Why do Arabs so often lose wars against non-Arabs? Why has so much of the terrorism activity for the last few decades been carried out by Arabs? Why are Arab societies so corrupt, so uneducated and lacking in economic or scientific progress? Even raising these issues is considered un-diplomatic, provocative, racist or worse. But there is something going on.
Take, for example, a recent item going round the web. Seems that last November, seven staff of the Abu Dhabi Aircraft Technologies (ADAT) company were checking out a new Airbus 340-600. This is a four engine, $240 million aircraft. Think of it as “747 Lite.” It was being checked out before acceptance, and delivery to Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi. Through a horrendous series of errors by the people at the controls, the aircraft taxied at high speed and crashed into a barrier. The aircraft was totaled, and five people aboard were injured. There was never any official mention of the nationality of those responsible for the loss of the aircraft. Many people assume they were Arabs, although most technical jobs in the Persian Gulf are handled by non-Arab expatriates. This is still the case sixty years after the oil money began to flow. Surely that should have been sufficient time for a generation of Arab engineers, technicians and airline pilots to be trained. There have been some, but not nearly enough. Moreover, there are serious cultural problems with Arabs and technology. Many of the expatriates who have worked in the Middle East leave exasperated at the lackadaisical attitudes of the people they are trying to train, or supervise. American troops in Iraq have similar experiences when training, or just working with, Iraqis. The official PR stresses the positive experiences, but it’s the negative ones that cause all the problems. If you want to get rid of all the problems over there, you have to understand what’s going on or, more to the point, what isn’t and why not.
At lot has been written about why Arab armies so consistently lose wars with non-Arabs. These reasons also explain why Arab nations, and many other Third World nations as well, also have trouble establishing democratic governments or prosperous economies. A lot of it has to do with culture, especially culture influenced by Islam. Some of the reasons for these failures are;
Most Arab countries are a patchwork of different tribes and groups, and Arab leaders survive by playing one group off against another. Loyalty is to one’s group, not the nation. Most countries are dominated by a single group that is usually a minority (Bedouins in Jordan, Alawites in Syria, Sunnis in Iraq, Nejdis in Saudi Arabia). All of which means that officers are assigned not by merit but by loyalty and tribal affiliation.
Islamic schools favor rote memorization, especially of scripture. Most Islamic scholars are hostile to the concept of interpreting the Koran (considered the word of God as given to His prophet Mohammed). This has resulted in looking down on Western troops that will look something up that they don’t know. Arabs prefer to fake it, and pretend it’s all in their head. Improvisation and innovation is generally discouraged. Arab armies go by the book, Western armies rewrite the book and thus usually win.
There is no real NCO corps. Officers and enlisted troops are treated like two different social castes and there is no effort to bridge the gap using career NCOs. Enlisted personnel are treated harshly. Training accidents that would end the careers of US officers are commonplace in Arab armies, and nobody cares.
Officers are despised by their troops, and this does not bother the officers much it all. Many Arab officers simply cannot understand how treating the troops decently will make them better soldiers.
Paranoia prevents adequate training. Arab tyrants insist that their military units have little contact with each other, thus insuring that no general can became powerful enough to overthrow them. Units are purposely kept from working together or training on a large scale. Arab generals don’t have as broad a knowledge of their armed forces as do their Western counterparts. Promotions are based more on political reliability than combat proficiency. Arab leaders prefer to be feared, rather than respected, by their soldiers. This approach leads to poorly trained armies and low morale. A few rousing speeches about “Moslem brotherhood” before a war starts does little to repair the damage.
Arab officers often do not trust each other. While an American infantry officer can be reasonably confident that the artillery officers will conduct their bombardment on time and on target, Arab infantry officers seriously doubt that their artillery will do its job on time or on target. This is a fatal attitude in combat.
Arab military leaders consider it acceptable to lie to subordinates and allies in order to further their personal agenda. This had catastrophic consequences during all of the Arab-Israeli wars and continues to make peace difficult between Israelis and Palestinians. When called out on this behavior, Arabs will assert that they were “misunderstood.”
While American officers and NCOs are only too happy to impart their wisdom and skill to others (teaching is the ultimate expression of prestige), Arab officers try to keep any technical information and manuals secret. To Arabs, the value and prestige of an individual is based not on what he can teach, but on what he knows that no one else knows.
While American officers thrive on competition among themselves, Arab officers avoid this as the loser would be humiliated. Better for everyone to fail together than for competition to be allowed, even if it eventually benefits everyone.
Americans are taught leadership and technology; Arab officers are taught only technology. Leadership is given little attention as officers are assumed to know this by virtue of their social status as officers.
Initiative is considered a dangerous trait. So subordinates prefer to fail rather than make an independent decision. Battles are micromanaged by senior generals, who prefer to suffer defeat rather than lose control of their subordinates. Even worse, an Arab officer will not tell a US ally why he cannot make the decision (or even that he cannot make it), leaving US officers angry and frustrated because the Arabs won’t make a decision. The Arab officers simply will not admit that they do not have that authority.
Lack of initiative makes it difficult for Arab armies to maintain modern weapons. Complex modern weapons require on the spot maintenance, and that means delegating authority, information, and tools. Arab armies avoid doing this and prefer to use easier to control central repair shops. This makes the timely maintenance of weapons difficult.
Security is maniacal. Everything even vaguely military is top secret. While US Army promotion lists are routinely published, this rarely happens in Arab armies. Officers are suddenly transferred without warning to keep them from forging alliances or networks. Any team spirit among officers is discouraged.
All these traits were reinforced, from the 1950s to the 1990s, by Soviet advisors. To the Russians, anything military was secret, enlisted personnel were scum, there was no functional NCO system, and everyone was paranoid about everyone else. These were not “communist” traits, but Russian customs that had existed for centuries and were adopted by the communists to make their dictatorship more secure from rebellion. Arab dictators avidly accepted this kind of advice, but are still concerned about how rapidly the communist dictatorships all came tumbling down between 1989-91.
Such a system can produce fearsome looking armies, but not a force that can survive an encounter with well trained and led soldiers. The same techniques are applied to government and the economy, producing tyranny and backwardness that appalls Westerners, and angers the citizens of these unfortunate states. That anger has produced many reform efforts. Including such unholy horrors as al Qaeda.
Arab leaders, especially in the Persian Gulf, are generally pretty smart, and aware of what they are working with. So they hire lots of foreigners for key technical jobs. But you still have a lot of suspicious, paranoid, poorly educated and insecure people in charge. Changing all this is, understandably, difficult.
So now you know.