Relections of an Arabist

This is my 137th blog and in my declining years I it becomes an essential method to ward off the stagnation of old age. The fact that it has few readers is irrelevant to the main objective, which is to continue to perform mental calisthenics. Of course it would  it would be nice if thousands breathlessly awaited my every posting. One thing I have noticed about mega bloggers is that as they get more followers they seek to come across striving to be more intellectual,  thoughtful,  and they moderate their views in the fear of losing some of their more opinionated readers,  Fortunately I don’t have to worry about that. Like that old Ricky Nelson song, Garden Party. “you see, ya can’t please everyone so ya gotta please yourself,”


along corniche Manama Bahrain


I am an Arabist with views that frequently are contrarian to those of the more influential gurus and writers on the Arab world. As I wrote in a previous  blog, I have great affection for the Arabs as people,. their animation, sense of humor, congeniality, hospitality etc. Arabs believe in deep friendships, very different from the American culture in which friends are quickly made and just as quickly forgotten.

egypt, Engleheart, Harris and heckert

In Egypt with students and Army attache

However generally speaking I abhor their inability to accept blame for their dysfunctional society, the corruption, acceptance of authoritarian rule, proclivity to gravitate toward extremism, and  – prejudices, which are passed down for centuries and exploited by rulers to distract the masses from their own incompetence.


dancing in morocco. tough work but somebody has to do it

These prejudices, mainly against Jews and Christians  but also against any non-Arab or  non-Islamic group has resulted, in the total erasure of the Jews communities, communities that had existed for many centuries ion the Middle East. The Arab blood libel pogroms,  and relegation of the Jews to second class citizenship, has exceeded the objective of the judenfrei campaign of the Nazis.. The Christians have been similarly  pushed out, a  trend  accelerated by the emergence of the extreme forms of Islam currently the most popular ideology in the Middle East. The only exception to this trend has been  the Kurds who struggle to survive in a hostile world,


My university American University of Beirut

syrian furniture shop and me


The societal megalomania, particularly among the  Sunni Muslims, has torn apart the mosaic society of the Middle East  in which Jews and Christians formed important parts of the economic system. A primer on the mosaic system of the pre-nationalist Middle East is a most wonderful book, recently reprinted, The Caravan: the Story of th Middle East. by Carleton Coon succinctly  tells the story of the mosaic system. The exodus of minorities and the imposition of Sharia laws has resulted in a more barren culture.

Istanbul 3

In Istanbul

I do not confuse being an Arabist with being a facilitator of Islamist extremism, or exclusivist Arabism  or their conspiratorial view of history and current events. But so many of the journalists, diplomats, academics and students of the Middle East assume their vocation or avocation demands they act as apologists  for Arab issues, especially when it comes to Palestinian issues. I always avoided the Palestinian issue because there is no middle ground.   I sympathize with people

me in tangier trestaurant

in tangiers


evicted from their home lands, including Palestinians, Greeks and Armenians from Turkey, Jews from all over the Middle East, and the continued persecution of Yezidis, Assyrians,  and other minorities in Iraq, Today only the Palestinians, with help from  radical Western  Leftists, aspire to return, illusionary as the hope is. The main factor motivating  the Bloody Palestinian issue is money, and power . Arab rulers use it to deflect domestic criticisms and terrorist organizations use it to obtain money to keep their murderous organizations afloat. In fact one can rightly say that the only issue than unites Arabs, weakly at best, is the Palestinian issues, As i have written in earlier blogs,  an  “Arab world”. does not exist. And as the western State system continues to prevail, The supposed universality of the Arabic language is a very weak link, and becoming less so as Arab local dialects continue to thwart attempts to instill Modern Standard Arabic as the language of the “Arab world.”

IZ me in Shopping mall in Suleimaniya

In Suleimaniya Iraq/Kurdistan

After over 8 years studying and living among Arabs, and over 30 years instructing or as an analyst of the Middle East I can claim the “Arabist” appellation without any qualification,  I can also claim without my usual humility that I have probably forgotten more about the Middle East than the big names in Middle Eat studies have ever known.

me atop iranian helmets

Saddam extravaganza Me on Iranian Helmets

My deficiency has always been my lack of proficiency in Arabic mostly as a result of my Artillery hearing, and standing too close to the big guns, i.e. 155 and 8 in howitzers and 175 mm gun in Vietnam. But i can make  my way around the Arab world quite nicely and never thought my difficulties with Arabic held me back. So I blog on Cheers

iran me

Iran 1969so

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Iraq and Vietnam: The lessons unlearned

Recently an article of mine appeared in an on line Periodical Lime Charlie News. I am quite proud of the article because I did a lot  of research on it  and it helped me recall many incidents and vignettes of my tour there  in 65-66 with the 8/6st 155/8″ Artillery Battalion. Up to now I stayed away from the Vietnam war because it has become so politicized as has the Iraqi ( Iraqi Freedom) war. The article is at:

vn me 5 with new junf gle fatigues

with newly issued jungle fatigues. really cool

It is amazing and disheartening to realize we, particularly our military leadership,  learned almost nothing  from our Vietnam experience to apply in Iraq. There is something intrinsically wrong with the leadership we produce in the army. As i look back on 28 years of service i think i can identify maybe three of my commanders that i truly admired.  Some others were good guys but generally ineffective, One was a psychopath who hid when inspectors or senior officers came  to visit the unit,  one just went through motions of command, hoping that nothing drastic happen on his watch.

