Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
August 29, 2002
WAR: Arab Military Culture
I've lately been reading David Pryce-Jones' "The Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs." It's a deeply depressing book. This two-part article (NRO linked to it a few days ago) is chock full of anecdotes and analysis along a similar line, explaining why the culture of Arab countries is such an obstacle to effective action by complex organizations or effective use of modern technology - in this case, in the military. The whole article is worth reading; a priceless quote:
"On one occasion, an American mobile training team working with armor in Egypt at long last received the operatorsí manuals that had laboriously been translated into Arabic. The American trainers took the newly minted manuals straight to the tank park and distributed them to the tank crews. Right behind them, the company commander, a graduate of the armor school at Fort Knox and specialized courses at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds ordnance school, promptly collected the manuals from those crews. Questioned why he did this, the commander said that there was no point in giving them to the drivers because enlisted men could not read. In point of fact, he did not want enlisted men to have an independent source of knowledge. Being the only person who could explain the fire control instrumentation or bore sight artillery weapons brought prestige and attention."
And one more:
"Prior to the 1973 war, Sadat was surprised to find that within two weeks of the date he had ordered the armed forces be ready for war, his minister of war, General Muhammad Sadiq, had failed to inform his immediate staff of the order. Should a war, Sadat wondered, be kept secret from the very people expected to fight it?"
The $64 million question, of course - one that Pryce-Jones seems to answer in the negative in his book but in the affirmative in his National Review columns - is whether this culture will change when and if the Arab countries are reconstituted politically to provide for a democratic process of peaceful sharing of power (the European model) or peaceful transfers of power (the American model). Frankly, I don't know enough about the region to really answer that one.