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Why Arabs Lose Wars


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One thing that immediately comes to mind having read the article is that the author barely mentions Jordan in regards to most of his points, and even when Jordan is mentioned, it's almost never in regards to ability, training, or combat history. This despite the author mentioning having been on a combat operation with Jordanian forces against the PLO in 1970. I wish I knew more about this because while I believe he's left out Jordan because Jordan disproves the overall point of the article, I don't know enough to definitevely say as such. Even if Jordan does disprove the points he's making, including them would have been beneficial as it provides a contrast against the other examples he provides, thereby making the article seem less biased. I don't know, my $0.02 on the matter.

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I think a lot of people start thinking in the wrong direction when they read the title of the article.  What he's describing is not a pattern unique to the labyrinthine and inscrutable Oriental mind.  Compare the sorts of political considerations he describes to, say, Nazi Germany and you see the same patterns.  Duplication of military services because the government distrusts them?  Check.  Political loyalty, independent of competence a major factor in promotions?  Check.  Paranoid leader who tries to play underlings off each other because they're afraid they might be plotting a coup?  Check.

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I think a lot of people start thinking in the wrong direction when they read the title of the article.  What he's describing is not a pattern unique to the labyrinthine and inscrutable Oriental mind.  Compare the sorts of political considerations he describes to, say, Nazi Germany and you see the same patterns.  Duplication of military services because the government distrusts them?  Check.  Political loyalty, independent of competence a major factor in promotions?  Check.  Paranoid leader who tries to play underlings off each other because they're afraid they might be plotting a coup?  Check.

 

Yeah, that's something else that stuck out to me, his article is centered on just Arabs waging war when like you say, it can apply to other regimes and beaurocracies throughout history. On top of that, he even mentions things like countries being underestimated based on past military performance and then surprising everybody, and yet doesn't ever elaborate on that further.

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I think a lot of people start thinking in the wrong direction when they read the title of the article.  What he's describing is not a pattern unique to the labyrinthine and inscrutable Oriental mind.  Compare the sorts of political considerations he describes to, say, Nazi Germany and you see the same patterns.  Duplication of military services because the government distrusts them?  Check.  Political loyalty, independent of competence a major factor in promotions?  Check.  Paranoid leader who tries to play underlings off each other because they're afraid they might be plotting a coup?  Check.

 

Exactly. I think the heavy focus on culture in the intro text obscures a very significant trend throughout. It kind of feels like it's a sensationalized bit of orientalism tacked onto a rant to get views more than because it's not a full introduction to the author's views and arguments. It's not culture that has senior officers playing mother may I with the ministry of defense and has authority, control and vital support assets kept far higher up the force organization chart. It's unsteady regimes trying to make sure they can rein in junior officers because other than Egypt trying to use Israel as the France in an ad-hoc recreation of the Franco-Prussian War back when pan-Arabism was a viable concept, the greatest threats to the goals of regimes in the region has been from within (and that just lost Egypt its role as the leader of pan-Arab sentiment, Egypt itself survived). Devolution of the resources to the low levels needed to win is by definition devolution of those resources away from the regime's control, and it may win wars but can very well lose the country.

 

I generally like to make analogies between Middle Eastern states and Nazi Germany as a way of framing discussion to highlight certain aspects of each state, since control over the German state and various internal politics were always a very significant concern for the Nazis (see also: Dolchstoßlegende), but there's some pretty significant divergence since Nazi Germany had the benefit of being able to co-opt a working state with institutions predating it that were built for capability rather than control, unlike the Middle East being left with some warped colonial states with a really unstable socioeconomic order. Nazi Germany also differs in that its very essence was the war they were going to fight/were fighting, which rules out too much degradation in capacity.

 

Trying to make institutions designed top-down for control work as fully capable militaries is a lot less of a going prospect than it used to be, we're very firmly in the twilight of the mass army, and giving up on flexibility, bottom to top competence and the other hallmarks of a modern military just isn't going to work. Institutions and states built to impose external control on the nation and military come at a cost and it's likely to only get worse.

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Why Arabs lose wars

 

They keep picking fights with the Israelis!

 

Lack of Protestant Work Ethic.

 

Smile_trollface-3.gif

 

I think that the comparison between Nazi Germany and your Arab stereotype falls apart in that even though the Nazi regime had all the hallmarks mentioned, the individual German soldier bought into what was being sold to them and were willing to fight hard and die by the millions to accomplish that goal. Oh know we like to bash them but the individual Kraut was a damn good soldier.