vnfiremission 155 howitzers

fire mission

After my year in Vietnam with the 8th 6st artillery, a unit of the big  red one, 1st Infantry division, I left a first-rate professional outfit, despite our commander being a bit loony, and after 5 years in the middle East I returned to the same division and it was a mess.  It s heartbreaking ….Dope , AWOLS, racial problems, were ubiquitous. Vietnam destroyed the army and it took many years to get it back to fighting trim. In  the Carter years, our army could not have fought its way out of a wet paper bag. Out of our 18 -155 howitzers, we could, on a good day, get maybe 6 out of the motor pool for training. One of  our prime movers had a bird nest in the exhaust and the eggs were able to hatch and eventually fly away.Generals lied about the readiness  of the army and we all took their  examples and kept the lies rolling down hill.

vn dead vc

Our mission: Kill the Viet Cong. and we did. lots of them but it did not matter

Our commanding general made it clear that if a battalion went beyond a certain number of AWOLS the commander would be sacked. In one case a battalion did not report a soldier  awol for weeks and the soldier was found dead in a ditch weeks later, obviously having there for weeks.

As in McMasters book, Dereliction of Duty, civilian leadership lied,  high government  officials lied,  Carter was in lala lala land,  As everyone tried to forget Vietnam, and refocus on the Warsaw pact forces, General De Puy came up with the “active defense” strategy,  the motto being “we can fight outnumbered and win” Most of us folks in the foxholes found that to be a  phony morale builder, to cater to politicians who knew nothing about the requirements of a professional army, believing you could maintain an army on the cheap, De Puy modeled it on the Israeli victories in the 1973 war. The problem was that at the point of contact the Israelis with imaginative and agile leadership managed to have equal or superior forces on hand.  From WWII  and the disasters at Hurtgen forest, to task force Smith, in Korea, to the dozens of useless search and destroy missions in Vietnam, to the war in Iraq, to the present, our senior leadership, with some notable exceptions, has never demonstrated the ability to conduct truly agile and innovative operations.

With my artillery battalion 1-16th in Germany

watching my unit 1/16th Artillery roll into position  Grafenwoehr Germany . A beautiful sight


Nor do they fight to keep the idiotic social engineering experiments out of the training schedules. Our propensity to waste soldiers lives in straight ahead frontal attacks and grand sweeping  operations in Vietnam is truly maddening. One might mention Operation Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom as exceptions. Possibly, but the third-rate Iraqi forces, ineptly led, manned by soldiers who were poorly trained with no stomach for dying to maintain Saddam in power, were not a good opponent to measure the capability of our army.  Sometimes I had wished that our peripatetic generals, who always seem to be getting in or out of helicopters would be like General Montgomery before the battle of El Alamein.. He passed out orders to his commanders and went to bed. What a novel idea, Think an American commander could do that…you mean trust his subordinates??? ,,you gotta be kidding me.

iz me at psops compound

Psyops compound in the Green zone Iraq Mentoring!!

Perhaps my assessment is too pessimistic. If so, it needs to be because we always seem to go into war with an  overweening optimism and hubris. And that has inevitably spelled disaster.















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The War College Study and Comments

Below is an article I wrote for Jewish Weekly Review . It appeared in the 14 Feb on-line  issue, I write for any forum willing to entertain my sometimes unconventional  but well researched  articles. You won’t see my name on the short list of NPR or PBS or any of the main stream media. Our so called “quality press” and media has descended to third world level in its veracity and politization. Even the international “news” articles are slanted to entertain domestic political orientations, Like polticians, todays news media write for their constituents, not to inform but rather to further  their owners and publishers political ideologies, and reinforce the prejudices of their readers……just like the Arab Press.

For instance, from the War College study, the media which even bothered to mention it, used only the one golden nugget they were able to find…….. “The Iranians appear to be the only victor……” in the Iraqi War.  Perhaps, but it is very early in the game to assess winners and losers. It was the same with the Final Survey team findings after the Irzq war ( the Duelfer Report) The media gloommed on to the  finding that there were no nuclear weapons found, ignoring the finding that Saddam had all the components available, including the talent to restart the program when the inspectors departed.

I plan to write a continuing series on the similarities of the “lessons Learned” from Vietnam and the same lessons still unlearned from Iraq. I plan to write a much longer article to include the 12 unleared  lessons from  Vietnam and Iraq and hopefully get them published, perhaps in the Lima Charlie News, which has publised a couple of my articles. The lessons unlearned incliude, not neccessarily in order of importance.

Trying to win expeditionary wars with a military inadequate in size and on the cheap.

Cultural ignonorance of the country

Lack of understandiing of Counter-insurgency. Insistence on fighting the “merican Way of War”

The use of metrics to assess success.

