Western Influence on Arab Militaries: Pounding Square Pegs into Round HolesMiddle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Spring 2013) 19 parameters of unconventional warfare. Theinsurgents displayed initiative andimagination
in their tactics that were rarelydisplayed in their conventional war making.Reviewing the historical record, Arabunconventional war effectiveness in themodern era has presented a much more positive picture. Through the Arab resistanceagainst the Italians, French, and Spanish in North Africa as well as the guerrilla warfareagainst the British in Aden, Iraq, andPalestine, the Arabs demonstrated a proficiency lacking in their conventionalwarfare operations.
THE ARAB AS UNCONVENTIONALFIGHTER
As I examined what in fact made thedifference between the Arab insurgent or guerilla fighter and the conventional soldier, Isurfaced a number of factors. Among themwas that the Arab guerilla usually hadleadership sharpened by battle as well asexperience and exuded the confidence thatmotivated others to follow him--as opposed toa conventional unit commander most likely picked by the regime for political reasons.
Moreover, the Arab guerilla was apt to be withthose of his own ethnic group, clan, or tribe--once again as opposed to a conventional unitof diverse, urban/rural, tribal, or sectariandifferences. The officers almost always camefrom the dominant ethnic group, such as theeast bank Jordanians versus the Palestinians inJordan, the Sunnis in Iraq versus the
isoldiery, or the Christian Maronite officers inLebanon.The unconventional Arab soldier is fightingwithin his element with people he trusts. Inadmittedly simplistic terms, it boils down tothe concept of fire and maneuver--the idea thatan attacking soldier exposing himself toenemy fire can count on those who supporthim to provide covering fire, and that his lifehas meaning to his superiors. If there is a lack
of trust in officers and one’s fellow soldiers,
the willingness to expose oneself to attack ismissing.
My observation was that theytrusted soldiers in their own unit but not thosein neighboring units.
The stark differences between the Arabs’
capabilities in conventional andunconventional war led me to the next step.Thinking about the long history of Western presence and involvement with the militariesof the Arab world, and the fact that for themost part the Western powers tried to createan Arab military in their own image, what has been the result? More importantly, perhaps,has the Western military influence beenadverse to Arab effectiveness in war ingeneral?
CONTINUITY IN THE ARAB MILITARYCULTURE
Reading the passages from the
byWinston Churchill on the remaking of theEgyptian Army with the infusion of Britishtraining and officers reminded me of our
effort, now dwindling, to remake Saddam’s
army. As Churchill wrote, under the newarmy,
The recruits were treated with justice.Their rations were not stolen by officers. Themen were given leave to visit their villagesfrom time to time. When they were sick theywere sent hospital instead of being flogged. Inshort, the European system was substituted for the Oriental.
Exactly 100 years later, I was observing theEgyptian army, and I realized, in reality, howlittle things had changed. The officers did notsteal from their men, but they used them asindentured servants working on their farmsand cared very little for their rations, whichusually consisted of bread, some onions, alittle dried fish, beans, tea, and sugar.Watching a truck roll into the unit area withthe cargo bed piled high with bread being helddown by soldiers standing or sitting on it,gives some idea on the care that went withtheir rationing. Moreover soldiers could buysupplemental food items from a sort of unit-level Post Exchange in which very often theunit officers would retain the profits.
I didnot see soldiers flogged, but I did witnesssoldiers being slapped and pushed around.