The routine failure of Arabian armies


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Link here. This is a review of new book called Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness by Kenneth M. Pollack.

Essentially, Arabian armies in the past century have routinely done terribly on the battlefield, and Pollack traces that failure to the culture of Arabia rooted in Islam.

Pollack shows that the “…most important problems that Arab militaries have experienced in battle since 1945 derive from behavioral patterns associated with Arab culture….It is striking how much the Arab armies and air forces have performed in keeping with those patterns of culturally regular behavior identified by anthropologists, sociologists, cultural psychologists, and other experts on Arab society.”

Pollack, for example, observes that military politicization evinces that a “highly valued trait of Arab society is group solidarity and loyalty.” If a leader “comes to power of any kind in the Arab world, it is expected that he will bring his relatives, clansmen, tribesmen, and coreligionists/co-ethnicists in with him and give them plum positions.” This “happens across the Arab world in every organization imaginable.”

In other words, the clan rules, no matter what, from the top down. Individual skill is given low priority, and in fact superior talent and intelligence can be seen as harmful if it threatens the cohesion of the group.

The problem is that such authoritarian systems, no matter how weak and faulty, can gain power, and squelch freedom and achievement. It was this kind of thinking that brought on the Dark Ages in Europe. Though not quite the same, during the medieval era the feudal system honored group thinking far above individual creativity, and in fact saw such achievement as a threat. The result was a thousand years of decline.

Unfortunately, we in the west are increasing accepting a variation of this thinking. Like the Dark Ages, it is increasingly considered bad to stand out as a free-thinking individual. If a twitter mob attacks, you damn well better kowtow, or face personal destruction. Society will not respect your individual rights.

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34 comments

  • Tom Billings

    “Unfortunately, we in the west are increasing accepting a variation of this thinking.”

    Indeed, instead of basing the group solidarity on a clan’s genetic inheritance, the current reactionary trend against industrial society bases its solidarity on the certification someone received from academia, and on how much they, in turn, support funding for academia. It is really quite consistent. Instead of a clan hierarchy, it is an attempt to extend academic hierarchy’s influence over the political control of resources, into the rest of society. It requires the political control over society’s resources to grow.

    That has been the thrust of progressivism for the last 130 years. It is a deeply anti-industrial trend. Twitter and Facebook and all the rest are simply new weapons in the reactionary assault that has been gaining strength with each new wave of reaction, since the 1880s.

  • wayne

    Tom–
    Well stated.

  • BSJ

    I guess we’ll ignore the Trump clan currently controlling the Executive branch of the Federal government…

  • Chris Lopes

    “I guess we’ll ignore the Trump clan currently controlling the Executive branch of the Federal government…”

    Attorney General Robert Kennedy was unavailable for comment.

  • Orion314

    ” the clan rules, no matter what, from the top down. Individual skill is given low priority, and in fact superior talent and intelligence can be seen as harmful if it threatens the cohesion of the group. ”

    Sure sounds like a description of the DNC

  • Tom Billings

    “I guess we’ll ignore the Trump clan currently controlling the Executive branch of the Federal government…”

    Given the small degree of control Trump has of any academicized hierarchy in the Executive Branch, I would be surprised if he did *not* pull in for the work anyone he thought he could trust, including his “clan”. The idea, that they have succeeded in “controlling” the Executive Branch, during the time when the academicized media was continuously predicting he was about to be thrown from the WH to a Federal Prison, is risible. It is true his control is growing since Mueller failed, and will continue to grow in the Executive Branch.

    If he leaves office in 2025, having wrested control of the culture of any large portion of Executive Branch hierarchies from those whose allegiance is to the precepts they were taught in academia, then he will have done the Republic a vast service, and prolonged its effective life by decades. We can already see, in the House Committee Chairs’ maneuvering, the intent that they will deny any non-progressive possible successor the WH in 2024, to allow them to resume their onward march to full political control of society’s resources once again, …under the ever-so-benign “guidance” of academia, of course.

  • Lee S

    I find it amusing that a comment about the Arab world instantly starts a discussion about the US…. The world exists beyond your borders guys!!!

    Now this might supprise you… Because our esteemed host Bob has hijacked the term ” the left “, ( you should really use the term “far left” Bob….) ,
    But even as a member of the left… Socialist even… I am deeply worried by the rise of Islam, and the spread of a religion which, at it’s very heart, wants to spread over the whole world.
    Christianity did the same 600 years ago… Look at the crusades.. but today is today…
    I’m not saying all Muslims are fantical.. indeed 99% are not… I have Muslim friends… We just don’t discuss religion.. but an eye should be kept open for the ones who would hurt western countries for religion, and to be honest, revenge reasons.