Poor general officer leadership

The importance of external actors

Hubris and ovrconfidence

Underestimating the enemy lack of undrstnading of his strengths

The lack of continuity the one year tour issue. Turbulemce.

Lack of coherent strategic communication

Over reliance on technology

Application of American political values on other cultures.

In tegration of civil Affairs with military operations


The article for the JWR is at

The original version of the article is at follws:

“The Army War College report, The U.S. Army in the Iraq War, is a masterpiece covering the history of the army in the Iraq war ( Operation Iraqi Freedom), with incisive critique of the massive amount of mistakes, miscalculations, ignorance, and malfeasance that characterized our invasion/liberation of Iraq. One of the two primary authors of the report, Colonel Frank Sobchek, in an National Public Radio interview characterized the Report as an “academic after –action review,” intended to make the army better prepared for the next military action.


Unfortunately as a “lessons learned,“ it will be largely set aside as too long, too complex, and irrelevant to the next war. In fact it is largely applicable only to an Iraqi – peculiar environment. U.S. Government officials flying into Iraq reading accounts of our post WWII rebuilding of Japan and Germany found the lessons useless for Iraq, so it will be the next expeditionary war. It was a matter of different people, different culture, and different circumstances.

In the massive amount of post – mortem on Vietnam, one can find almost all the issues and problems that were surfaced in the study of the Iraq war. Obviously the “lessons learned” were not learned. First and foremost, in both cases, the army, as well as all the other American institutions and agencies involved, were abysmally ignorant of the people, culture, history, and terrain. On the ship transporting us to Vietnam I gave classes to the troops using an old text-book on Southeast Asia. During the Iraq wars both Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom I presented cultural briefings of perhaps two hours, often with most of the officers and senior Non Commissioned officers (NCOs), who needed to be there, absent. The deployment schedules were so crammed with requirements, many non – combat related (another story) that much of the essential knowledge was simply a matter of checking the blocks.


Secondly, in both cases we went in blissfully assuming that somehow we could confine the war within the borders of Vietnam and Iraq. Unfortunately both Syria and Iran were deeply involved in supplying fighters, equipment, and sanctuary to our enemies. They were able to do this without cost to themselves, as we in typically cautious fashion, did not want to “widen the war.” In Vietnam, the Russians and Chinese poured armament into North Vietnam and we, eschewing the prospect of precipitating a world war III, did nothing. North Vietnamese used sanctuaries in both Laos and Cambodia with only sporadic and generally ineffective measures taken to punish the leadership allowing or condoning it. One would think that our intelligence and political leadership when contemplating a major operation in country A would assess the reaction of countries B, C, and D, that surround it. In Iraq, as the War College study points out, the Syrian regime facilitated hundreds of Sunni fanatics pouring into Iraq to kill Americans but more often Shi’a civilians, ultimately provoking a civil war. The Iranians perfected weapons for use against our armor and trained Iraqis well to use them against our troops. Again, we did nothing to raise the price of them doing so.

There are many other commonalities of misjudgments, hubris, arrogance, and poor leadership at the top that could be applied to both conflicts, but a glaring one is our national insistence that all people in the world share our values in political systems. In both Vietnam and Iraq we fell into the trap of “hearts and minds” dabbling in political cultures we did not understand. In Vietnam we conspired to overthrow the “brutal” Diem regime because of the Buddhist protests and general unpopularity. His rule, however unpopular, was stable. With his demise, the fortunes of South Vietnam and Americans began a slow but continual descent into failure. In Iraq, applying American political values to those of the Iraqis, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) assumed the Iraqis would enthusiastically acclaim the CPA turning over sovereignty to them. Instead the general disorder turned into chaos with crime, ethnic warfare, and the remaining fabric of Iraqi society being ripped apart.


In retrospect, after reading this report on Iraq and the hundreds of books, and articles over the years, the only viable solution to the Iraqi calamity, but one likely to be arbitrarily dismissed, would have been to have immediately declared martial law, imposed with draconian measures, combined with sending in another 100,000 American troops.  Of course it will be pointed out, quite rightly that we did not have the troops to send. In Vietnam we had to rely on draftees, and in Iraq we had to depend on the National Guard and reservists. For expeditionary war this is unacceptable.


IF we wish to continue as the foremost world power and maintain a military prepared, sized, and equipped for the Iraqs of the future, our senior political and military leadership cannot keep on making our soldiers pay, in blood, by trying to sustain our military on the cheap.


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Arabs and Kurds: Why Can’t We Just get Along?

This is the latest article I wrote for Lima Charlie News, an online periodical for, and written by, military and intelligence professionals The article as it appeared is

The Article as written is below; The published article had some editing changes

Arabs and Kurds. Why Can’t We Just Get Along?

By Norvell DeAtkine                                                                 Jan 2019


The young Kurdish interpreter for American troops pointed to a tattered Iraqi flag flying over a small government building and told me with bitterness in his voice that just seeing that flag made him feel humiliated. I was on a 2004 visit to an American Civil Affairs unit stationed near Suleimaniya and was able to observe first hand some of the remarkable qualities of the Kurds. Like many American soldiers I was in awe of the fighting qualities of these people and their ability to not only survive, but also thrive, in one of the most hostile environments in the world.