 

I'm not sure if the individual Arab soldier (as a broad stereotype) buys into the goals that the leaders of their individual nation states are (were since this was 1999) peddling. If you were a Saudi, Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian, would you want to die for the House of Saud, Saddam Hussein, Anwar Sadat or the Assad regime? I wouldn't. Particularly with the fractured nature of their society with tribal and religious differences which transcend arbitrary national lines and which predate these regimes by hundreds and hundreds of years. Add to the equation the notion independence is still a relatively new concept for the Arab states, since most of them were ruled by the Ottoman Turks since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

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I think that the comparison between Nazi Germany and your Arab stereotype falls apart in that even though the Nazi regime had all the hallmarks mentioned, the individual German soldier bought into what was being sold to them and were willing to fight hard and die by the millions to accomplish that goal. Oh know we like to bash them but the individual Kraut was a damn good soldier.

 

I'm not sure if the individual Arab soldier (as a broad stereotype) buys into the goals that the leaders of their individual nation states are (were since this was 1999) peddling. If you were a Saudi, Iraqi, Egyptian, Syrian, would you want to die for the House of Saud, Saddam Hussein, Anwar Sadat or the Assad regime? I wouldn't. Particularly with the fractured nature of their society with tribal and religious differences which transcend arbitrary national lines and which predate these regimes by hundreds and hundreds of years. Add to the equation the notion independence is still a relatively new concept for the Arab states, since most of them were ruled by the Ottoman Turks since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

 

Oh hell no they don't buy into their leaders' goals. Undermotivated conscripts, and they barely manage to get what they pay for. Manpower pools reflect the nation.

 

A very very considerable amount of ink was spilled on the subject of nationalism and how to organize the states in the wake of the Ottoman Empire (which got promptly discarded and replaced by what was convenient for Europeans and followed up by efforts to keep control of those borders), and pan-Arab nationalism had a bit of support, but other than that, support is the exception and not the rule. There's usually at least four and often more groups any given person is going to fit in, and even ones who fit in the same groups will disagree pretty seriously on how important each is. Add in that there's a bunch of serious poverty and these are not particularly stable states. So there's a lot of institutional structure to maintain control because stability is the highest priority.

 

In Nazi Germany, the goal of the state is autarky and that means winning the war. The internal politics mean there's some need for control despite the fact that most everyone's on board for the war if not the regime, but a lot of the dysfunction isn't coming as much because they're an iron dictatorship but because they're an incredibly dysfunctional mess, and rather than being bulwarks against the people lower on the chart, it's for the higher ups against each other. So competent organizations with a devolution of power aren't a threat in the same way.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I do not think Arabs (or rather, Muslims, as the middle east is made up of five distinct cultural/racial groups) loose wars - I think the question is why Muslim armies often achieve suboptimal results given resource levels available to them.  The primary reason I believe is that any nation, people, or group which is forced to adhere to some rigid orthodoxy has set themselves up for failure at the hands of people who can participate in rational analysis and discourse.  Anyone can look at the German invasion of Denmark and predict the winner of that fight - but many wars in the Muslim world have been upsets that it implies there is an issue with the Muslim means of warfare in the modern era.

 

Look at it this way.  The Russian Army during WW2 when faced with crushing defeat made a stunning recovery by rolling back every bad idea that Communist orthodoxy dealt them and ruthlessly estimating their strengths and their weaknesses.  The massive turn over of leadership in the first two years of war, combined with the basic staying power of the Russian people, gave Russia time to recover and learn to fight again.  That process of learning was what saved them.  Over the next two decades Russian military might was squandered by a return to orthodoxy, until the Afghanistan war proved that Russia was only a shadow of its former self.

 

Arab armies are plagued with limited motivation of the soldiers, racism and religious intolerance reduces the creative backing of the military by removing people who think differently that the main force, and the normal means of moral building (declaring jihad or race war) locks their forces into a mindset that cannot overcome problems quickly.  There is a good reason why Turkey is now the effective Muslim majority military force, and that is religious orthodoxy was for many years kept away from the military, while Turkey benefited from extensive development in areas of military education.  

 

Successful modern armies are pragmatic, scientific, enjoy strong institutional memory, offer wide access to membership (and here, think of Germany driving away most of its nuclear scientists because they were Jewish) and are frugal in their actions.  Muslim armies are for the most part narrow minded, stuck in doctrine, have only a single means to motivate their people, are closed off from people who think differently, and live is a fantasy that prevents them from maintaining accurate institutional memory.

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The reason for the Arab categorization as far as I can tell is the Middle East/North Africa region is staggeringly hard to properly define, and it's roughly the area where the idea of pan-Arab nationalism held sway, and considering that was a big deal for a good long while and has had very serious ramifications on the region overall, it's one of the better ways to categorize a group of nations for discussion.