    This post pleased me greatly!!!

  • Lee S: Note that this book assigns the failure of Arabian armies to the authoritarian nature of their culture. Note also that all leftist systems also rely on authoritarian concepts, imposing their ideas (no matter how laudable) on everyone from above.

    I note the resemblance. You, like all leftists, like to make believe it doesn’t exist.

  • Andrew_W

    This post looks to me like turning reality on its head. Historically it’s been the armies with the toughest discipline that have been the most successful, those run by people who have failed to impose authoritarian control over the troops have turned and fled.

  • Andrew_W

    Rereading maybe it’s just that Mr. Zimmerman is confusing authoritarianism with nepotism, if so it should be obvious that nepotism has been at the core of building loyalty over most of the globe for all of history and that military success today is usually determined by other more important issues.

  • commodude

    One major point missed by Mr. Zimmerman in his synopsis is the indifference or avoidance on manual labor. Labor is done by others, (serfs) and the victorious Arab rides his chariot (tank, jet aircraft, doesn’t matter) off to glorious victory.

    Others do the maintenance, others take care of the details, separating the soldiers from the equipment. Familiarity with the equipment and the ability to draw the last bit of performance out of it is one major key to victory on the modern battlefield. US soldiers break track on their own M1s, perform the calibration themselves on the targeting systems, etc. Arab militaries routinely leave those chores to others, normally hired hands who are from other countries.

  • Edward

    Andrew_W,
    You wrote: “Rereading maybe it’s just that Mr. Zimmerman is confusing authoritarianism with nepotism,

    Alternatively, you seem to be conflating discipline and authoritarianism.

    Although command comes from above, many times western officers are given latitude to act on their own in pursuit of achieving an objective that was given from above. According to the movie “A Bridge Too Far,” this was called “American Ingenuity” during WWII.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTyGHaRGBxg (1 minute)

    The difference is that innovative officers are not seen as threats to their commanders but as assets. These officers have discipline but are not constrained by an authoritarian system.

    Despite Robert writing “the clan rules, no matter what, from the top down,” this does not necessarily conflate nepotism and authoritarianism, but the clan leader may use trusted family, nepotism, in order to enforce his rule. If he does not trust a family member, then he may permanently remove him from his position of authority with an intimidating show of force, as Kim Jong-un has occasionally seemed to do.

    The commenters, here, who compare the Trump and Kennedy families as authoritarian may be the ones confusing authoritarianism and nepotism.

  • pzatchok

    Studies have been done.

    First answer this one question.
    Why did German armies of WWII lose battles? Absolute top down command. If the common German solder lost his chain of command it was by shear chance if he hooked up with another command unit to keep fighting.
    US ans British armies were educated and trained to carry on the attack and battle without an active command structure.
    The allied solders were told of their job today, the job tomorrow and the final goal. They sometimes carried on with no direct orders for days or even weeks at a time.
    The German troops held their ground as best as possible but never took the initiative to try to regain command or to link up with their allies. They did their best but they were trained to do nothing without orders.

    The same thing with the Arab armies. The solders are strong and true to their cause but untrained and under educated. Add in cultural like those mentioned and things get real bad.

    This same idea goes back even to the US civil war. Why did Southern armies lose against northern armies? All things between them being equal.
    It has been proposed that they lost many battles because of southern pride, and honor. They refused to withdraw or surrender when it was in their best interest.
    Culture. A culture that frowned dishonor.
    An army that is unwilling to fall back and regroup during a battle is an army that is easy to pin down and kill.

    As I recall the last victorious Arab army was led by a Brit. And fought another Arab army.

  • wayne

    pzatchok-
    This is an enlightening presentation–

    “What Made the Nazi Military Work?”
    Geoffrey Megargee (author Inside Hitler’s High Command)
    WW-2 History Roundtable
    March 7, 2019
    https://youtu.be/5ZMPhACNCmI
    1:43:47

    (highly recommend the points made around the 19:30 mark; referencing “command by directive,” and “vollmacht” (loosely translates to ‘full authority’).

  • wayne

    How Israel shot down 5 Russian Migs in 3 minutes
    July 30, 1970,
    https://youtu.be/AeI4crLOaV8
    6:04

  • wayne

    Chris Lopes–
    Great stuff!
    (almost spewed my coffee, through my nose!)

  • Andrew_W

    pzatchok, the NAZI war machine was very effective for the first 3 years of the war, right up until it was overwhelmed by resources in manpower and hardware that it could not match. Ditto for the American Civil war, Ditto for the Japanese expansion in Asia/Pacific.

