Has the Arab world produced any good Generals in the modern era?

Oct 2015
1,196
California
There is an old essay written in 1999 Why Arabs Lose Wars which asks why modern Arab armies have largely been ineffective in the modern era. The Arab world and generally the Muslim world have produced brilliant generals in the past but not so in the modern era. Why is this?

In the U.S. the military is built out of small teams bonded into larger and larger teams. During initial entry training, the trainee learns to form teams with fellow trainees. In his initial posting, given good leadership, he becomes part of a small unit team. He should become willing to risk his life for his buddies, his squad etc.

These teams are forged into larger teams. Good leadership - especially from middle and senior grade officers - is essential to this process. Ultimately, the service member should feel like he is part of a team larger than himself which becomes his home and his family and is even viewed as a surrogate for a State entity (the French Foreign Legion is an extreme example of this).

Technical training (how to use weapons, how to move, how to communicate etc.) give the service member the ability to perform his/her duties either in direct combat (or in the combat supporting role. However, that is not sufficient. He still has to be willing to risk his life. And being part of a team (esprit de corps) and that team's elan are two of the things that motivates that. The military in the rest of the western world operates on the same principle.

In the Middle East a young man's loyalty to his family, tribe, village, etc is much stronger than that of an average soldier in the West. These loyalties do not get significantly diminished by training. Therefore, the resulting small unit teams are, if not non-existent - much weaker than those in the American service.

Further, there is rarely good leadership by the middle and senior grade officers because their loyalty is, like those of their troops, to their families, villages, tribes etc. And, because the chain of command is more corrupt, they tend to steal from their troops, take advantage of their troops and so forth. Ultimately, there is no loyalty to the State or a State institution because those institutions are western constructions with little meaning in these cultures and are run by individuals whose loyalty is not to the State, but to their families etc.

So, no matter how good the equipment and training, they will not be very effective military units.

Is religion a good substitute for the state or state institution's as a unifying force? It might be except (1) religious power is itself fractured into factions that hate one another and (2) not all members of the region are the religious fanatics most westerners seem to think they are.
 
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Jan 2019
11
Dublin, Ohio
How true. In the modern era, Arabs seem to prove themselves to be militarily inept -- even when fighting against each other.

In the past (circa the late Roman Empire - to - Renaissance times), they performed very well. But back then, one culture was not necessarily more technologically advanced than any other (ie., Christian Europe vs. the Muslim world vs. Asia vs. Africa, etc). One army could defeat another simply by having more men, and maybe a few maneuvering tactics to just "swarm" their way to victory.

As technology (and its weaponry) advanced, the Muslim world did not. So power began to become more asymmetrical, with the advantage going to the Western world. One reason -- and this is just my opinion -- is that Arabs place a much greater emphasis on the spirit of the fighting man, with an almost "romanticized" notion of warfare (think: Arab fighter mounted on a beautiful stallion, robes flowing, and crescent sword raised high overhead, charging headlong toward the enemy). However brave and noble they are, a thousand of them still don't stand much chance against a Maxim machine gun.

The only notable success that they've had against the Western powers in the modern era was their stand at Gallipoli during WWI. Other than that, one would be hard-pressed to point out any other action in which they appeared even remotely competent.

On paper, and in theory, they should have won most or even all of their wars against Israel -- but they didn't. I would need a whole other message board to explain how they could have won the '72 Yom Kippur War, but suffice it to say that it was their best chance (and, initially, did have the advantage) and they still found a way to absolutely botch it.

Simply put, they seem to allow their romanticized notions, passions, and absolute beliefs in God and Hope Eternal to override military prudence that should be guiding their actions.

Hence, their recent moves to state-sponsored terrorism in order to fight the Western world. Because they just plain ol' can't cut it in traditional, classical warfare.
 
Oct 2015
1,196
California
On paper, and in theory, they should have won most or even all of their wars against Israel -- but they didn't. I would need a whole other message board to explain how they could have won the '72 Yom Kippur War, but suffice it to say that it was their best chance (and, initially, did have the advantage) and they still found a way to absolutely botch it.

Simply put, they seem to allow their romanticized notions, passions, and absolute beliefs in God and Hope Eternal to override military prudence that should be guiding their actions.

Hence, their recent moves to state-sponsored terrorism in order to fight the Western world. Because they just plain ol' can't cut it in traditional, classical warfare.

By and large the Arab armies vs Israel have been regularized formations; they have all the rest, but a given unit is one thing or the other.

The Haganah were massively part-time forces, formed around a hard corps of regulars. So unlike a regular Arab army unit; they did not train together 5 days a week, rather part of one month a year.

The war of independence would have really been an Israeli high-water mark in training, with large numbers of veterans from guerrilla, terrorist and WWII allied units.

