Since Anwar Sadat moved Egypt into the U.S. orbit, Washington has spent many millions of dollars to train and equip the Egyptian military, which nonetheless fought poorly in the 1991 Gulf War. Similarly, the U.S.-trained Iraqi army was swiftly routed by Islamic State in 2014 and the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen—made up of countries that have likewise received massive military assistance from the U.S. and supported by American advisers—has failed to quell the Houthi rebels there. Kenneth Pollack argues that the U.S. must rethink its approach to supporting its Arab allies:
The fraught civil-military relations of the Arab world mean that many Arab rulers are so frightened of being overthrown by ambitious generals that they purposely hobble the armed forces to keep them weak. Whenever that has happened, it has typically led to poor strategic leadership and communications and, on occasion, poor morale and unit cohesion. . . .
But the most critical factor is that Arab cultural-educational practices conditioned too many of their personnel to remain passive at lower levels of any hierarchy and to manipulate information to avoid blame. In modern combat—where the difference between victory and defeat is often aggressive, innovative junior officers able to react to unforeseen circumstances and take advantage of fleeting opportunities—these tendencies proved devastating time and again. . . .
The U.S. failure to improve Arab militaries wasn’t unique or America’s fault. But the United States should have learned long ago that attempting to make Arab forces a carbon copy of the Marines wasn’t going to work. Instead of Americans trying to force Arab military personnel to do things their way, they should look for ways to help them do what they do somewhat better. They won’t get to U.S. levels of effectiveness that way, but then again, trying to force them to think and act like Americans has not succeeded so far, either, and probably never will.