    There aren’t many recent wars (since WW2) fought by Arab countries against non-Muslim countries. So I don’t see how there can be reasonable sweeping claims made about the effects of religion on the performance of Muslim armies in so few wars when other issues like resources, training, motivation and moral are so important in conflict.

  • commodude

    Andrew_W, it’s the culture of the Arabs, not Islam, which makes Arab armies ineffective, and there have been many recent wars between Arab and non-Arab countries. They have not ended well for the Arabs.

  • Andrew _W

    Commodude, apart from the Iraq wars I can’t think of any wars between Arabs and non-arab countries in the last 30 years.

  • commodude

    Numerous wars between Israel and numerous Arab states, Egypt vs. Libya, Lebanese civil war, the wars between Arab states and their surrogates have been never ending over the last 30 years.

  • Andrew _W

    The last war Israel fought against an Arab country was in 1973. None of the other wars you mention were between arab and non-arab countries.

  • commodude

    Andrew, you need to become more familiar with history.

    Israel fought against Arabs or their surrogates throughout the 1980s.

  • Andrew _W

    Commodude, there’s no point arguing past each other. The argument here is whether arab armies have failed due to the nature of their religion or culture, reality is that that judgement cannot be made on the basis of recent military result because the imbalance in resources has been too great or the conflicts haven’t been against non-Arabs or the adversary was fighting for their existence and were also far better trained.

  • I find amusing this debate by my readers. It appears that some of you have not even read the review I linked to, nor have some shown any interest in reading the book itself. As quoted in the review:

    Beginning with Israel’s humiliating rout in the 1967 Six Day War of numerically overwhelming Arab armies massed for Israel’s predicted destruction, Pollack repeatedly details an almost unbroken litany of Arab military disasters.

    The review lists a few examples, but makes it clear that these are only examples. From the amazon page:

    Over the course of the book, he examines the combat performance of fifteen Arab armies and air forces in virtually every Middle Eastern war, from the Jordanians and Syrians in 1948 to Hizballah in 2006 and the Iraqis and ISIS in 2014-2017.

    Rather than spout opinions which come off as ignorant, might it make more sense to read the book and then discuss it?

  • commodude

    Robert,

    The subject of the book has actually been the subject of many hours of discussion internally in the military.

    To answer Andrew’s point on training, the training is the result of their culture. Find me an Arab company where the entire unit will turn wrenches on their vehicles. Don’t waste too much time doing so, because it’s s snipe hunt. Maintenance is dirty work, and in surrounding yourself with your clan, you’re not going to want to disgrace them and hence your clan by having them do dirty work, so it’s left to “someone else”

    An American tank which is taken out will be recovered and either repaired or used for parts. An Arab tank lost on the battlefield becomes another piece of cover for infantry.

    Logistics and maintenance are the job of the underclass or hirelings, and training in simulated combat conditions is brutally hard work. Both are the lifeblood of the modern battlefield, and they are completely ignored by Arab armies.

  • wayne

    Commodude-
    very good stuff.

    Why Arabs Lose Wars
    https://youtu.be/cZk4Yu42g0I
    8:41

    “In the modern era of warfare, Arabic-speaking countries have been generally ineffective. Egyptian special forces fared poorly against Yemeni tribes and irregular forces. The Iraqi army has collapsed several times; The Iran Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and against the Islamic State. And the Arabs have done poorly in nearly all military confrontations with Israel. Many Middle Eastern states have not adapted to the modern battlefield.”

  • wayne

    Operation Thunderbolt
    (Israeli hostage rescue at Entebbe July 4, 1976)
    https://youtu.be/dQjk980kaBk
    43:56
    (this is well done

    “Israeli transport planes carried 100 commandos over 2,500 miles (4,000 km) to Uganda for the rescue operation. The operation, which took a week of planning, lasted 90 minutes. 102 hostages were rescued. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and one, the unit commander, **Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu,** was killed. All the hijackers, three hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed, and thirty Soviet-built MiG-17s and MiG-21s of Uganda’s air force were destroyed.

  • Cotour

    ” The argument here is whether arab armies have failed due to the nature of their religion or culture,”

    Are the two seperable? They may be seperable in other Western cultures, but in the Islamic / Arab culture?

    If in fact the two are one and the same, then the answer is YES, that is why they have reliably failed.

