found and there were no governmental attempts to find them. As noted earlier, it was only the brief period of openness that allowed veterans organizations and personal web sites to recount the stories of the Soviet soldiers in the Middle East. [98]

The final note of this article must be a cautionary one. Partially it was carefully delineated by Colonel Gian Gentile in his important book, Wrong turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency. As he wrote, “the narrative of counterinsurgency practiced by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan proves to be a story of failure and redemption.”[99]

As he wrote, the myth that counterinsurgency works is catnip for advocates of U. S. intervention overseas because it promises the possibility of successful ‘better wars.’”


I would add to Gentile’s sage observations that our prolonged deployments and wars in the Middle East have had some of the same deleterious effects that it has had on the Russians.[100] The culture and society of the Middle Eastern Islamic culture have always had a pernicious effect on Western armies fighting or assisting various warring groups, beginning perhaps with demise of Napoleon’s French army invading Egypt[101] and long British campaigns to maintain their Middle East empire[102] All were frustrating and inevitably poor investments paid with treasure and blood.


[1] My father, a career Non-Commissioned officer in the US Army, fluent in German, French and Russian interrogated German POWs at Ft. Stewart Ga. 1943.He possessed a phenomenal knowledge of the German view of the Russian army.  The Russian army has always had a deep near primordial tie with people (narod), a tie explained by Christopher Donnelly, Red Banner (Coulsdon: Janes Information Group,1988). “ The accepted view has been that Russians may face enemies with better weapons and training but “the Russians were blessed with compensatory moral qualities that allowed them to fight with inferior equipment and eventually outfighting militaries of other nations. 4.

[2]  I define the Greater Middle East includes the near abroad, composed of those countries of the former Soviet Union, including the Central Asian states, and Caucasus states, plus those countries bordering the near abroad states, such as Afghanistan, Iran, etc.  My master’s Thesis at the American University of Beirut, “The Contemporary and Future Implications of the Impending British Withdrawal from the Persian Gulf,” (1970).  101-153. afforded me access to many of the most prescient writings on the Soviet drive to Warm Waters, a theory discarded by many but with too much history to dismiss. See Peter Hopkirk’s the Great Game, The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia/ (New York, Kodansha International,1992.) 57-69 and 295-306 especially, and Walter Laqueur’s The Soviet Union and the Middle East. London, Routledge,1959) gives a very informative picture of the continuing drive to the south under the Communists. As he wrote, “Communism is an essentially dynamic movement; it does not want to stagnate, and cannot afford to. Applied to the Middle East this observation means cannot be satisfied with in the long run with present status in the Arab world, where it has to play second fiddle to “bourgeois nationalism.”  344. Whether the imperial Russia, the Communist regime, or that of Putin, Russia cannot let go of the Greater Middle East. Galia Golan wrote that the security of the Soviet Union was the first priority of the regime and that this has been “interpreted as the need to maintain a security belt …. just beyond the Soviet borders, that is, the maintenance of maintenance of friendly regimes and denial of hostile forces just beyond the border. “Gallia Golan Soviet (Policies in the Middle East; From World War II to Gorbachev. New York; Cambridge University Press, 1990) 1.

[3] Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. Foxbats over Dimona. The Soviets Nuclear Gamble in the Six-Day War (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2007). 11. Their follow-on book, The Soviet-Israeli War,1967-1973 (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017).  is a very impressive refutation of the conventional history narrated mostly by the major actors at the time, including Henry Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, (Boston Little Brown and Company,1982) 545 -613. Their basic contention is that only the adroit diplomacy by the major world power players brought about the end of the war.  See Mohamed Heikal, The Road to Ramadan, (New York, Quadrangle, 1975) 207-261.  Heikal posits Russians were urging Egyptians to push toward the Mitla passes only to save the Syrian army which was being decimated by Israeli attacks.  Anwar al Sadat berates the Russians for inadequate support in his In Search of Identity. (New York, Harper and Row,1977) 316- 324.; Yevgeny Primakov, Russia and The Arabs (New York, Perseus Books, 2009) 151.  wrote that the Russians were under the impression that the Egyptians would advance to the borders of Israel after a short operational pause in the Sinai.  Most histories of the war maintain the conventional view of the cessation of hostilities. See Abraham Rabinovitch, in The Yom Kippur War: The Epic Encounter (New York, Schocken, 2017), is effusive in his praise of Kissinger.  Overall, the idea that the Russians were pushing an end to the Egyptians offensive were vigorously refuted by the Russian veterans of the Egyptian advisory mission. The Russian officials and military heads of the Advisory mission were actually pushing Egyptians to do more. Moreover, the alleged withdrawal of Russian advisors prior to the war did not happen as was assumed by many western analysts. This alleged withdrawal was a primary reason that many analysts believed the Egyptians would not attack. It was a calculated deceptive move. The Egyptians also claim that the plan for the crossing of the canal was totally accomplished by the Egyptians, however as a member of a U.S. intelligence mission to Egypt in 1978, I was shown the plans of the Suez operation. On the bottom of the pages of the plan were signatures in Cyrillic.

[4] Although some Islamic countries reluctantly signed on to the UN vote condemning Russia, most did it with clear reservations. Algeria, Albania, Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Uzbekistan Kyrgyzstan, Mali, Eritrea, Egypt, UAE, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Qatar found reasons not to vote to condemn. As developed later Anti-Western attitudes shape much of this.

[5] This is the army that that “tore the guts out of the German army”, a phrase used by Winston Churchill in

  1. See Alexander Werth. Russia at War: 1941-1945. (New York: Avon Books,1965. The fictional image of the Russian soldier is depicted in traditional Russian literature as “simple, healthy, strong and kind, far-sighted, selfless, and unafraid of death.” The stories about him were endlessly recited by the WWII Russian soldiers -rather startling in this age of cynicism See Catherine Merridale. Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945 ((New York: Picador, 2006) 6-7.

[6] Militarism in this sense is the bureaucratization of the military; a process which, rather than producing a “Sparta,” actually enfeebles the military by replacing martial qualities with military flavored-statism. As an example, Egypt is an example of militarized state. See Zeinab Abul-Magd, Militarizing the Nation (New York, Columbia University Press, 2018.) As he wrote, “Finally the book argues that Egyptian’s military engagement in business and the bureaucracy was not simply to generate profit but amass resources. There is a Foucauldian twist to the story. By tapping into the consumerist markets of all social classes and governing their urban milieus, the officers managed to establish their constant surveillance over their population with an eye toward full control.”7. Russia has evolved into similar environment as explained by Christopher Donnelly in Red Banner: The Soviet System in Peace and War. 95-96

[7] Norvell B DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars “in Middle East Quarterly December, 1999 at .  Twenty years later the Arab military effectiveness was only marginally better. See Norvell B DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later,” at .

[8] See . This article originally appeared in the on -line periodical MERIA as “Western Influence on Arab Militaries: Pounding Square Pegs into Round Holes.”

[9]  Email exchange with USA Maj (retired) Steve Franke who probably has more on the ground experience with Arab military, especially Egyptians, than anyone else in the US military, attests to this as his usual experience in discussions with Arab officers he trained with. In my experience this was also my finding. I have found in my experience that the most intense animosity was at the top political and military level. Disagreements with the Russians were often heated, and it is true that that the Russians, especially the female dependents of the advisors, sometimes outraged the more conservative Egyptians with their immodest dress and behavior.[9] Possible most of all the general propensity of eastern bloc and Russian advisor dependents to travel in noisy groups and buy very little annoyed the Egyptian shopkeepers.

[10] In discussions with Iraqi and Egyptian officers, the drabness, cold, and prevalent racism of the Russian populace was the most generally the complaints; the exception being the receptiveness of Russian women to Arab officers’ social attributes.

[11]  Many references for this including Sadat, Search for Identity, Lt General Saad Al Shazly, The Crossing of the Canal, frommimeograph Copy retrieved from Middle East Institute, published by American Mideast Research dated October 1980. Shazly wrote, “The Russians have many qualities concern for human feeling is not among them. They are brusque, harsh, frequently arrogant and usually unwilling to believe anyone has anything to teach them. “50.  General Mohammed Ahmad Sadek, the defense minister under Sadat, hated the Russians, and this, plus his generally mediocre military expertise, led to his eventual removal by Sadat. Russian observations on the Egyptian military prowess were also acerbic, protesting that Soviet equipment was superb but the Egyptian crews were lacking ability to use effectively. On Soviet advisor stated, “The Egyptians had no confidence in Soviet hardware, which they often said was inferior. But it was by no means the Soviet equipment that was to blame for their defeats, it was rather the low training standard of their missile crews. For example, they would promptly leave their work states upon firing a missile, and it never occurred to them that a missile needed to be guided in flight “…..For you to compare,  our battalion took 32 minutes to take up a new position, and an Egyptian one required 3 to 4 hours.“ Kenneth M. Pollack. Armies of Sand: The Past, Present and future Effectiveness of Arab Military Effectiveness (Oxford; Oxford University Press, 2019) 72.