The Kurds, a “people without a country”, as coined by French writer Gerard Chaliand seemingly have every attribute necessary to establish their claim for independence. Mehrdad Izady, one of the foremost historians on Kurdistan believes the Kurdish claims for nationhood is based …”on a long common historical experience, their common world view, common national character, integrated economy, common national territory, and collective future aspirations.” This summation is all the more remarkable because the Kurds, while having their own language, albeit in several dialects, which can be as different as French from Italian, must write and read it in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi in different scripts. As a tribal people they are divided into hundreds of tribes and a major fissure between urban and rural Kurds. Kurdologists also point out the significant cultural differences between the Kurds of the Erbil region and those of the Suleimaniya region. Moreover they have had a long history of bitter internecine warfare. The internal conflicts are repetitive, tragic and have a long history. Perhaps one incident sums up the tragedy of the Kurds. When the “George Washington” of the Kurdish movement, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, died he was buried in the Kurdistan region of Iran. Later Iranian Kurds, embittered by his memory, dug up his grave and desecrated it.


Most observers would point to these cleavages as the major reason they have not acquired an independent national state. But the most salient reason they have not become a state is that they are a landlocked entity surrounded by neighbors who either claim they do not exist (Turkish officers in my classes at Ft Bragg referred to them as “mountain Turks), or the Arabs who have been diligently trying to assimilate them for decades, using coercive measures. The nations containing the Kurdish inhabited regions are usually bitter rivals, but they agree on one thing….the absolute hostility to any attempt by the Kurds to establish an independent nation.


In particular the Iraqis, especially under Saddam Hussein went to great lengths to relocate Kurds forcibly, bringing Iraqi Arabs into Kurdish lands, or using the crushing power of the of the Ba’ath State to “reeducate” them, basically erasing the Kurdish problem by means of cultural genocide. Of course, Saddam did not hesitate to use extermination operations as with the Anfal operation, in which, between some 50,000 to 100,000 thousand Kurds died at the hands of the Iraqi military and security forces. In this campaign the Iraqis used weapons of mass destruction, most notoriously, at the town of Halabjah, in which about 5000 Kurds, mostly civilians perished.


On the surface it would seem that the commonalities between Arab and Kurd would predict a more harmonious relationship, both are originally tribal, and primarily Sunni Muslim. Both are family- based cultures, customs are similar, and in urban settings there is a great deal of intermarriage. Some observers, who seek to soft-pedal the acrimony between Kurd and Arab, point to the dysfunctional and rapacious leadership of both communities as the primary reason for the strife between them, and not any interpersonal rancor. They also point out the role of outside powers manipulating the Kurds. The United States and the West is usually singled out as the primary culprit, but in fact Russia has played a very critical role. The Soviets were supplying arms to the Barzani Kurdish rebels while at the same time Russian crews were flying the Tupolov T-16 bombing Kurdish rebels. There is no doubt that the Americans have, in Kurdish terms, betrayed the Kurds numerous times, beginning with the failure to pursue Wilson’s fourteen points declaration, and most recently, in failing to support the 2017 Kurdish Referendum for Independence, resulting in a humiliating retreat by Kurdish forces.


The increase Kurdish-Arab intermarriage, ironically, can be explained by the mass exodus of both Kurds and Arabs fleeing the violence of Baghdad to the relative safety of Kurdistan, ending up as refugees living in close proximity to another. Both Shi’a and Sunni militias and criminals targeted the close to half-million Kurds living in Baghdad. One source indicated over 300000 departed Baghdad during the civil war


One can hardly go wrong in impugning corrupt leadership in the Arab world for every ill that enervates the region.   But these leaders know how to manipulate sectarian animosities that have been in place for a very long time. For instance, while Saddam Hussein, in his conferences with his inner circle, never uttered a disparaging word about Kurds or Shi’a, (normally referred to them as “people of the south” or “people of the north”) his intelligence apparatus was disseminating deprecating jokes about the Kurdish mentality. They were intended to picture Kurds with a slow mentality, perhaps comparable to a less politically correct time in the United States when Polish jokes were frequently heard.   Another frequently heard rumor linked Kurdish antecedents to an ancient Jewish community. The Arab use of derogatory term was all part of the powerful and often successful Ba’ath campaign to Arabize the Kurds. Many urban Kurds assimilated to simply make their lives more comfortable among their Arab neighbors, and to secure better jobs in a state run economy in which all employment and benefits flow from the top.

The Arabization program was both subtle and violently overt. It was often accomplished by simultaneous resettling of Kurds in Arab areas, scattering them to avoid too many in one region, and settling Arab families in Kurdish areas, moving them into former Kurdish homes. One of the more onerous missions of the Iraqi provisional government after the liberation of Iraq was the determination of who were the legitimate owners of homes in the Kirkuk area. Arabs residents presented deeds issued by the Saddam government and the returning Kurds showed the authorities deeds dating back to the Ottoman era.

