The U.S. Has Wasted Billions of Dollars on Failed Arab Armies Military cooperation with Middle East allies can work—if Washington rethinks its premises. JANUARY 31, 2019 https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/01/31/the-u-s-has-wasted-billions-of-dollars-on-failed-arab-armies/ The United States has spent 70 years and tens of billions of dollars training Arab militaries—with almost nothing to show for all the effort. Time and again, America’s Arab allies have failed to live up to martial expectations. The U.S.-trained Egyptian Armed Forces performed miserably in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. If anything, they did somewhat better under Soviet tutelage in the 1973 October War. The U.S.-trained Iraqi Army collapsed when attacked by a couple thousand Islamic State zealots in 2014. The U.S.-trained Saudi military fell flat on its face when it intervened in Yemen in 2015, and it has become badly stuck there. If the United States is going to stay involved in the Middle East, it has to rethink the way it engages with Arab militaries. Ambitious dreams of engaged, modernized militaries must be replaced with more realistic plans that build on the real strengths of allies, instead of forcing soldiers into a mold that their societies and culture have left them grossly unsuited for. Otherwise Washington will keep pouring money down the drain—and its Arab allies will keep failing. This is not just embarrassing. For decades, U.S. military training was a critical element of alliances with allies in the Middle East, designed to demonstrate commitment to their security and give them the ability to help America protect their countries. In recent years, Americans have begun to eye an exit from the Middle East, but few want to walk away and have Iran, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, al Qaeda, or other U.S. enemies take over as the United States departs. In an ideal world, America would leave behind strong Arab allies, able to defend themselves from their common foes. But that seems as far away today as it did when the United States first started training Arab armed forces back in the 1950s. On the U.S. side, the effort to train Arab militaries has been sincere, persistent, and doomed. The U.S. Air Force has been trying to train the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) to fly the F-16 for decades. However, well into the 21st century, the EAF’s standard pattern of attack has called for two planes to approach nearly simultaneously from either side of a target, on a collision course. Consequently, even in training exercises, one plane out of every pair has to swerve at the last minute to avoid a midair collision—causing that pilot’s bombs to go far from the target. Because the Egyptians don’t record their missions or debrief, let alone actually critique their own performances, and no one at operational levels wants to rock the boat by pointing out that their tactics are suicidal and their training rigged, all of these practices have become institutionalized elements of EAF training, and U.S. pilots have reported constant frustration trying to convince the EAF that its school solutions are not only wrong but potentially fatal. One American pilot who had trained with the EAF told me that it was “probably good” that the Egyptians didn’t use live ordnance in practice because if they did, they would lose a lot of their aircraft and pilots to these ridiculous tactics and distorted training practices. The Egyptian pilots and tacticians involved in devising this absurd practice were prisoners of a series of problems that have haunted Arab armies throughout the modern era and that have grown out of contemporary Arab society itself. 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. The Arab world never really industrialized, and this relative underdevelopment meant that many Arabs came to the military without much understanding of advanced machinery. As a result, Arab personnel often failed to get the full potential out of their weapons and invariably failed to maintain them properly, with the result that the real numbers of tanks, planes, and artillery pieces they could field were far fewer than what they had purchased. 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. Generations of U.S. military personnel who went off to the Middle East to try to teach one or another Arab army to fight like the U.S. armed forces can attest to the stubbornness of these problems. I personally experienced their frustration time and again, on training ranges from the Nile Delta to the Mesopotamian river valleys. And because the problems they were trying to supposedly fix stemmed from these societal factors, I heard the same complaints over and over again, from country to country and decade to decade.