Can America Build an Effective Iraqi Military?
Update: Edited for a more "bloggy" fit.
The ongoing war in Iraq has led many to question American goals in that conflict and wonder what America’s broader purpose is in Iraq now that the goal of regime change has been achieved. It is clear that the formation of an effective Iraqi military and security apparatus is critical to ensuring the long-term survival of a democratic Iraq. What is not clear, however, is whether America will be able to build an Iraqi military that can overcome the problems most Arab militaries have experienced, including ineffectiveness, politicization, elitism, and ethnic, tribal and religious factionalism.
Arab militaries since the Second World War have been minimally proficient and widely regarded as ineffective, despite the infusion of large amounts of advanced Western and Soviet Bloc equipment and training. There are, without a doubt, many economic and political factors that impact the formation of an effective Arab military, but perhaps the most significant handicaps are a result of the influence of Arab culture and societal norms. And, if the age-old military axiom that forces fight the way they train is true, then the United States faces significant obstacles in building an effective military in Iraq.
In his excellent article, "Why Arabs Lose Wars", Norvell de Atkine caveats himself by pointing to the the checkered past of including cultural forces in military assessments, but still manages to present a long list of relevant shortcomings in Arab military establishments, including:
1. The Arab tendency to hoard information and exploit the axiom that “knowledge is power.”
2. Weak educational systems that stress rote memorization and discourage open exchange and personal achievement.
3. An officer-enlisted relationship that treats the rank and file as chattel.
4. The Arab cultural concept of personal “dignity” that discourages officers from getting their hands dirty.
5. Centralization of authority, responsibility and decision-making that hampers
6. Poor inter-unit and inter-service cooperation that promote “union shop” and
personal empires mentalities.
7. Distorted concerns of operational and information security that results in overclassification and hampers cooperation
It is clear to me that there are a great number of cultural obstacles to be overcome if America has any hope of creating an Iraqi military that will distance itself from politics and be loyal to an Iraqi constitution rather than political, religious or tribal factions. The task is one much more complex than simply recruiting and re-equipping soldiers. Trainers must reshape the social attitudes and components of Iraqi and Arab culture that work at cross-purposes to good order and discipline and hamper organizational effectiveness. American trainers must endeavor to build not just units, but a comprehensive training and education system.
Iraqi military leaders must be taught the value of sharing information and skills and to discourage the hoarding of publications, equipment and supplies. A training and education system must be created that fosters and rewards critical thinking and produces innovative leaders rather than politically trustworthy automatons. Age-old social barriers between officers and the enlisted ranks must be broken down, and junior officers and senior non-commissioned officers must be encouraged to interact more effectively, make decisions and lead. Multi-unit and joint training and communication should be encouraged to break down barriers to force effectiveness, and the tendency to classify anything and everything must be discouraged.
In the end, it may well be possible that America can build effective Iraqi security forces. It will not be a rapid process, however. Overcoming the strong cultural, religious and tribal influences that hamper effectiveness will take time and patience and the heartfelt belief among Iraqis that it is in their best interest to change. So the final, twofold question is not can America do it, but will America invest the time and treasure necessary to achieve its goal, and will the Iraqis embrace the wisdom of the West?
Reposted to Mudville to fix a broken link.