While arrests, executions, and forcible resettling of the Kurds was going on, the Ba’ath party was successful in recruiting a significant number of Kurds, especially women, ostensibly attracted by their superficial secular face. Meanwhile Iraqi government officials toured Kurdistan, listening to hear grievances, allowed the use of Kurdish in schools, and various other simulations to assuage Kurdish sensitivities and probing naïve journalists. The sum and substance of the Iraqi government program was assimilation, willing accepted or forcibly induced. Saddam used arts, literature and revisionist history for the task of eradicating of Kurdish culture. The Ba’athi programs were clever, and, combined with the climate of fear, obtained results that were at least partially successful.   For instance according to Denise Natali, who worked for twelve years in Kurdish regions of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein’s nomenclatura used an ultra clever rewriting of history to promote a “Mesopotamian” identity over that of the non Sunni Arab populations, then imperceptibly moved it toward an Arabized “Mesopotamian” version. The Saddam propaganda machine then implemented this program using Arab metaphors which “negated Kurds’ Median ancestry as an integral part of Iraqi local identity.” The pervasive and insidious effects of Ba’athist influence on the Iraqi population, Arab and Kurdish, is usually underestimated by the numerous “experts” who have emerged since the liberation lamenting the baleful effects of the “de ba’thification:” program.

The Kurds in Arab Iraq suffered a great deal of discrimination, even before the war, but with the advent of the sectarian war, they became targets for both sides. The   Sunni Arab Islamist terror groups considered them as insufficiently Islamic and collaborators with the Western occupation forces. The Kurdish population, especially in the Suleimaiya region, has always been noted for a more liberal approach to the place of women in society. The “Islamic lite” social life of the Kurds has brought the wrath of the Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In his regard notes I took at the time of my visit to the Suleimaniyah region of Kurdistan is instructive in understanding the issues today.

The two primary fears of the educated elite with which I spoke were; (a) A deeply rooted fear of Arab nationalism which the Kurds believe is simply an extension of the Caliphate dream of Bin Laden,i.e., a twisted Islamism with a mystic belief in pan-Arabism. Kurds see Arab Nationalism as simply a hegemonic Sunni vehicle for power (b), a fear of Shia triumphalism in which the Shia gain control of Iraq and impose a draconian religious government on very unwilling Kurds. Again and again the Kurds, officials and others, voiced the belief that Islam acted as a retardant to progress and stability. They took pains to point out by way of old photographs, the lack of Islamic dress on females in the 50’s and early 60’s. The refrain often heard was that the Arabs imposed Islam on the Kurds. One Kurd told me that Suleimaniyah has more bars than Mosques. I do not believe this is true but certainly alcohol is everywhere and easily obtainable.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), containing large segments of the Saddam intelligence and special security forces, sought revenge for the Kurdish “betrayal” of Saddam’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war. The Shi’a, although they often referred to the Iran-Iraq war as “Saddam’s war”, were equally bitter about the Kurds acting as an arm of the Iranian military, keeping in mind that 80% of the Iraqi army rank and file were Shi’a and presumably at least 80% of the casualties were Shi’a.

Most writers on the Kurdish aspirations, e.g., Michael Gunter, Gerard Chaliand, Thomas Bois, and David McDowall, tend to be sympathetic to some degree. All of them recognize the immensity and complexity of bringing about a solution to the Kurdish issue. One writer however, Edmund Ghareeb, a Lebanese –American professor, provides a scholarly presentation of the Arab view. He wrote in 1981, referring to the defeat of the Kurdish insurrection in 1975, “The demise of the Kurdish revolt, and the granting of limited autonomy to the Kurds in Iraq can be viewed as a victory for the Ba’ath Government and a step toward interregional accommodation and stability.” Ghareeb’s more tolerant view of the rapacious Saddam regime was a common one in the eighties, as his regime seemed to be an secular anecdote to the rise of fundamentalist Islam. As it turned out, the Iraqi government promises to the Kurds were worthless, something anticipated by the Kurds.

There is, however, another side of the Kurdish -Arab conflict.   Arabs will insist that the Kurds have been the betrayers as much as they have been betrayed. The Kurdish inclination has been to side with any force threatening the interests of the country in which they reside. This has defined them as a permanent fifth column in whatever country they reside. In Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds actively sided with the Iranians against their countrymen in a primordial struggle of Arab against Persian, created a bitter taste among non Kurdish Iraqis toward the Kurds to this day. Moreover minorities within the Kurdish regions have not fared well, especially the Assyrian Christians. A great deal of persecution has been documented.