[12] In Korea I watched Korean officers hit their soldiers so hard they fell to the ground, with the soldiers quickly regaining their position of attention as if nothing had happened. In Egypt I observed officers slapping their soldiers. I participated in an Al Jazeera program called Into the Hands of Soldiers “which detailed the execrable treatment of Egyptian army recruits. See  presented 27 Nov 2016.


[13] One American Advisor with the 25th Division of Army of Vietnam Republic (ARVN) told me that when he remonstrated to his ARVN patrol leader that allowing his men to put up hammocks for the night and putting out no security was foolhardy, the ARVN lieutenant replied they had been fighting for 25 years and they were tired. Asian fatalism is hard to grasp for a Westerner. British Journalist Richard West wrote in 1967, “when you listen to briefs given by Americans, Koreans, or Australians, then listen to the Vietnamese, you are struck by the supreme indifference.  The outsiders are eager and energetic. The Vietnamese do not care very much anymore.”  Max Hastings, Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 (New York; Harper-Collins, 2018), 432.

[14] The most informative book on this is Catherine Merridale. Ivan’s War: Life and Death in the Red Army 1939-1945 (New York; Picador,2006.)299-371. Also good for background. Vasil Grossman. A Writer at War: A Soviet Journalist with the Red Army 1941-1945and Alexander Werth. Russia at War 1941-1945 (New York; Avon 1964)

[15] Here one must differentiate between a traditional disciplined and well-trained army (ex the WWII Wehrmacht) and the savage warriors (ex.  Chechens).  This has nothing to do with innate intelligence or individual courage.

Because of the more recent concentration on “approved terminology and usage” of the English language I felt necessary to clarify my remarks on middle Eastern military incompetence. This obvious Middle Eastern military incompetence is seen as “military orientalism” by Patrick Porter, Military Orientalism: Eastern War Through Western Eyes New York: Oxford University Press. 2013. My instruction at the Special Warfare School at Ft Bragg using Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind in instructing officers was sniffily dismissed as a bad example in this sophomoric rehash of Edward Said’s book Orientalism in a military context.221

[16] From discussions with Kurdish warlord in Suliamania in 2004. The Russians were supplying arms to the Barzani Kurds while bombing the rebels. For general information on Soviet careful playing of the Kurdish card see Oles M. Smolansky with Bettie Smolansky; The USSR and Iraq: The Soviet Quest for Influence. (Durham: Duke University Press,1991) 63-98.

[17] See Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy m. Kalinosky (Missionaries of Modernity: Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony in Afghanistan and Beyond. (London: Hurst and Co., 2016). 42-55. It seems their most egregious failure was in Ethiopia, as was the previous American effort.

[18] Raphael Patai. The Arab Mind. Revised Edition;( Long Island; Hatherleigh Press, 2007) despite some aging, and vociferous criticism by neo-Arabists, still by far the best cultural study of the Arabs in English language.

[19] Sonia Hamady. Temperament and Character of the Arabs. New York; Twayn Publishers, 1960. “Arab society is ruthless, stern and pitiless. It worships strength and has no compassion for weakness.” 38.  A demonstratable true observation exhibited again and again, but often ignored by Western policy makers.

[20] Translations of excerpted Al Wardi works ““Character of the Iraqis” translated and explained by Samah al Momen, Private collection). See also Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr Ali Al Wardi from the Ottoman Empire to King Feisal by Youssef H. Aboul -Enein. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press 2012.) In the piece by Al Momen, Wardi characterizes the Iraqis as having a split personality, going from one extreme emotion to another.


[21] There are many congruities that brevity forces omission in this paper e.g., the issue of logistics and maintenance see Alex Vershinin, “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at the Russian Army logistics and the Fait Accompli.”War on the Rocks, Nov. 23 2021 at  The Arab issues with logistics, maintenance, timeliness, illusionary rhetoric, the place of

Non -commissioned officers, and junior officers, are congruent with those of the Russian military. See Donnelly. 29-51. See also Michaels, Daniel and Matthew Luxmoore, “Trains help Drive Russia’s latest Gains in. Ukraine.” (WSJ. June15, 2022).1, 8. Russia’s reliance on train transport reveals critical gaps in its logistics. On the problems with Arab maintenance see Kenneth M Pollack, Arabs at War, 565-568; 574-575. Often Arab officers see maintenance as below their station and eschew it.  As Hamady wrote, “the Arab is utterly contemptuous of manual labor, be it in the farm, in the factory, or in other contexts.”147. In the military officers refuse to get their hands dirty. The problem with Russian officer is not an adverse attitude toward work but a lack of a hands-on attitude. See also Kenneth M Pollack, Empires of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness. (Oxford: Oxford University Press ,2019). 37. Pollack makes point that poor officer-soldier relationship s did not seem to affect military effectiveness. Probably true in that the Arab soldiers expect very little and usually get less.

[22] Isaiah Berlin The Soviet Mind: Russian Culture under Communism (Washington DC: Brooking Institution Press,2011) 90. See also Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis. National Identity in Russian Culture. “The emergence of a national consciousness in Russia was thus both a result of and reaction against Western influence.”56.

[23] Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Eastern Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002)6.

[24] See Ian Buruma. And Avishai Margault. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies. (London: Penguin,2005). “The Occident……is seen as a threat not because it offers an alternative system of values, let alone a different route to Utopia. It is a threat because it promises materiel comfort, individual freedom and the dignity of unexceptional lives deflate all utopian pretensions.”72.

[25] It was the usual Russian split personality on the British – admiration and extreme distaste at the same time.

[26] Anthony Cross, “Them; Russians on Foreigners,” in National Identity in Russian Culture Ed. Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 85.


[27] The leader of the Russian Orthodox church, Patriarch Kirill,  “….. proclaimed the war in Ukraine a metaphysical conflict between the faithful of God and a decadent West. Alan Cullison, “Invasion Widens Rifts among Christian Groups.” WSJ, Aug.1 2022.A7.

[28]  “…..for Soviet civilization is in  some respects  closer than Western Culture to the feelings and spirations of the intelligentsia in backward counties…… Walter Laqueur. The Soviet Union and The Middle East (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul,1959 .292.  With the rise of The ISIS and its popularity among many in the Islamic world should indicate that the totalitarian aspects of Islam (political Islam/Islamism) have certain aspects in consonance with those of Communism.  The inability of scholars to confront this issue head-on, or rather the fear of doing so, has retarded the capability of Western nations to deal with it. See Hannah Arendt. Totalitarianism. Part Three of the Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harvest Books, 1951.) No doubt, the fact that totalitarian government ……rests on mass support is very disquieting. It is therefore hardly surprising that scholars as well as statesmen often refuse to recognize it.” v.

[29] Islam is more than a religion. It is a way of life. As Hitti makes clear the dogmas of Islam remain untouched by modernism. Phillip Hitti. Islam: A Way of Life (Chicago: Henry Regnery,1970).

[30] DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars.” The removal Of Al Shazli after the 1973 war by Sadat was only one of an abundant number of military shakeups especially in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The generals were never confident of their future and were quite justified in that feeling. See Kevin Woods, The Mother of All Battles. (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008) Saddam constantly complained about his general’s lack of initiative, never quite understanding that their fear of a mistake and Saddam’s wrath was a large part of the problem. 267-268.

[31] See Masha Gessen.  The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin (New York; Riverhead Books,2013) 153-54. See also Angus Roxburgh. The Strongman and the Struggle for Russia. (London Tauras,2013) 245 and 338.The Iraqi generals’ travails are well documented in Kevin Woods, et al. Saddam’s Generals: Perspectives of the Iran-Iraq War. Alexandria Virginia, 2011.  Also see Pasach Malovany. Wars of Modern Babylon (Lexington Ky: University of Kentucky Press, 2017).647-8; See also Lester Grau and Charles Bartles. The Russian Way of War (Ft Leavenworth, Ks: FMSO, 2016), “Russia’s Soviet Legacy made – piped intelligence and security agencies the norm, as the Soviets were leery of investing all military power in a single ministry or organization, primarily due to fear of coup.” 25.