 

But I'd contend that at the end of the day more than Arabs or Muslims losing wars, it's post-Ottoman ex-League of Nations Mandate states losing wars, and a lot of what loses them the wars is in the state rather than in the people.

 

(Incidentally those states still got mercilessly drubbed when they very pointedly were not organized along confessional lines, but were instead aligned on an idea of a secular pan-Arab nationalist unification of the region. Back when Egypt's siren song of Arab Socialism had serious currency and they were taking aim to use Israel like Prussia used France to unify the region, they most emphatically weren't declaring jihad or a race war. And what did it get them? One brief flash of competence when they were following the obsessively rehearsed script and then a catastrophic and embarrassing collapse as a rigidly controlled, rigidly structured military continually failed to react to conditions.)

 

Turkey is distinct in that they did things on their own terms and that their country isn't designed to keep control for a powerful elite, but to be an effective modern nation that can have an actual common national identity, and it succeeds in having a common identity and making being Turkish advantageous better than the rest. That means things like devolution of power and environments that don't try to clamp down on independent thought and can actually have a decent intellectual dialog.

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The reason for the Arab categorization as far as I can tell is the Middle East/North Africa region is staggeringly hard to properly define, and it's roughly the area where the idea of pan-Arab nationalism held sway, and considering that was a big deal for a good long while and has had very serious ramifications on the region overall, it's one of the better ways to categorize a group of nations for discussion.

 

But I'd contend that at the end of the day more than Arabs or Muslims losing wars, it's post-Ottoman ex-League of Nations Mandate states losing wars, and a lot of what loses them the wars is in the state rather than in the people.

 

(Incidentally those states still got mercilessly drubbed when they very pointedly were not organized along confessional lines, but were instead aligned on an idea of a secular pan-Arab nationalist unification of the region. Back when Egypt's siren song of Arab Socialism had serious currency and they were taking aim to use Israel like Prussia used France to unify the region, they most emphatically weren't declaring jihad or a race war. And what did it get them? One brief flash of competence when they were following the obsessively rehearsed script and then a catastrophic and embarrassing collapse as a rigidly controlled, rigidly structured military continually failed to react to conditions.)

 

Turkey is distinct in that they did things on their own terms and that their country isn't designed to keep control for a powerful elite, but to be an effective modern nation that can have an actual common national identity, and it succeeds in having a common identity and making being Turkish advantageous better than the rest. That means things like devolution of power and environments that don't try to clamp down on independent thought and can actually have a decent intellectual dialog.

 

 

But here your point proves my point.  Pan-Arab socialism replaced one rigid doctrine with another and faced with one of the most pragmatic (and narrow missioned) militaries in the world it crumpled. 

 

I can point to some issues on the opposite side of the fence.  Gulf War II saw a pragmatic and mission tasked US military move rapidly with a small, sophisticated force to defeat a larger, inept Muslim-majority force.  Then they threw out mission and adopted orthodoxy in some crazy attempt to foist buzz words like democracy and capitalism on a people who were generations away from those concepts.  The Muslim forces in the "post victory" Gulf War II phase arguably outperformed expectations, and allied forces flailed away until some very smart and pragmatic people helped kick start the awakening movement.  Even then the goal of a strong democratic Iraq never happened.  

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Not really.  Consider Vietnam.  Any time the USA faced the NVA in open combat they pretty much handed the NVA their asses.  Any time the US has met an adversary in open combat they pretty much have the firepower on hand and the military expertise to fuck up whomever they are dealing with.  The willpower to use it?  Not always there...  

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I think what Belesarius means is that the US possesses a military force of the highest order - for which there probably is no equal anywhere else in the world. US troops are motivated, well-organized, experienced, and disciplined. US equipment is generally top of the line and new (there are exceptions, of course). US officers are generally very well-trained and capable of great independent thought and action. US NCOs are priceless.

However, totally external to this is the US political concern, which is a mashup of disparate forces yanking against each other as part of the game, the vast majority of whom already could be considered heirs to both the Puritan and Communist traditions.

That is to say, not the ideal setup for conquest.

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I think what Belesarius means is that the US possesses a military force of the highest order - for which there probably is no equal anywhere else in the world. US troops are motivated, well-organized, experienced, and disciplined. US equipment is generally top of the line and new (there are exceptions, of course). US officers are generally very well-trained and capable of great independent thought and action. US NCOs are priceless.

However, totally external to this is the US political concern, which is a mashup of disparate forces yanking against each other as part of the game, the vast majority of whom already could be considered heirs to both the Puritan and Communist traditions.