The Syria Kurds have in some ways a very different recent history than the Iraqi Kurds. They have, since the independence of Syria, been part of the “coalition of factions,” a tacit coalition of non Sunni Arabs, who constitute 80% of the Syrian population. In their efforts to avoid Sunni domination, the Kurds, Druze, Christians and the Alawis have resisted either quietly or in armed insurrection. So for most of the history of the two Assad Alawi regimes, the Kurds have cooperated with the government. In fact for a number of years the Syrian government used their Kurds to augment the Turkish Kurd fight against the Turkish regime. The Turkish Kurd insurgent organization, Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) greatly influenced the Syrian Kurdish formation of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in 2003 and later the People’s Protection Unit ( YPG), a militia which arose after the 2011 rebellion in Syria. Mirroring the history of the Iraqi Kurds, political parties with a litany of names and ideologies have appeared, dissolved, re-emerged mostly with a strong strain of Marxist ideology. Like the Iraqi Kurds, despite their episodic cooperation with the Assad regime, they have been denied rights of basic citizenship, and often subject to draconian measures of arrest, torture, and execution to keep them pacified. Because of the strong influence on the Syrian Kurds by the PKK, the Turks see them, especially the YPG, as virtually part of the PKK movement in Turkey.

While some observers and pundits, principally Western, try to define the Kurdish-Arab conflict in terms of economic (oil) factors, outside regional and world power manipulation, and indigenous leaders ambitions, other analysts, particularly in the late 50’s and 60’s saw it in terms of race and class. In Iraq: the Search for National Identity, Liora Lukitz, writing about Kurdish opposition to integration within the Iraqi state, views all the above factors, and others, as germane to the conflict but, ”encapsulating it all {the Kurdish-Arab conflict} there was a cultural reaction from the Kurds, as a community with deep-rooted religious, cultural, and social characteristics.” In essence it is a nativist and atavistic conflict in which the usual palliatives of political initiatives will not suffice.







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Obama’s Pitch to Arab World vs. That of SecState Pompeo

This is an article I wrote for the on-line periodical American Diplomacy in June 2009. I was wrong in being too cautious (too nice) on the ultimately  disastrous effect  the Obama policies and attitudes would have on the Middle East. Most of the immediate coverage of the speech was written by his groupies in the main stream media, indicating the mediocre quality of much of the American press coverage of the Middle East. Its ideological orientation continually skewers the news and analysis of the events and trends in the Middle East . The enthusiasm with which much of American Middle East scholarly community  greeted the speech also underscores their pedestrian output.
I was also  wrong in writing that  Obama’s popularity in the Arab world would remain high. I was right that  under the Obama administration America’s popularity would sink, but so did Obama’s. In the end words were not enough and his perceived and real weakness, particularly in confronting the tragedy in Syria, was rightly seen as a betrayal of his words. I posted  this  old article in comparison to the pitch by SecState Mike Pompeo in Cairo recently. To be sure it was widely lambasted by the same types that went gaga over Obama’s speech. One thing for sure …..he did not raise expectations, nor did he take, in the name of the American people, blame for the mess in the Arab world. His speech was noteworthy primarily in that he basically called the promises of Obama  empty and refused to implicate the United States and its people for the sins of the Arab leadership or street mobs that alternate in holding the reigns of power
Public Diplomacy or Policy? President Obama’s Pitch to the Muslim World
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Youth in Iraq Say No to Democracy. So What else is new?

An excellent article in the website 1001 Iraqi Thoughts surfaced an issue that keeps recurring in different parts of the world at different times.  The author, Ahmad Tabaqchali, in his article posits that Iraqi youth are increasingly leaning toward a more authoritarian government much in the model of Erdogan’s Turkey. He sees, quite rightly  this as a disturbing trend.. His premise is that the corruption, bloated Iraqi bureaucracy, and general poor  administration has the youth yearning for a more orderly economic environment. The author then goes in exhaustive detail to illustrate that the Turkish economic stability and recovery beginning in 2001 has little to do with the rule of Erdogan, and in some cases may be in spite of it.  Obviously  he sees the state of the economy as the primary reason for this trend toward a return of Saddamism.

iraq youth

Iraqi youth Baghdad 2005

Poor economic conditions is a critical factor in the rise of authoritarian governments, One need only look back to post WWI Germany and the rise of Hitler to prove that. However, in the Middle East there are other very important factors which mitigate against the democratic concept.  I would point out three; first and foremost the lack of a civil society, secondly, to a lesser extent, tribalism and fundamentalist Islam. Thirdly  the lack of emotional or ideological appeal of democracy to the young and impressionable.

weimar republic

the beginning of the end of the German Weimar Republic


First of all when we refer to a  civil society we are really talking about non governmental organizations  through which citizens may effect their lives.  Examples include, organizations like the Kiwanis club, Lions club, local Chambers of Commerce., etc. The keys are m non governmental and local. The Arab world has very few of these, especially in a local sense. Almost every organization has some governmental  control or is monitored by the security forces. Everything flows  from the top. Almost nothing bubbles up from the bottom. When I was in Iraq people complained vociferously that under Saddam that had gas for their cars but under the Coalition  provisional government, power and gas  were scarce. After quite a while some of the neighborhoods in the more affluent districts were able to  hook up large generators to serve a number of homes, but many never moved to do anything The concept of working toward a common good outside the family or tribal  affiliation simply was not contemplated  and rarely put to use. No doubt the centralized authoritarianism of Arab regimes which eliminate any autonomy of local governments, will continue to stymie the growth of a civil society.