[32]Roberts. On 1 June 1946 arraigned before Higher Military Council chaired by Stalin.   He was dismissed due to his “egotism and disrespect for peers.:” He exiled to the outer provinces. Stalin executed some 30,000 military personnel and 81 of the 103 generals.  Best information on this is Robert Conquest The Great Terror: a Reassessment (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2008) The similarities between the Saddam and Stalin regimes are eerie.  See Kanan Mikiya Republic of Fear Los Angeles: University of California Press,1989.  Both books demonstrate the proclivity of the Arab and Russian people (and their media) to accept or acquiesce to terror as “normal” and the West to look the other way.

[33] Lester Grau and Michael Gress (The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost. (Lawrence KS. University of Kansas Press,2002) 14. However, The Russians redeemed themselves with a well- planned and well executed withdrawal juxtaposed to the American exit debacle. See also Lester Grau. “The Soviet-Afghan War “in Barry Rubin ed.  Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (London: Routledge,2009).187

[34] Ali Al Momen translated extracts from his monograph the” Character of the Iraqis”. Baghdad Iraq, 2003.  Private email. See also Cdr. Youssef H. Aboul-Enein (USN). Iraq in Turmoil: Historical Perspectives of Dr. Ali Al Wardi, From the Ottoman Empire to King Feisal. (Annapolis Md Naval Institute Press, 2012.)

[35] DeAtkine, “Why Arabs Lose Wars Twenty Years Later.”

[36] I interviewed a number of Egyptian junior officers who attended courses in the US and the refrain I often heard was that their expertise, upon returning to Egypt, was always ignored by their senior officers,

[37] Donnelly, 37-8.

[38]   A good definition according to John Walter Jandora.  Militarism in Arab Society.   London: Greenwood Press, 1997, Militarism “entails Predominance of the military in governmental affairs, glorification of the military class, and a policy of aggressive military preparedness plus glorification of past military achievements and martial feats in literature, art, song, official propaganda and other media.” XVI. The effects are examined in Dalia Said Mostafa. The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture (London: Palgrave, 2017. As she wrote, “The main motivations for writing this book is the fact that the army is regarded so highly and is held in such a revered status that its impact on culture goes unchallenged by critics and academics.”9.  Russian militaristic society is explained by Donnelly, Red Banner, 91,106,173-5 The Russian version is however much more martial than the more bureaucratic Arab version which is largely theatrical in nature and more for propagandistic value. Arab militarism is more bureaucratic… best described as civilians in uniform.

[39] Peculiarities of Russian Warfare (German Series Report) Department of the Army Historical Series (Washington DC: Military Bookshop, 2010 (originally published in 1949.   Pamphlet N0. 20-230 (Washington DC: Dept of Army: 1950. In judging the basic qualities of the Russian soldier, it should be noted that “he fights only in rare instances for political ideas, but always for the fatherland.” 5. The key to his odd behavior (fanatic bravery but given to sudden flights of panic) is that …as a soldier “…. possesses neither the judgment nor the ability to think independently. “As a soldier, …  “He is primitive and unassuming, innately brave, but morosely passive in a group.” But, in a unanimous opinion of the German generals, the Russian soldier has fighting qualities “superior to the self-confident and more demanding soldiers of other armies.” 3. As with the Middle Easterners the Russian soldier lives close to the ground and expects very little from his superiors. With the possible exception of the Jordanian army. Arab officers are indifferent to the needs or cares of their soldiers.

[40] There has been some criticism of the rather abrasive criticism of the Russian soldier, justifiably so, but the basic truths have been borne out in the Georgian war and in Afghanistan and Chechnya as depicted later in this paper. See Andrei Martyanov (Losing Military Supremacy.: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning. Atlanta Ga.: Clarity Press, 2018. He makes the point which must be considered that the German generals, penned up in America but in nice surroundings, wrote what the Americans wanted to hear. He excoriates what he sees as American unwarranted military hubris.

[41]  In 2014 After a period of hybrid warfare, i.e., non kinetic means were employed, the Russians in the Donbas region of Ukraine resorted to WWII tactics fighting a war “that was looking more like a conventional (even if undeclared), war in which both sides fielded mixes of regular forces and militia in sporadic but brutal combat. “Mark Galeotti.Armies of Russia’s War in Ukraine (Oxford: Osprey Publishing,2019) 17.

[42] “The vaunted” description was derived from the successes of the Russian forces in squashing various revolts in central Asia and the Caucasus.   Closer examination reveals that it was always done by use of kinetic force.

In this section I have relied principally on Lester Grau. The Bear Went over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan (London: Frank Cass, 2003).  The Russian General Staff; The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost.  Ed. and translated by Lester Grau and Michael Gress (Lawrence KS: University of Kansas,2002.   Rodric Braithwaite. Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 (Oxford: Oxford University Press,2011; Mark Galeotti. Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War (London: Frank Cass, 2001.). Artemy Kalinovsky “The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counterinsurgency and Nation Building in Afghanistan. “at; William Derleth,” Can the Red Army fight a Counterinsurgency?”  Armed Forces& Society, Vol 15. No. I (Fall 1988) pp. 33-54. Olga Olikar “The Soviet Advisory Mission in the 1980’s. Senior Leadership and Reporting Channels.” Chapter from Building Afghanistan’s Security Forces in Wartime.  Rand Corporation, at https://WWW.JSTOR.ORG.STABLE/10.7249/mg107a. Svetlana Alexievich. Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (New York:  W.W. Norton, 1992). Vladislav Tamarov A Russian Soldiers Story (Berkely: The Speed Press,2001; Vladislav Zubok.  A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill N.C.: University of North Carolina, 2007). 259-264   Give excellent concise introduction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; Dmitri Trenin. What is Russia up to in the Middle East (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018) 53-82. Provides a short concise summary of Russian intervention in the Middle East. Serge Alexander Zenkovsky. Pam-Turkism and Islam in Russia (Cambridge.: Harvard University Press,1960) provides good summary of how communism and Islam meshed in Central Asia.276-279; Mark Urban. War in Afghanistan (New York: St Martin’s Press, 1988.) Urban asked the question in 1988. With the Russian exit from Afghanistan and Americans enjoying a bit of schadenfreude at the expense of the Russians what comes after the Russians? No doubt the Russians had enormous delight at the American debacle in exiting Kabul in 2021.  Urban also cautioned against the Western journalists’ acceptance of stories of doubtful credence coming from the Afghans. A lesson we might take to heart in the on-going war in the Ukraine.  After 229 pages Anthony Cordesman and Abraham Wagner’s book, The Lessons of Modern War: vol. III The Afghan and Falklands Conflicts (Boulder: Westview Press, 1990) concludes that the important lesson learned was the “War should never have been fought.”

[43] The Vietnam library on this subject is voluminous. Perhaps one of the best is Cincinnatus. Self-Destruction (New York: W.W. Norton,1981. The author, obviously well tied into the military bureaucracy and keen-eyed observer of the near-disintegration of the army-an army I served in and also observed.  He particularly surfaces the dramatic after-effects of the war of the officer corp.  Also see Shelby Stanton. The Rise and Fall of an American Army. (New York: Dell Publishing,1985). Stanton carefully chronicles the falsification of reports, corruption, and dramatic lowering of standards for conscripts with a few weeks training being sent to the jungles of Vietnam. It became a war of the poor and uneducated.  For reasons I surfaced in “The Arab as Insurgent and Counterinsurgent” Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (London: Routledge, 2009) middle eastern insurgencies are the most difficult to fight.  Fighting   an insurgency fueled by political Islam is a major separate issue. Islam is not mentioned in FM 3-24; rather it is addressed rather as “religious extremism.” A bad mistake as I surfaced in “Muhammad Taught us to Fight.” At .

[44] Paul Seabury and Angelo Codevilla, War: Ends and Means (New York: Basic Books,1989) 177.

[45] As spelled out in US Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual FM 3-24 (Old Saybrook CT.: Konecky and Konecky: No Date) . This field Manual largely drawn from David Galula (Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (London: Praeger,1964. “At its core, COIN is a struggle for the population’s support.”  40.  It is a bit strange that the manual has very few references to any lessons learned from the Russian experience in Afghanistan.  The excellent response to this well written Field Manual is found in Gian Gentile’s Wrong Turn: America’s Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency New York: The New Press,2013.” The narrative of counterinsurgency practiced by the US military proves to be a story of failure and redemption.” When asked by a senior commander what I thought of the FM 3-24 I replied that while it was helpful and useful for senior commanders, it has little usefulness at the level that the war is being fought, i.e., platoon and company level…. too academic and complicated.