That is to say, not the ideal setup for conquest.

Yep. Allday#

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Not really.  Consider Vietnam.  Any time the USA faced the NVA in open combat they pretty much handed the NVA their asses.  Any time the US has met an adversary in open combat they pretty much have the firepower on hand and the military expertise to fuck up whomever they are dealing with.  The willpower to use it?  Not always there...  

 

That is a little bit of the difference between winning battles and winning wars. If the US worked with sound a sound appreciation of their goals presented honestly with a good understanding of what it would take to accomplish those goals, it'd be a lot harder to sell people on a war to make them feel good about living in a country that isn't weak.

 

In Vietnam they never managed to deal with the giant problem of fighting to preserve a regime that nobody in their right minds would support ruling over themselves. That turned it into an attrition battle of will that the US couldn't win.

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I think what Belesarius means is that the US possesses a military force of the highest order - for which there probably is no equal anywhere else in the world. US troops are motivated, well-organized, experienced, and disciplined. US equipment is generally top of the line and new (there are exceptions, of course). US officers are generally very well-trained and capable of great independent thought and action. US NCOs are priceless.

However, totally external to this is the US political concern, which is a mashup of disparate forces yanking against each other as part of the game, the vast majority of whom already could be considered heirs to both the Puritan and Communist traditions.

That is to say, not the ideal setup for conquest.

 

I know exactly what he said, because I've heard the argument a thousand times.

It's still semantic wankery of the highest order to somehow separate the military and political components of your war so that you can claim victory.

 

It's akin to the losing team blaming the coach - because, god dammit, we totally have better players! I mean, every time we run a play we score! So the fact that we spent half the game sitting with our fingers up our butts because the guy in charge of running us was schizo shouldn't count! We won, by god, even if the score had us 20 points down at the finish! Hell, I bet if we'd replaced the coach and carried on the game for another 10 minutes (five minutes even!) we would have wiped the floor with them! 

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I know exactly what he said, because I've heard the argument a thousand times.

It's still semantic wankery of the highest order to somehow separate the military and political components of your war so that you can claim victory.

 

It's akin to the losing team blaming the coach - because, god dammit, we totally have better players! I mean, every time we run a play we score! So the fact that we spent half the game sitting with our fingers up our butts because the guy in charge of running us was schizo shouldn't count! We won, by god, even if the score had us 20 points down at the finish! Hell, I bet if we'd replaced the coach and carried on the game for another 10 minutes (five minutes even!) we would have wiped the floor with them! 

 

This line of argument is obnoxious and equivocating. Identifying the weak point of American effectiveness in warfare as being political limitations is not the same thing as whining that you lost "only because".

You can post better than this.

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This line of argument is obnoxious and equivocating. Identifying the weak point of American effectiveness in warfare as being political limitations is not the same thing as whining that you lost "only because".

You can post better than this.

Perhaps you are making a more nuanced argument here, and I'm just reacting to the aforementioned 1000 times in which I get to hear the bar-room version recited above.

 

 

Generally, when America looses a conflict it is due to lack of political will to do what is necessary to win.  Not a military failure.

Yup, looks like it's me.

So now I'll try and make a more nuanced argument.

 

 

The reference to 'lack of political will', when combined with the denial of 'military failure', evokes a mindset in which 'conflicts' have separate and distinct military and political components. They do not.

 

'Conflicts' are fully and wholly political, in that they further (or fail to further) political aims. When casting an eye over the second Iraq war, it is clear that lack of political will to prosecute the war is not a problem. Instead, lack of a coherent and sustained strategic goal, as well as a clear understanding of the approach needed to reach that goal, is to blame. This is a political failure in as much as military organisations are the tools of politicians. But it is clearly a military failure in as much as politicians (as the masters of military affairs) are the drivers of strategy.

 

To somehow divorce (inherently political) strategic concerns from their function as the arbiters of successful military interventions is to create a false dichotomy whose sole purpose is to deflect and diffuse blame. That so many people buy wholeheartedly into this narrative (often for social or political reasons) is proof that there is a fundamental misunderstanding concerning the nature and prosecution of war amongst the public at large.

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Ah, I see the disconnect. I can't speak for Bele, but I was referring to separate political entities. The United States military as a political entity is fully capable of winning wars and engaging in conquest (though I should note that the US military also has its own political and ideological limitations in this regard). It is however engaged and restrained by other separate but connected political bodies that try to (and largely succeed in) influence, control, and change it. The State Department is a good example of one of the other bodies, but it's hardly the only one.

 

Does that make more sense?

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