basic strength  of America Local business clubs


Secondly despite the fact that the Arab nomadic tribal organizations have  almost entirely disappeared, the tribal family ties remain strong and in some cases, because of the ripping apart of Arab society by war and sectarian strife has actually increased. While some Islamic non governmental organizations exist they are carefully scrutinized by security authorities. Families in dire need rarely have any civic support group or organization to assist  them. Colonel Augustus Richard Norton, the  most insightful and prolific writer on middle eastern civil society has written that  , “Until political groupings that transcend family, tribe or clan are allowed to develop, pluralistic politics of the sort that support democracy cannot thrive.”Colonel Norton rejects the idea that Islam retards  development of a civil society. In my view that is a nod toward political correctness necessary in the academic milieu in which he now teaches,  It is very difficult for me to envision a civil society developing within a Sharia environment  and the current demand for conformance of piety in the  public sphere. In addition to the political authoritarianism common in the Arab world,  the “Islamic Revival” has added a measure of cultural authoritarianism which retards the birth of a civil society.


Sheikh  Yusuf Qaradawi. My Islam is the answer. The Islamist elite

Finally it has to be recognized that democracy is not a “cool” or sexy concept, It is a political system, not an ideology and does not promise a perfect universe or a utopia . The totalitarian ideologies of the past century, communism, fascism, and now Islamism promise absolutes, a heaven on earth ,with a special place for intellectuals and the elite guiding the masses. As famously attributed to Winston Churchill,, “Democracy is the worst form of government…….except for the all the rest.” Democracy, full of imperfections, where the “little” people have a vote….. much to the dismay  of the elite….. plodding, inelegant, like “sausage being made,” is unappealing to the youth  everywhere.  For instance, in this country we have the half- educated intelligentsia rediscovering the wonders of socialism.


Seeing far into the future and creating a republic…”if we can keep it.”

When whenever I hear some moron ruefully lamenting the fact that our electoral system does not support the “majority rules” system, and negates  what is, in reality the dictatorship of the majority, I salute the genius of our founding fathers,  and the built- in system of checks and balances they devised.


the new totalitarians Antifa The alternative to a democratic republic





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GEORGE H.W BUSH. The Middle East Legacy

The passing of the 41st President of the United States was met with fulsome praise of the man and his presidency by the US media and political figures, some of it exorbitant. They pointed out his statesmanlike and gentlemanly manners, undoubtedly in many cases, to juxtapose Bush to the demeanor of President Trump. In fact  during his presidency he was often ridiculed by the same media and politicians for his supposedly  wimpy nature.

george Bush sr

In reality he was a courageous man, both morally and physically. Elitist in  education  and patrician in nature, he was far different from the elitist set that dominant our educational and media institutions today. He was a navy  pilot in WWII, shot down by the Japanese  and rescued at sea  by an American submarine. He was one of the “greatest generation,” It certainly puts to shame the present generations of safe space seekers and whiners. Unlike the elite of today, of whom many seek to undermine our way of life, the elite of those days chose to fight for their country in the most impressive ways, such as  in the OSS and other elite organizations.

He will be remembered by those who, at least, have some small knowledge of history  as making the painful decision to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait after it was occupied by the Iraqi military. It was painful because generally the people who have experienced  at first hand the death and destruction of  war are the ones most reluctant to  send young people to die in another one.  Some of the same pundits who poured praise on Bush at his passing were extremely critical of his decision to send troops to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the expulsion of the Iraqis from Kuwait, (The build up called Desert Shield and the actual operation called Desert Storm) . In particular ,I remember one well-known NPR/PBS journalist who posited  Saudis would resist American troops despoiling their sanctified Islamic soil, emerging from their villas to toss Molotov cocktails at the troops. This view, of course, is typical of the Chatham House version of the Middle East, ( see blog” Kedourie…”) It is the view that the Arabs are all one nation forcibly divided by European Powers, who are the main culprits in Middle Eastern disorder.  As one world united by “Islam, history and language” the Arabs would rise up as one to prevent Western intrusion into their homeland.

Saddam 1990

pep talk to the troops

As I have written elsewhere the “Arab world” is a myth, and Desert Storm is just one of many example to illustrate it. but of course the myth persists because it is simple, adaptable to slogans, and fits in with the zeitgeist  of this era. To some extend George Bush fell prey to this widespread notion that is indoctrinated in our  academic institutions.

As far as I know there is no term for this but one could call it the “Neville Chamberlain”  syndrome, the attitude among those brought up in gated or genteel communities that tyrants can be reasoned with. As Chamberlain stated, “Hitler is a man I can deal with.” Hitler, Stalin and Saddam were not men who could be reasoned with. They are more like animals than human in that they can smell weakness or fear.They are sociopath and must be dealt with as such,


 Neville Chamberlain who thought he came home with peace for our time.