[46] General Alexi Yermolov, the commander of Russian troops against the Basmachi rebels wrote that in order to turn the Chechens out of their villagers to pacify the region used scorched earth tactics to including as I he put it, using only an “example of terror can induce them to do so.” Ariel Cohen. Russia’s Counterinsurgency in North Caucasus: Performance and Consequences (Carlisle. Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2014.) 7.

[47] See Anne Applebaum. Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine. (New York: Anchor Books, 2018. As shown by Applebaum the Stalinist Holodomor (hunger extermination) was part of a planned policy to destroy Ukrainian resistance to collectivization. Xxxvii-xxxii.

[48] Lester Grau. The Bear Went over the Mountain Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan (London: Frank Cass,2003) .201.

[49] According to Dmitri Trenin, over three decades the Russians sent 80,000 advisors to the Middle East and trained 55000 Arab officers in the USSR. 21. That does not include the many thousands of Russian advisors in Afghanistan or the   many thousands of Afghan officers trained in the USSR

[50] The Arab application of counterinsurgency closely follows that of the Russian patterns as one can observe in Syria, Iraq and Egypt. The one major tenet is simply to simply to destroy the insurgents will to resist as the Iraqis attempted in their Anfal campaign against the Kurds, the Assad forces against the rebel organizations, and the Egyptians in the campaign in the Sinai against the Wilayet Sinai.  Any attempts to use more humanitarian efforts were quickly set aside as useless.

[51] Best defined as waging war in untraditional methods using all means of defeating your enemy e.g., psychological, economic and disinformation as well as kinetic.

[52] For instance, Leo Tolstoy’s description of a raid on a Chechen village in Hadji Murat.  Terror in Russian literature is a sanctifying grace, it entitles the victim to a special place. They have become inured to it and also perhaps benumbed. See George Gibian,” Terror in Russian Culture and Literary Imagination.” Human Rights Quarterly, Vol.5 No. 2 (May 1983)

[53]  Joseph Conrad wrote expressively of Russian cruelty in Poland based on personal experience, which he described as an “barbaric Asiatic   despotism.” The more recent history of the destruction of Grozny -twice -destruction of Aleppo, and now cities in Ukraine are not collateral damage but a point made to Russian enemies i.e., Insurgents facing the Russians cannot use a tactic frequently used by insurgents against western forces—they cannot use noncombatants as shields.

[54] Terror was a mainstay of the Early Islamic conquests and has been emulated and modernized in the writings of Pakistani General S.K Malik and his famous book, The Quranic Concept of War.  The book was heartly recommended by general Zia al W Haq. Malik makes the point that the Quran advocates the use of terror to as a psychological weapon.  “To Instill terror in the heart of the enemy, it is essential…to dislocate his faith. An invincible faith is immune to terror. A weak faith offers inroads to terror.” Excerpt from the Malik book quoted in Laurent Murawiec. The Mind of Jihad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.) 323. The Malik book is mysteriously difficult to find. Perhaps is does not fit in to the approved version of Islam currently being taught. See Norvell DeAtkine, “Mohammed Taught US to Fight” at

[55] Vladislav Tamarov. Afghanistan: A Soldier’s Story.98

[56] Braithwaite,182.

[57] Ibid.169.189

[58]  Privates got their pay in checks, military script. It was similar to what we in the US military used in Korea as currency. The Soviet General Staff, The Soviet-Afghan War. 293.

[59] Braithwaite. 189.  In all fairness, it should be recalled that the US army in Vietnam had a major corruption problem, The highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the army was involved in a massive case of corruption which reached from Vietnam to the United States and American troops in Germany.  See A particular facet of insurgency wars is the massive support infrastructure required maintain soldier morale, and the attendant nation building lends itself to corruption and waste.  It was true for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. The waste in Iraq and Afghanistan was phenomenal.  See Hard Lessons: The Iraq Reconstruction Experience WDC: Government Printing Office, no date). The report downplays corruption but from many sources, including my own observations, any funds proffered to the Iraqi contractors was siphoned off to their pockets.

[60] The Russian General Staff. The Soviet-Afghan War. “Many recruits developed a narcotics habit in Afghanistan. They financed their habit by selling equipment, ammunition and weapons.”313. The quartermasters of military units stationed throughout the country secretly sold the shopkeepers Army foodstuffs in able to buy goods from the Afghans they were unable to buy in Russia, such as fur jackets and digital devices. A person could buy a second-hand car by selling one jacket in Russia. Drunkenness was universal among officers and enlisted men, despite regulations forbidding it. The supposedly devout Muslim Afghans would trade three fur jackets for a crate of vodka. As related by Braithwaite this was rarely punished because the senior officers and officials were on the take.


[61] The Russian troops despised the locals as well.” I hated the locals with their baskets of melons or just standing by their doors. What had they been doing the night before? They killed a young officer I knew from the hospital and carved up two tents full of soldiers and poisoned the water supply.” Alexeivich 23.

[62] Tamarov 98.  In another passage he relates this; “Until then I had seen Mujahadeen only far away…. But that day – a live one, real with trembling arms raised above his head. According to the rules of war I should have taken him prisoner. But there were no rules in this war.  But I had no choice – there were only three of us and we didn’t know how many of them were left. To this day I remember the fear in his eyes: It was so strong, that it was hard for me to take aim. All I could do was close my eyes and pull the trigger.” 126.

[63] Alexievich 50.

[64]   A very succinct summation of the Russian problems are found in Major  James T. Mc Ghee article, “The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan” at   The best on this subject are the works of Lester Grau. The Bear Went over the Mountain, Lester Grau and Michael Grau The Soviet Afghan War.  

[65] Primarily I used the following as references for this section.: Timothy Thomas.” Russian Tactical Lessons Learned Fighting Chechen Separatists.”  Slavic Military Studies (vol18, 2005 issue 4) 731-766. at // ; https: Mark Galiotti. Russia’s Wars in Chechnya  Mark Galiotti. Russia’s Wars in Chechnya 1994-2009. Oxford: Osprey Press, 2014.:  Elie  Cohen: Russia’s counterinsurgency in. North Caucasus; Olga Oliker. “Russia’s Chechen Wars 1994-2000. Lessons from Urban Combat.” Rand Corporation, 2001 at ; Lester Grau   Russian “Lessons learned from the Battles for Grozny” at  ; Kramer, Mark. “The Perils of Counterinsurgency: Russia’s War in Chechnya.” International Security, vol. 29, no. 3, 2004, pp. 5–63. JSTOR,; Arkady Babchenko. One Soldier’s War (New York: Grove Press.2007; Major Raymond Finch III. “Why the Russians Failed in Chechnya. ” FMSO, CALL.  Ft Leavenworth: KS at   Defense Minister Grachev was of the opinion that the war “would be a bloodless blitzkrieg.” The Russian security council considered Dudayev, ( the Chechen president)

And his army as A criminal, disorganized gang of rebels who would be intimidated by the first sign of a tank,

[66] Ariel Cohen.  “The first Chechen war was a spectacularly demoralizing defeat for the Russian Political leadership and the Russian military, which itself was undergoing an identity crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The strategy included an overwhelming use of air power to destroy cities, kill and terrorize civilians and demolish the power centers of the Chechen separatists.”4.;  G.D Bakshi. “The War in Chechnya: A military Analysis.”  Monthly Journal of the IDSA (Aug. 2000) This was one of the few that that put the wars of Afghanistan and Chechnya in the context of Islamic warfare.  Bakshi asked the question, “Had the era of the Clash of Civilizations come about?  A needed addition to the history of the Western wars in the Islamic East, avoided by Galula and the FM 3-24. The 3-24 lumped Islamism together with “religious extremism.”

[67] Lester Grau “Russian Urban Tactics: Lessons from the Battle of Grozny” Strategic Forum (No 38.(NDU) at . The follow-on assault by Russian units were poorly led, without unit cohesion and  led by armor without infantry protection. Some of tank crews were with out machine guns, or even weapons.