  • wayne

    text source for the video I referenced above
    “Why Arabs Lose wars”
    Norvell B. De Atkine
    Middle East Quarterly
    December 1999
    https://www.meforum.org/441/why-arabs-lose-wars

  • pzatchok

    Andrew W

    I have to find the book again. But the civil war research i was referring to broke down each battle.
    Yes the South won all the first battles but that was in part due to their culture. They attacked first and fast but in doing so they lost on average 15% more men in each battle. Every time. Commanders dies faster in the southern armies than in the northern armies. All that experience lost in the first few years of the war.

    The Germans always had better equipment than the allies. They should have won every battle at first. And they did. Until Russia was willing to spend more men than Germany ever could.
    On a battle for battle break down though it was found that when all things were equal material and man power wise the Germans lost often. Captured German solders were lost and confused about what to do since they had lost their commanders. They would surrender to lesser forces. They had no idea why they were told to hold a place or take a position.

    Iraqi solders in the first golf war were surrendering to observation drones. They lost all command structure and were lost.

  • Andrew_W

    Thanks Mr. Zimmerman, good advice, and though I’m not going to buy his book I have watched Dr. Pollack argue his case on Youtube. Dr. Pollack appears keen on attributing the widespread failings of Arabic military specifically on Arab culture, but whenever you look outside the culture of the post early 20th century you’ll find armies with similar faults. How would the performance of the armies of the First World War compare with those of today? Dr. Pollack claims that the reason Arab armies have short comings in lower ranks initiative is not a product of their adoption of Soviet era training, he claims that other countries armies trained under similar regimes performed better, pointing to Cubans in Angola and Soviet troops. But that doesn’t square with the general consensus of the Soviet militarys effectiveness in Afghanistan or first hand accounts that I know of of the Cubans effectiveness in Angola, both forces suffering heavy losses through poor low rank initiative and bad decisions by out of touch ranking officers.

    We can go further afield, how good were the Fins against the Soviets, the Argentinians against the British, the Indians against the Chinese, the Americans against the Vietnamese?

    After Vietnam American military thinkers recognized that there had been a huge failure in military training and professionalism, US troops in Vietnam (especially later in the war when there was a higher proportion of conscripts) as a result of those shortcomings were not of the same class as US troops before and since that war.

    So I do agree with pzatchok about culture and training, if you’re brought up under communism or in an autocracy you’re unlikely to have the same initiative as someone brought up in a Western democracy, if you select your troops from the young, unwilling and naive you’re likely to end up with an army of foolish children. My problem is this focus on Arab armies in particular, when the same faults are seen in most non-Western armies and in Western armies that are young, low IQ, naive conscripts.

  • pzatchok

    Actually i would not count the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as a win for them.
    Like us it was their longest war. Like us, the US. they gained little from it either.
    In the end I would say that the Soviets gained less from Afghanistan than the US has simply because their enemy did not evolve as much they did against the US. Our training, tactics and equipment has advanced far faster and better then the Soviets did in the same amount of time.
    As an example.
    We found thousands of RPG-7 rockets all over the middle east. The launchers were either untrustworthy or not to be found. So we made a better one and we are now selling it to any allied nation.
    https://airtronic-usa.com/products/airtronic-rpg-7-usa/
    One was actually seen in the Walking Dead TV show.

    As for modern Arab or Islamic armies their current state of affairs has more to do with modern need than culture. They don’t need aircraft carriers, in flight refueling aircraft or amphibious vehicles. Solder for solder I can see them doing well in terrain they have lived and trained in. Fighting through Europe or the Soviet far east not so well.
    For one they would need motivation and I can not see the reason for them going outside the Middle East. Why attack France?
    Another weakness I can see is their attitude towards women in general. How many Arab and Islamic armies allow female solders in any role? That alone cuts the size of their army back by 25 to 50 %.
    To paraphrase Machiavelli. ‘When taking over new land and peoples accept their culture and religion, the general populous will be more accepting of you.’
    I just can not see a devout Islamic army accepting Jews and Christians as equals in the new nation. And even if the military did accept it how long would the political leaders back home last against a populous that does not accept other religions as equal?
    Even in peace time the Saudi royal family is hard pressed to stay in power.
    I have had to opportunity to meet many Saudi officers. Why do they all seem related to the royal family? And is that the best way to find officers?

  • commodude

    Pzatchok,,

    Having trained with them, and having friends who helped train both the INA and ANA (Iraqi and Afghan national armies respectively), soldier for soldier, they suck.

    Their loyalty is to family and tribe, not country, and their militaries are, by and large, vast seas of cronyism. Uday and Kusay weren’t Hussein’s lieutenants because they were capable, they were where they were because they were his sons. Without a loyalty to something larger than the clan, they make terrible soldiers. Decent warriors, perhaps, but terrible soldier.

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