In the end it was a courageous decision of President Bush to put troops in Saudi Arabia. Heavy weights in the Government and media were forecasting immense American casualties.  The American military seriously misjudged the quality of the Iraqi army, forecasting thirty thousand American casualties, I briefed many units prior to their deployment to the Gulf and it was obvious from the soldiers questions that American networks had presented a picture of a professional Iraqi army that did not exist. General Powell , Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was perhaps the wobbliest of all…always urging caution and seeing a possible catastrophe if we went ahead with a military confrontation. The liberal leadership in the congress were dead set against it and the military establishment was dragging their feet.  At the top only Dick Cheney, the Secretary of Defense, was urging direct action, As one might expect,  the academic community was busily propagating  a story of an Arab world ready to revolt should the United States militarily confront Saddam Hussein.  Saddam had replaced Nasser as the new hero of Arab nationalism (posthumously he still is in many quarters)

desert storm

Desert Storm the military cakewalk

So President Bush gets high marks in my book for a courageous decision that also happened to n be  right one. He went against the “informed class” as most of the Western world leadership and elite were willing to trade Kuwait for “peace.” It would have been an ephemeral  one as the Iraqis  were already probing the borders between Saudi Arabs and Kuwait. Whether they actually would have invaded or not is mostly irrelevant, as a weak and mostly friendless Saudi regime, accustomed to buying off enemies, and no longer sure of American support, would have their oil policies dictated by Saddam.

But there was another  side to all of this above. The policies of the senior Bush administration prior to the Iraqi invasion of Iraq were weak, seemingly opaque, but very clear to Saddam. We would do nothing to militarily support  Kuwait against Iraq.  Kuwait would simply  “revert” to being the 19th province of Iraq, (Actually it never was, but it was part of the Basra province under the Ottoman empire.) Many tomes of erudite Middle East histories were written on that subject. It was all an example of the Chamberlain syndrome. Bush, the consummate international diplomatist believed that Saddam could be “moderated.”


 Gulf war I an unfinished war

President Bush the senior, inherited from previous administrations a legacy of sucking up to Saddam. Americans also had a bad record of “cutting and running” when things became dicey, The ignominious  American withdrawals from Vietnam in 1975 and  Beirut in 1983 were often referred to in Saddam’s monologues with his minions during ministerial meetings. No doubt they were a critical part of his considerations in invading Kuwait.

Previous administrations had given Iraq loans, reopened amicable relations, shared intelligence reports, and even protected tankers  carrying Iraqi oil from Iranian attacks.

President Bush the senior continued this policy and enlarged on it, removing Iraq from the sponsor of terrorism list, and taking every opportunity to bestow praise on Saddam every time he mentioned the word “peace.” The corporation I worked for in 1986 sent a team over to help Iraq set up an air defense network. Only the Iraq chemical attack on the  Kurds in Halabjah   scuttled the ongoing contracts.At the time every Western government was flooding Iraq with salesmen  looking to cash in on the lucrative and corrupt Iraqi thirst for more armament.

Basically we had no policy toward Iraq or plan on the shelf to militarily confront Saddam. Ambassador April Glaspie, our ambassador to Iraq was called in to Saddam’s office and essentially told that if Kuwait didn’t hand over its sovereignty to Iraq Saddam would take it by force. Ambassador Glaspie had never had a previous one on one with Saddam. After the usual blather about hopes for peace, Glaspie uttered the infamous words, “The United Takes no position on the Iraqi – Kuwaiti dispute.” This of course was a green flag for Saddam.

It was a symptom of the Western hope to bring Saddam in to the civilized world, but in truth it had more to do with making money. This diplomatic and financial rapprochement was zealously supported  by Western governments downplaying  the murderous Iraqi regime war on their own people,  ( until the chemical attack on the Kurds could not be buried.) or merely offering tepid admonitions, If one could play to his monstrous ego by stroking his vanity, lavishing praise, invitations to world leaders conferences perhaps he could be reigned in, or so the idea went. Generally  Saddam viewed these overtures with. contempt.

kurdish child

Kurdish girl in Halajah

At the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, President Bush fell prey once more to the Arab world mythology. Apparently  assorted Arab leaders plus the usual “Arabists” in the CIA and State Department convinced Bush that should the Americans push on into Iraq to topple Saddam, there would be a general upheaval all over the “Arab world.” Besides, as the experts told Bush, Saddam would not survive such a catastrophic defeat. In so many words Bush urged the Kurds and Shi’a to revolt and then when many did, the  Bush administration looked the other way and the Iraqi Republican Guard with a myriad of security forces crushed the rebellions. Saddam turned the defeat into a great victory, “we stood against 35 nations and prevailed.”

As they say ” the path to hell is paved with good intentions.” But the lessons of the Reagan and Bush administrations were not learned as the Chamberlain syndrome continues unabated.

مجموعه سیمای رهبری معظم انقلاب اسلامی

the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei, “show us the money”

Apparently history is not deeply appreciated by American presidents because President Obama indulged in one of the most bizarre attempts to influence the Iranian Regime by sending a plane load of cash to ensure their adherence to the “nuclear agreement” or hostages or ?

I doubt the mullahs have a well developed sense of humor but if they did it would bring a lot of laughs at the Mullah Club between their hot tea and surreptitious sips  of Chivas  Regal.

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