[68]Timothy Thomas, “The Battle of Grozny“at

[69] Angus Roxburgh. Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia. (London: IB Taurus, 2013).216-217.  Because the Chechens allowed journalists to freely roan about within their territory and the Russians refused to allow any, the reporting was probably one sided but also mostly verified. The atrocities of the Russian troops were unbelievable in scope and barbarism.  Roxburgh was of the opinion that the later massive terror attacks by the Chechens were calculated revenge acts for Russian atrocities in the first Chechen war.

[70] His biography compiled at Jihadi Bios Project at the USMA West Point Combating Terrorism Center, written by Muhammad al Ubaydi.

[71] See General Wesley Clark. Waging Modern War (New York: Public Affairs Press,2001. General Clark was a bit over aggressive against the Russians, at one time advocating bombing Russian ships supplying the Serbs.   A nervous Sec Def, Willian Cohen, later gently moved Clark away from the command.  The affair over control of an obscure airfield, Pristina, in which the Russian brigade was pushed aside was considered a great humiliation. The NATO forces arrayed against the Serbs supporting Muslims and “fascist” Croats, solidified Russian belief in the eternal animosity of the West. In WWII, Himmler’s infatuation with a Bosnia Muslim division with Croats greatly exacerbated the age-old Serbian-Muslim hatred. See (George Lepre. Himmler’s Bosnian Division: The Waffen SS Handschar Division 1943-1945. (Atglen Pa.: Schiffer Military History,1997.)  “Himmler’s efforts to ‘restore order in the ridiculous (Croatian) state’ simply added fuel to the fire of religious hatred that continues to live and breathe among the Slavs of the Balkan peninsula.”319.

[72]  There are many sources which put most of the blame on Putin and the FSB (Federal Security Service) for producing false flag operations to provide legitimacy for the second war. See David Satter. The Less You Know; The Better You Sleep.                 (London:  Yale University Press, 2016) 1-39 and 97-131. Also see Masha Gesser.  She did not believe that Putin actually engineered the Moscow Opera House massacre (2002) or the Beslan terror attack (2004) but she wrote it was the consequence of “wrong moves, unholy alliances, and   wrecked plans.”217.


[73] Generally, the Russians have within an infantry brigade size unit an organic battalion of artillery and one battalion in direct support the whereas the US army has one artillery battalion in direct support of a brigade.

[74] This was made possible by the fact that not all Chechens succumbed to the siren a call of Islamic Jihad, some maintained a belief in the Chechen nationalist ideology plus the usual trait of all tribal and clan societies to splinter if not held together by a strong charismatic leader.

[75] Galeottti.60.

[76] Ibid. 90

[77] Most of the available literature on the Georgian war is confined to strategic and operational performance of the Russians in which the analysis averred substantial improvement in the performance of the Russian army but on the ground, the problems with small unit proficiency were evident. For example, armored external protection, the reactive armor canisters, were not used. One Russian general admitted that in order to provide competent leadership for Russian formations they were forced to “handpick colonels and generals from all over Russia. “They also found that their kontraktniky (contract soldiers) were not up to par and also insufficient in numbers and therefore the Russian leadership was once gain forced to use ill-trained and motivated conscripts. See Ariel Cohen and Robert Hamilton. The Russian Military and The Georgian War: Lessons and Implications (Carlisle, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, 2011). Also see Lionel Beehner, et al. Analyzing the Russian Way of War: Evidence from the 2008 Conflict with Georgia, (West Point: The Modern War Institute, 2018). This study gave too much credit to the Russian army in terms of modernization and war fighting capabilities, making the mistake so many have made by concentration of technological improvements instead of the core of soldiery competence.

[78] The idea taught in the US marines that lower rank noncommissioned officers must be trained to make decisions in tactical situations that have strategic implications.

[79] Babchenko, 108.

[80] Ibid.76. It should be noted that Russian soldier desertions and avoidance of combat is not unique to the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The Russian army leading up to World War II and the first year were a prelude of the Russian problems they are facing now. An extraordinarily informative book on the Russian army prior to WWII  is found in Roger Reese. Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army. 1925-1941.  Lawrence KS. University of Kansas Press, 1996. “The problem of the Russian army in 1941 was a human problem. It was not a problem of enemy superiority, technology, or interference from a tyrannical leader……. What was different was that the Soviet regime, contrary to its intentions had created a reservoir of ill-will among potential conscripts through its social and economic policies….”207.

[81] In this section I relied upon Ray Cline and Yonah Alexander. Terrorism: The Soviet Connection. (New York: Crane/ Russak,1985):; Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB: and Walter Laqueur. The Age of Terrorism (Boston: Little Brown and co., Revised copy, 1977.

[82] Despite the fact that as Laqueur wrote, “In contrast to many writers on the subject, Soviet experts are perfectly aware of the fundamental difference between terrorism and guerrilla warfare.” Laqueur,272.

[83] Laurie Mylroie. The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks. (New York: Harper Collins,2001) 247.

[84]Christopher Andrew.380-382.

[85] Laqueur.275-276.

[86] Gessen. 217 and Roxburgh,59

[87] For this section I relied Tom Ripley. Operation Aleppo: Russia’s war in Syria. (Lancaster: Autotelic-Herrick Publications,2018.); Anna Borshchevskaya. Putin’s war in Syria ((London. Taurus,2022.; Dima Adamsky. Russia’s “Lessons Learned, from the Operation in Syria. : A preliminary Assessment”  Feb 2020, The George C Marshall Center at . : Russia’s Military Strategy  and  Doctrine, Eds. Glen Howard and Matthew Czekaj( Washington DC:,. Jamestown Foundation, 2019); Andrei Martyanov Losing Military Supremacy:  The Myopia of American Strategic Planning. (Atlanta Ga.: Clarity Press, 2018.Timothy Thomas, “Russian Lessons Learned in Syria: An Assessment”. MITRE Center for technology,2020.) at .; . Understanding Russia’s Intervention in Syria. Rand Corporation at Charap, Samuel, Elina Treyger, and Edward Geist,” Understanding Russia’s Intervention in Syria.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019. Dima Adamsky Moscow’s Syrian Campaign; Russian Lessons for the Art of Strategy .IFRI,July 2018 at ; Mason Clark,” Russian Lessons Learned in Syria,”   Institute for Study of War Jan. 2021  at’s%20Lessons%20Learned%20in%20Syria_0.pdf ; A  number of Mason Clarks articles for the Institute for the Study of War in the series were very helpful.

Seth Jones. Moscow’s War in Syria. Center for Strategic and International Studies May 2022.

at;.  Theodore Karasik, and Stephen Eds. Blank, Russia in the Middle East. (WDC: Jamestown Foundation,2018.7yh


[88] See Sergey Sukhankin,  “The Russian’s State’s use of Irregular Forces and Private Military Groups: From Ivan the Terrible to the Soviet Period “ The Jamestown Foundation at  

[89]  “It was in greater precision than in the past that Moscow hit civilian targets, such as hospitals, bakeries, and gas stations where people lined up for gas…..”  Borshchevskaya, 77. On the military operational side, It took months of attacks to dislodge ISIS fighters from Syrian towns of Sukhnh and Arak using daily helicopter strikes, artillery ,and rocket barrages . It took a four-month siege to retake Dier Ez Zor.  While there was little concern for the Syrian civilians unlucky enough to be in towns occupied by the ISIS, the Russian servicemen in Syria had good duty in Syria, with accelerated promotion, prefabricated barracks, mess halls, and medical facilities flown in from Russia. Ripley,87. This was not repeated in the first campaign against the Ukraine as once again conscripts, ostensibly against Russian law, were deployed against the Ukrainians.  The life of these soldiers was reminiscent of their life in Afghanistan and Chechnya. See Timofei Kozhansky, “Why Russian Troops are Refusing to Fight in Ukraine, 20 July 2022. At  There are hundreds of similar reports, which must be taken with a large grain of salt, but there can be little doubt  that the core of the Russian military  rotted by years of  involvement in the Middle Eastern  social and military environment has eaten away the “ Soul” of the Russian soldier, formerly the one attribute which allowed the Russians to defeat better trained and equipped professional armies.

[90] I used my own experience plus the following sources:  Artemy Kalinosky. “The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-insurgency and nation- building in Afghanistan. “Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.   Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez. The Soviet-Israeli War 1967-1973. Antonio Giustozzi and Artemy Kalinovsky. Missionaries of Modernity: Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony from the 1940’s to Afghanistan (London: Hurst,2016)

[91] See Giustozzi, 31-71. see also Norvell DeAtkine “The Art of Foreign Influence: The Russian Military Advisor.” In Lima Charlie News,

[92]  As a result of the Russian paranoia on security little information is available on the life and experiences of the Russian advisory missions in the Middle East or elsewhere.