Since then it's draft-train-serve-leave for 80-90% of the IDF. Which is how the Yom Kippur war got as far as it did; the IDF needed time to call up it's reserves, which made up most of every unit.


The Iraqi army of the Iran-Iraq war was a very different beast from that which the coalition fought in the First Gulf War and the Iraq War. Governments like Saddam's tend to rot armies over time. You are right about the technological disparity between Arab armies and western armies playing a large factor on why Arabs lose wars. 73 Easting, the last tank battle of the 20th century is an example in which the Iraqi Republican Guard armored units actually bravely made a stand but was overwhelmed by superior fire power.

The point here, I think is one of culture; what sociologists call amoral famillism, which is an inability to form bonds of loyalty with anyone outside one's blood relations, which generally speaking sums up Arab culture. That kind of ideal anywhere is toxic, but it's fatal to armies and i think history supports that.

A retired US Army Lieutenant Colonel Tom Kratman wrote in his article regarding the cultural conditioning of Arab armies:

The Saudi National Guard or the Jordanian Arab Legion (meaner than weasel crap, the both of them, tough, hard as nails, and brave) – have anything from a fair amount to an extraordinarily high degree of trust in and loyalty for each other. They can and will fight and fight hard. The problem is that they have a very finite tolerance for casualties because at some point those losses endanger the standing, power and security of the clan. Then they'll break off the fight, too. Even then, though, they won't usually simply drop their weapons and run, but will retire in good order...
 

Shaheen

Ad Honorem
May 2011
2,566
Sweden
Abdelkader (algeria) and Omar Mukhtar (libya) are two prominent names during the late colonial era. Post independence most Arab armies have essentially been glorified police, trained at policing their domestic populace for their autocratic rulers rather than fighting against external threats. Hardly the breeding ground to create brilliant generals for real warfare.
 
Aug 2019
104
Netherlands
How true. In the modern era, Arabs seem to prove themselves to be militarily inept -- even when fighting against each other.

In the past (circa the late Roman Empire - to - Renaissance times), they performed very well. But back then, one culture was not necessarily more technologically advanced than any other (ie., Christian Europe vs. the Muslim world vs. Asia vs. Africa, etc). One army could defeat another simply by having more men, and maybe a few maneuvering tactics to just "swarm" their way to victory.

As technology (and its weaponry) advanced, the Muslim world did not. So power began to become more asymmetrical, with the advantage going to the Western world. One reason -- and this is just my opinion -- is that Arabs place a much greater emphasis on the spirit of the fighting man, with an almost "romanticized" notion of warfare (think: Arab fighter mounted on a beautiful stallion, robes flowing, and crescent sword raised high overhead, charging headlong toward the enemy). However brave and noble they are, a thousand of them still don't stand much chance against a Maxim machine gun.

The only notable success that they've had against the Western powers in the modern era was their stand at Gallipoli during WWI. Other than that, one would be hard-pressed to point out any other action in which they appeared even remotely competent.

On paper, and in theory, they should have won most or even all of their wars against Israel -- but they didn't. I would need a whole other message board to explain how they could have won the '72 Yom Kippur War, but suffice it to say that it was their best chance (and, initially, did have the advantage) and they still found a way to absolutely botch it.

Simply put, they seem to allow their romanticized notions, passions, and absolute beliefs in God and Hope Eternal to override military prudence that should be guiding their actions.

Hence, their recent moves to state-sponsored terrorism in order to fight the Western world. Because they just plain ol' can't cut it in traditional, classical warfare.

Gallipoli, Turks are no Arabs..
 
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Baldtastic

Ad Honorem
Aug 2009
5,483
Londinium
I'm mentioning this as it's the prominent Arab engagement I can think of in modern times (aside from the various attempts to defeat Israel), were there no Iraqi generals of accomplishment during the Iran-Iraq war?
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,777
Cornwall
Ahmad al-Mansur (Ahmad al-Mansur - Wikipedia) and some centuries later Abd el-Krim (Abd el-Krim - Wikipedia) are two relevant Moroccan war leaders (generals) that faced and defeated European armies.

Well, the second is out of the mentioned timeline, but...
Can't help thinking Abd El Krim was aided (and partly caused) by the incredible political and military ineptness of the whole Spanish system in the years from late Cuba to Annual. Reading what went on is shameful, almost unbelievable, both in political circles and the army of Africa. Not just in the Annual campaign but the whole 30-40 years leading up

It's a bit like my analysis of El Cid - sure he was brilliant but everyone he faced was inept. Was Abd El Krim brilliant - or just given an open goal by sheer idiocy?
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,000
Portugal
Was Abd El Krim brilliant - or just given an open goal by sheer idiocy?
I think that that question can be made to all the successful military leaders. And I really don’t know the answer. Often is not only the question of the enemy being incompetent, but the capacity to explore that incompetence.
 
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