Foreign Policy Digital

The U.S. Has Wasted Billions of Dollars on Failed Arab Armies

Military cooperation with Middle East allies can work—if Washington rethinks its premises.

The United States has spent 70 years and tens of billions of dollars training Arab militaries—with almost nothing to show for all the effort.

Time and again, America’s Arab allies have failed to live up to martial expectations. The U.S.-trained Egyptian Armed Forces performed miserably in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. If anything, they did somewhat better under Soviet tutelage in the 1973 October War. The U.S.-trained Iraqi Army collapsed when attacked by a couple thousand Islamic State zealots in 2014. The U.S.-trained Saudi military fell flat on its face when it intervened in Yemen in 2015, and it has become badly stuck there.

If the United States is going to stay involved in the Middle East, it has to rethink the way it engages with Arab militaries. Ambitious dreams of engaged, modernized militaries must be replaced with more realistic plans that build on the real strengths of allies, instead of forcing soldiers into a mold that their societies and culture have left them grossly unsuited for. Otherwise Washington will keep pouring money down the drain—and its Arab allies will keep failing.

This is not just embarrassing. For decades, U.S. military

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