[93]  See Brathwaite,146-147. As with most Middle Eastern armies, disunity rather than unity was a debilitating issue with the Russian military in Afghanistan. It was evidently the way the advisory mission in Afghanistan was organized. “Each advisor team, both for security ministries and other ministries and organizations had its own chain of command leading back to Moscow.” Nor was the overall advisory mission adequately tied into the combat command of the 40th Army in Afghanistan.  As the inability of the Afghan army to defeat the Mujahideen became clear, the advisors took over the decision-making and true to the experience of all advisors in the Middle Eastern regions, the local army commanders were content to let then advisors take charge, avoiding blame should an operation go awry. Moreover, the military advisors were drawn into intra Afghanistan political rivalries and conflicts, with most Russian advisors looking favorably on the Khalq faction of the Afghanistan Communist party. This led to intra-Russian friction among the various parts of the Russian government, i.e., the party apparatus, the Intelligence and security apparatus and the military with taking sides in the internal Afghan governing rivalries; See Artemy Kalinosky, A Long Goodbye (London: Harvard University Press,2011) 31-37. “In fighting and lack of coordination among advisers and other Soviet officials had numerous practical consequences that undermined the Soviet Mission. In a number of cases,” liberation” of villages and successful efforts to win over rebels floundered when some Soviet officials refused to cooperate.”35.

[94]   Giustozzi ,33. See Pierre Razoux. The Iran-Iraq War (London: Harvard University Press, 2016) 15, 84-85,240-241.

[95] Razoux, 85

[96] This syndrome is best described as the “Chatham House effect” described by Elie Kedourie as,” The belief then that there is a tight connection between the study of policy and the making of it, the assumption of the unity of theory and practice……”  Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version and Other Middle -Eastern Studies (London: University Press of New England, 1984) .353.An example of this is the delay of General Wavell’s army entering Baghdad to stop the destruction of the Jewish community (the “farhud”)  because he was worried about the effect on the Arab world of a British (infidel) army entering a famous Arab city.

[97]  General Sebrov, commander of the 103rd Division summed it up.” The Country we had been helping in every way for ten years now lay in ruins. Everyone contributed to the destruction…but a significant part of the blame lay on us. Braithwaite. 291.

[98] “His domain included another unknown page: participation in the Egyptian conflict, which no one ever mentioned. These internationalist soldiers …found themselves completely forgotten. To prevent this injustice from happening again, officers rallied to defend the rights and interest of the Afgantsy combatants.

[99] Gentile. 140

[100] It is ironic, but not at all surprising that after the Russians departed, many Afghans preferred the Russians to Americans.  “I was told by almost every Afghan I met that things were better than under the Russians. The Russians were not so standoffish as the Americans who had no interest in Afghanistan itself, and looked like Martians with their elaborate equipment, menacing body armour and their impenetrable Ray -Bans.”  Braithwaite, 335.The Shi’a of Iraq, whom we came -ostensibly – to save from the Sunni regime of Saddam, upon assuming power, produced our most inveterate enemy, the Iranian supported Shi’a organizations.

[101]J. Christopher Herold, in his book, Bonaparte in Egypt (London: Hamish- Hamiliton,1962) gives some of the most   vivid impressions of French soldiers entering Cairo. 136-140.This city declared the paymaster, does not deserve its great reputation. It is filthy, badly built, and populated by horrible dogs. Major Detroye, waxed eloquently in describing Cairo as having narrow unpaved dirty streets, dark house like dungeons, shops that look like stables, and atmosphere redolent of dust and garbage, blind men, half-blind men, bearded men, people dressed in Rags…..”136. While his men were being butchered by Egyptians in the Delta, Napoleon was writing Paris that, “all goes perfectly well here., The country is getting used to us.” Herold adds, “To be a conqueror requires unusual optimism and an outsized pair of blinkers.” 141.

[102] Relating the consequence of Sir Anthony Eden’s purported deception initiating the Suez expedition in 1956, Keith Kyle wrote,” A.J.P. Taylor supplied the right verdict when he wrote nine years later, ‘the moral for British governments to is clear, like most respectable people they make poor criminals and had better stick to respectability.’” Suez: Britain’s End of the Empire in the Middle East(London: I.B. Tauris,2011,) 585.

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Libya. The Fake Nation

I have been reading an excellent book detailing the fratricide going on for years in  Libya , The Burning Shores, lauded by many movers and shakers in the Washington Middle East policy and scholarly establishment. I certainly appreciate the courage of Wehrey in moving around in a society and country where it is difficult- if not impossible -to sort out friend from foe, and even if you do, tomorrow may find the friend has become an enemy. It reminded me of my glory days in Jordan dodging Palestinian terrorists/freedom fighters  and trying to figure out the good ones, the PLO from the bad ones, the PFLP. The PLO thugs just gave one a hard time while the PFTP or PDFLP would happily kill you.. So Wehrey deserves the accolades.  The author, Frederic Wehrey, like me, a former Army  Middle East Foreign Area Officer,( in my day called Foreign Area Specialist) seemed think that, unlike many Arab countries, rent apart by sectarianism and religion, that there was no reason why Libya, with a mostly Arab and Sunni Muslim population- at least in terms of their  society and history–  could not unify under the banner of a nationalist Libya. Well many would dispute that. Certainly I do.

theLibyan map according to Herodotus

I never got to Libya– one of the few Middle Eastern  counties I did not get to. I was on my way there in 68 flying  from Italy and on a stopover in Malta the US defense attache there told me that he received a message from the American ambassador  in Libya that as an American military officer I was not welcome. One of the reasons that I have always had misgivings about  the attitude of the argyle socks people who inhabit the state department. It was wearing not like I was wearing my jungle fatigues with bandoleers of ammo. Something similar occurs in Wehrey’s book. So not everything has changed. One of the reasons we had people killed in Libya was the reluctance of the State Department gurus to get more protection for the American officials in Libya.I know about this issue very well in that my predecessor in Jordan, the military attache, Bob Perry, was murdered in his home by Palestinian thugs.

In Dirk Vanderwalle’s book, A History of Modern Libya,he makes it clear that the three old Ottoman provides of Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fazzan were distinct social entities.  And for  very good reasons.From my friends, and especially the Italians that I taught at the Special Warfare Center, who had experience in Libya, the cultural and even linguistic differences are still there. The people of Cyrenaica, especially the urbanites, speak a more Egyptianized Arabic while those of Tripolitania speak a more North African dialect of Arabic.  The Senussi Islam, of Cyrenaica, despite the eradication efforts of Qaddafi still has  important vestiges in the Western part of Libya  In fact the ruler of Libya, installed by the Western powers, after WWII, King Idriss, never wanted to rule this thing called Libya. He made it clear he was the ruler of  the tribes in Cyrenaica and wanted no part of Tripolitania.

The Italians still have some lingering attachments to Libya. At one time there were over 100,000 Italian Settlers in Libya. They were small farmers, poor people, hoping to turn the desert into farmlands. Although their efforts are  mostly denigrated within  the “imperialism” virtue signaling of most middle Eastern writers today, flying over the coast of Libya,  one can still see the outlines of the small farms along the Libyan shore, now being swallowed by encroaching desertification.  They worked hard to make the desert into farmland. It reverted to desert with their departure.

No doubt about it the Italian conquest of Libya was a brutal affair, even by the less politically correct standards of that era. There are many books about that unhappy era. However as a soldier one should take notice that the Italian counterinsurgency efforts were totally successful. They crushed the Arab rebellions, something the British, and French were never quite able to do in their colonial conquests. As Federica Saini Fasanotti, ( Vincere)  wrote, the Italians made much better counterinsurgents than conventional soldiers. One other thing I noticed in my travels around the Middle East, was that in people -to -people situations, the Italians blended in with indigenous people much better than the British or French. In war, however,  They used total war methods. Not only were the insurgents targeted, but their families, tribes, livestock, villages, their very way of life. Of course, the Italians were repaid in kind. The usual victims being the innocent  ones, the over 1000,000 small farmer settlers. Most were ousted  as the Western Allies kicked the Italians out of Libya, during  the rest of WWII, but many stayed on through the fifties.  With the advent of the Qaddafi regime, in 1969, he demanded that even the thousands of Italian dead, mostly soldiers,  be dug up and the bodies shipped back to Italy. I do not know if it was carried out.

