May 30, 2003

JIM DUNNIGAN WRITES on efforts to rebuild Iraq’s army. Some interesting observations, including this one:

Which brings us to some serious cultural differences. Arab armies rarely get the kind of constructive competition you see in Western armies. That is because, for Arab soldiers, it is seen as safer to not compete, so no one is “disgraced” by losing, than it is to compete and improve everyone’s skills. Of course there is competition in Arab society, in business as well as sports. But the concept of “losing gracefully” is not as readily accepted as it is in the West. This can be overcome. Arab officers attending American military schools over the last half century learned to live with the competition, even if it is a bit of a shock at first. But there will be some resistance to introducing these “barbarian” customs on the entire Iraqi army. No doubt general Abizaid will have to give his “Do you want to be part of a kick ass army” speech many times to keep things moving along.

The competition means officers, NCOs and troops will be expected to take the initiative. This has traditionally been discouraged. Initiative can lead to failure, or unexpected situations. Arabs prefer to avoid both. The new Iraqi army will have to learn to live with it.

Read the whole thing. Of course, in Saddam’s army the losers would have been fed into a shredder, feet-first, which probably also discouraged proposals for competition.