In Vandewalle’s book, the author, who is the reputed Western expert on the regime of Qaddafi, devotes most of his book to the saga of the the Qaddafi leadership, his foibles, achievements, at times sincerity, and involvement in the worst aspects of terrorism.  Qaddafi was a blood thirsty tyrant, with initially good intentions, a devout pan -Arabist who found out to his chagrin that his fellow Arab despots, despite their rhetoric, were never interested in pan-Arabism. He kept his revolution going by revolutionizing his revolution-in the manner of Mao-Tse Tung, turning out old revolutionaries and always ushering in new forms of governance, usually creating more chaos,  while defining his thoughts in the infamous Green Book. The Green book was Qaddafi’s efforts to substitute his philosophy for the Qur’an, and most of the Western history of political ideas.

Qaddafi. Ruling a country like Libya produces wear and tear

a familiar very sight in the Arab world. The alphabet soup of terrorists, criminal gangs, pseudo revolutionaries etc.

Most was gobbledygook,  with occasional flashes of incisive  thinking. For instance he criticized democracy for the fact that that in a democratic election the 51% electorate can run roughshod over the 49%. As a member of the 49% I can identify with this, as the Democrat party essentially changes the moral , spiritual and political  direction 0f the USA  (adversely) despite the the beliefs and sentiments of the 49%.  Sometimes his statements to the press were quite wise and counter-culture , as for his belief that there was no need for a “Palestine” as the Arab world already had 21  squabbling countries

Unfortunately Qaddafi’s thoughts contained no solutions to his problems with marxism nor democracy or much of anything else. At one point he abolished the apparatus of the state, including the security system, substituting some weird form  of rule by consultation and committees.  More chaos resulted naturally.

Of course through it all, Qaddafi kept an increasingly tight hold on power, sending assassins abroad to murder rivals, conspire with murderous regimes such  as Iran, notably to bring down PAN-AM 103.  Following  President Reagan’s  muscular actions to chasten the Libyan regime, Qaddafi had a change of heart…suddenly eschewing terrorism, and making nice with the US, fighting Al Qaeda and other terror regimes, and foregoing producing  nuclear weapons.In the usual way international  alliances work,  Qaddafi became an ally in the “War on Terrorism.” His death, ( 2011), well recorded on videos, can be likened to that of another dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu. They both died like stray dogs: Qaddafi murdered by thugs, people like himself.

He s also realized he was losing his grip on the country and in a foolhardy attempt to regain popularity, the began some liberalizing of the draconian security measures of his regime. Alas and alack, he forgot a major tenant of dictatorial rule in the Middle East.  The populace does not appreciate the  unrecognized liberal measures…they simply smell weakness of the regime–much as the Iranian people today sense the tottering Iranian theocracy edifice..

But Qaddafi was a media sensation. And he reveled in the Western media breathlessly  headlining his outrageous threats, weird sayings, the female bodyguards, the tent cities he sat up at confabs in Europe, etc. I remember going to the airport in Beirut circa 1969 and the airport was inaccessible.I was told Qaddafi was at the airport and the throngs 0f people had closed the airport:  Mostly women ululating their joy at his handsome presence, complete with locks of curly black hair, Tom Cruise sunglasses, and trim military  uniform.  Yes he was a “trip”…as they say in the south.

There are more than 30 militia’s killing each other in the empire of sand and oil. Yes Libya has lots of oil…and very clean oil to refine..hence European interest.

Moving on to the Wehrey book, despite the excellent writing and content I found it wearying and a bit boring to read mid way through. It was not the book. It was the massive deja vu of the events, people described. The same old Arab story, shifting  alliances,  tribal and family and aspirations for power, outweighing all other considerations,  preening murderous thugs, some presenting themselves as the new democrats, Western diplomats trying to find nuggets of gold beneath all the Khara, the  US and European leaders  ignorance of the environment,( as well as many “experts”.) trying to put their avarice in terms of democracy and stability. Much of the same  environment I experienced in the Lebanese civil war, the Jordanian civil war, and Iraq…..And still ongoing in Syria and elsewhere. In Libya, Egypt, the UAE and Russia , Turkey supports one side…called the “rebels,” and the West supposedly supporting a  faction loosely termed the “government.” A bloody joke on the hapless Libyan people who have gone from chaos to greater chaos, which will never end until some greater power absorbs the whole mess and calls it…maybe The “Carthage Republic.?

Maybe there is a case here for enlightened imperialism. Who these days has the testicles to write that book.?



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Current American Cultural Influence: A the Major Threat to Israeli Existence: Not Palestine nor Iran

It is very ironic that Israel , was, at its beginning , seen by the American bureaucratic, military and intelligence institutions, as the major threat to American interests in the Middle East. Very few  in the top echelons of the US government viewed the establishment of Israel as a favorable event. Most saw it as a threat to American interests, particularly access to oil, and strategic positioning in the Indian Ocean, especially the Suez Canal, and others as evidence of a more pronounced Soviet threat….. in that the Israeli leadership was socialist in composition, and many were from the Soviet controlled  eastern Europe. Truman in his memoirs was caustic  in his criticism of the State Department in its repeated warnings of disaster should the United States recognize and support the fledgling state of Israel. He wrote; “…I wanted to make plain that the President of the United States, and not the the second or third echelon in the State Department, is responsible for making foreign policy.. …I was told that to some of the career men of the State Department this announcement ( Truman’s recognition of the State of Israel ) came as a surprise, It should not have been if these men had faithfully supported my policy. ( Memoirs of Harry S. Truman Vol 11.

The military was equally adamant in opposition to the recognition of Israel. Secretary of Defense James Forrestal wrote,: “America has lost very greatly in prestige in the Arab world by our attitude on Palestine. The British say that they cannot do all they would like for the Arabs because of the pressure we were able to exert in connection with the British loan.” The Forestal Diaries .In fact, with the exception of Winston Churchill, most of the elite establishment in Great Britain were close to being pathologically opposed to zionist aims in Palestine. A generous dose of anti-semitism which has always been present in the elite British establishment was also a critical factor.  Many of the British Middle East  scholarly gurus, Elizabeth Monroe, Freya Stark, ( not TE Lawrence), and the giant of  British academia , Arnold Toynbee wrote about the calamities in the future of an Israel in the Middle East.  As a matter of fact within American Middle East academia, this anti-Israeli  still exists, albeit in  somewhat  muted forms. Many years of attending various Middle East academic conferences, and as much reading as my increasingly short attention span allows, has convinced me of that.

All of the above is a preface to the central idea  of this blog:  Because of the long military, political, and moral ties between Israel and America, the  cultural abyss into which the American society is falling into will severely impact the future ability of Israel to defend itself  against self-destructing from within.   The so called “woke culture” an amalgamation of  vague marxist, nihilistic, superficially humanitarian ideas, advocating centralized control by the elite (themselves of course. ). It metastasizes  in a polarized society ( see Gertrude Himmelfarb On Looking into the Abyss, and One Nation: Two Cultures)  and tolerated by timid aging politicians, ambitious bureaucrats, and the opportunistic agitators of various ethnic groups hoping to link their political futures  to it.  A  marxist ideologically indoctrinated but poorly educated academic and educators perpetrate  the Woke poison  aided by weak political leadership fearful of crossing the mine field of  of  “political correctness;” a term which does not adequately describe the danger it poses to a free society.It s difficult to define but very simple to see the effects,; loss of family solidarity, ridicule of patriotism and religious ties, and rejection of a biblically based traditional moral code that has kept societies together for millenniums.

Among the “Wokies”…as I describe them…. are a fairly impressive percentage of American Jews, a fact lamented by the more Orthodox Jews and conservative Jews. they see the danger of this amorphous  movement to the Spartan moral fibre required for the Jewish state to survive. It is seen in the paranoid attitude of the wokies  to the election of Netanyahu as PM of Israel. The links between the American Jews, and Israel which have always been strong and was once critical in American support  for Israel  are in many cases, now detrimental. I remember my trips to Brooklyn  in the 50’s and seeing all the Buy Israeli War Bonds banners on the streets, but no more. Being on the forefront of Wokies causes,  The mostly young and self righteous American Jews like to be on the spearhead of  the woke causes e,g., transgenderism, third worldism, suppression  of  conservative dissent, antipathy to religion in general and American individuality, espousing   every trendy political fashion acclaimed by an leftist oriented  press, all of which apparently, are much more important than preservation of Judaism and the Jewish state of Israel.

A recent article in the Jerusalem Post that explains this  is at (“Israel’s New Government  and the Pauline Kael  Syndrome”)

Another  on  positive note  Gary Schiff in the JNS . “Will Maccabean Values prevail in todays Israel?” at

A third one is Alex Traiman “Historic right-wing government is the democratic is the democratic will of the voters ” at

One example of this Leftist Woke paranoia is the reaction of a number of liberal “wokfied?” Jewish American clerics/scholars  who deplore the right wing victory in the election. One can find all sorts of hysterical opinions on the end of democracy as we know it.

All the hand wringing on the part of the Jewish Left wing in the US, which is usually supported by the so called “quality press”e.g., the New York Times and Washington Post, has great influence on the left of Israel… which as in the US….   dominates the  Press and  much of what passes as erudite opinion.

Israeli needs American support in terms of military hardware and political support. No doubt about that. But the destructive influence of the Jewish voices in the woke movement in the U.S. will be a threat of immense proportions to Israeli existence. Traces of it have permeated the military leadership and intelligence of Israel already.

The United States can afford to lose wars and survive. In fact we have not” won”one since  WWII. ( with possible exception of first Iraqi war.That is arguable). As the Israelis always and truthfully say they cannot afford to lose a war such as the 67 and 73 war. The US can hopefully get past the “hate America” environment  which has polarized and balkanized the nation but for Israel this is much more problematic.

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Murder, Genocide, Wanton Destruction. Deja Vu in the Middle East

Having been vitally interested in the Middle East since my days at the Military Academy in the late fifties, I have found that my interest in this still important region flagging. It is certainly not the lack of the usual mayhem and slaughter that punctuates every  news item from the region. Rather it it is the monotonous cascade of the same procession of destruction and senseless killing that eventually wears out the patience and sense of novelty, of those who  out of amateur interest or professional employment  must observe the dreary parade of chaos and havoc.

Perhaps the most telling example of this environment and its debilitating effect on the people of the Middle East is the tumultuous celebration all over the Arab world following the victories of the Moroccan soccer team in the World Cup.  In Palestine there was talk, picked up by Western  sources, that that Palestinian insurgents, enthralled by the victory of the Moroccans would restart another intifada to drive the Jews out of Israel.

In Paris, Moroccans, in true Middle Eastern fashion ,trashed areas of the city in celebration of the Moroccan victory over Portugal, but alas they lost to the French in the next game, a victory of the colonizers over the colonized…as the Arabs would see it.

The  Arab celebrations were a vivid example of a rather sad and pathetic state of the Arab world, and indeed the entire Middle East. Looking at the map of the Arab world, there are few spots in which there is  something to cheers about. Decline of this world, continues as thousands emigrate, invade, infiltrate Europe  to avoid the horrors of their homeland…and in a number of cases bringing  the same chaos to their new homes.

Iraq is a satrap of Iran, itself eroding as a regional power under the daily assaults of revolutionaries who have grown weary of the evil associated with the venality and brutality of Islamism…. an  ideological totalitarian doctrine that has brought only despair to the world, but especially the Middle East.

The Levant, once a cradle of civilization, is in chaos. Lebanon is held hostage by Islamist corruption and intimidation, Thanks to Hezbollah.  Most who have the means have departed or live on the margins, despite some pseudo – glitter  still remaining in Beirut. Syria is a hodge -podge of constantly rebranded terror groups who simply kill one another out of habit if no other reason comes to mind. Fouad Ajami,. the greatLebanese writer has chronicled this in his books.  Syria is playground for terrorists, Iranian irredentism, and Turkish imperialism.  Jordan, seemingly stable, is still a cauldron of enmity between the West Bank Palestinians, and East bank Jordanians. The crypto -civilization of Amman is  typified by the young elite  who install their nargilas ( water pipes)in the their BMW’s

hezbollah rulers of Lebanon

When I see articles extolling the miracle of the Arab Gulf emirates, I see only artificial entities, blessed by oil but cursed by a lack of  anything else and a forbidding natural environment.  To me they seem only a glass and cement Disney World, kept together by thousands of indentured semi slaves. The Rulers of Saudi Arabia has been able to plug the leaks in the dikes, warding off the clash of westernization and modernism evolving amidst an unforgiving theocracy  but the problems  keep popping up and  it remains to be seen how long the unwieldy  pastiche of modernism and Wahhabism  will hold together.

Egypt became Arab under Nasser and Egyptian again under Sadat. This dichotomy and identity issue remains a potent divisive issue as does Islam itself. The Expulsion of most Christians from Egypt has not brought unity. There are many varieties of Islam, especially the Shi’a Sunni divide,  and it is not the monolithic religion that is often presented in scholarly works. It would seem that   actually one of the unifying factors of Islam has been its hostility to Christianity, Judaism and the many smaller religious groups. The Islamic Middle East is practically denuded of minorities, including  Sabeans, Zoroastrians, Yazidis,   and of course  Jews, with only scattered Christian communities  hanging on. With these minorities gone the Muslims  have apparently  turned  on one another, While Egypt has an authoritarian government the idea that Egypt, or any  other Middle Eastern state can institute and maintain a pluralistic democracy…. one that protects the rights of minorities….. is a delusion. In fact the question remains…. Can Islam and democracy  coexist? The “correct” academic answer is yes of course it can. Perhaps, but we do not know Because there no viable democracy has ever taken root in the Middle East. Some scholars speak of Indonesia and Malaysia as Asian  examples, but I am skeptical of both.

Turkey was often attributed as the good example, where Islam and democracy coexist in harmony. As has become obvious under Erdogan, Turkey, never a secular state to begin with, is now more than ever drawn back into the unholy alliance of Islam and state machinery existing primarily to keep the ruling elite in power. The once vaunted Turkish army, a bastion of guardianship for a semi secular state has been enfeebled by Erdogan, using the unsuccessful coup d tat a few years ago as the excuse.

African Islam has become a killing ground for hapless Christian communities, ignored by their Western “Christian” compatriots, the destruction of villages seemingly simply a coming of age initiation rite for the young of the various Islamist bands that roam unhindered about the region. Sudan rocks back and forth as the succession off revolts and coups reverberate about Khartoum.

North Africa, ostensibly a part of the Arab world,  has become the battleground of Islamist terrorism. Libya is a non state, Algeria has  never recovered from its brutal civil wars. The scars of the long wars between the nationalists and islamists persist. They were far more brutal than the Algerian war of independence from France. Morocco’s ruling dynasty has kept the state together despite several near misses by would be assassins. Morocco has the advantage of being one of the few nations of the Middle East that have historical legacy  as a  pre-colonial  country. Most of the others were creations of the West, dividing up colonial spoils.  Of course in my mind the guilt of the West is not so much the colonial era but the fact that enfeebled Western nations let go of their dominions before the native rulers were were ready for providing a decent and secure  life to their people. The Middle Eastern rulers have not absorbed any of the political aspects of a democratic republic but they have very adroitly adapted the oppressive state security measures of fascism and communism.

Hitler with Haj Hussaini

Tunisia, once regarded as the bright light in the darkness of the Middle East, has receded into a “normal” ill-ruled, dysfunctional state. The current ruler decided to latch onto the outmoded and dreary shibboleths of a sixties, anti-imperialist, anti -Israeli motif of rule.

I remember back to the days when opening the pages of a Bernard Lewis, Elizabeth Monroe, Philip Hiti, Hamilton  Gibb, Elie Kadouri, Gertrude Bell, Freya Stark    or many of the much maligned “orientalist” writers on Islam and the Middle East, would always promise  a look into a different , somewhat strange , but always an interesting adventure.  now the usual offerings on the Middle East are largely written in post-modern gibberish, far too many belaboring the Arab-Israeli insoluble problem.

A multitude of books continue to be written about the Middle East but I find it difficult to remember any particular one. We have reached a point  where  revisionists have revised the revisions to the point that it’s difficult to discover what history and or region they are talking about.

Rereading David Lamb’s journey in the Arab world( The Arabs) he wrote , “As I prepared to leave the Middle East in the summer of ,1985.  I had a disturbing realization. ” After four years of travel throughout the Arab world he realized that …”in all that time time , nothing, not a single issue has been resolved.”  Well after my nearly fifty years of study and reading everything I could get my hands on, I can say as 2022 comes to an end, nothing I was reading in 1959, analyzing the massive problems, has been resolved either.






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