Can Arabs possibly understand the concept of “tanks”?

Got this comment on an old post about the delivery of T-72s to the new Iraqi Army:

I really don’t think that Iraqi tank crews are going to do anything special with T-55s/72s. I appreciate the improvement that can and is being made by the addition of modern fire control systems, but the ideology of the Middle Eastern warrior is simply not compatible with the idea of an effective, futuristic mechanized force.

Can we stop it already with the “this is incompatible with Arabs” or “that is incompatible with Muslims”?

True, the “ideology” of the previous Iraqi army was pretty much incompatible with the idea of an effective, futuristics mechanized force. But that wasn’t because “Middle Eastern warriors” aren’t capable of forming this sort of force. It was because a backwards sort of force was intentionally designed and maintained. That’s why we had to build a new Iraqi army instead of merely keeping the old one.

The old one, as proven repeatedly, sucked bad. The new one is going to be much different. Not the equal to the US Army, for sure, but certainly better, man for man, than the armies of Iraq’s regional rivals.

All this carrying on about how Arabs or Muslims or Middle Eastern warriors “just can’t get” modern concepts and practice modern skills is ridiculous. It reminds me of the “blacks aren’t smart enough to play quarterback in the NFL” garbage in the 1970s and 1980s. Sure, there really weren’t more than a few black quarterbacks capable of playing the position effectively before the 1990s. But Doug Williams really broke down that “barrier” on a January evening in 1988 as my beloved Redskins stomped (and I mean stomped) the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.

Today, there are so many black quarterbacks throwing passes in the NFL that no one really notices any more. With a little luck and a lot of perseverience, the same will be said about Arab democracies in a couple of decades.

Finally, regarding the commenter’s opinion that we should not give the Iraqis tanks but thousands of anti-tank Milan, Dragon, or TOW missiles, he really seems to be missing the point. The Iraqi army doesn’t need tanks to fight other tanks. It needs tanks to fight insurgents and terrorists. Anti-tank missiles won’t be a big help in those fights.

Also, we have to be careful about how we build the Iraqi Army. We want them to be strong and effective against the anti-government forces. We also want them to be strong enough to deter aggression from Iraq’s neighbors. But we also don’t want them so strong that they could threaten our forces. Notice that heavy weapons and artillery haven’t been handed out in any great quantities. Baby steps.

Plus, many of the weapons we give the Iraqi army and security forces seem to end up in the hands of insurgents and terrorists, either stolen, bought, or given freely. So the last thing we want to be handing out are effective anti-tank weapons. Give me a break.


  1. Notice that heavy weapons and artillery haven’t been handed out in any great quantities.’ No Joke. They only started getting 12.7mm HMGs and 60mm mortars this summer. They have no artillery and air defense. Those T-72s have the heaviest guns in the IA and their T-55s have second place…

  2. My bet is the plan is Air and Air Defense starting 2009. Until then we provide. The Artillery will probably start up during 2008. 2007 looks to be focused on logistics independence, C2, expansion, starting Army Aviation and MoI…

  3. No Strelas for the Iraqi Army. Then again, instead of importing arms from Romania we might be better off using the weapons we confiscate from the insurgents-buying new weapons and having a percentage slip over to the insurgency and all that about increasing the supply of small arms on the black market. Though I’m curious why they need fully armored vehicles when we could just dump our ‘obsolete’ 106mm recoiless rifles on them for the fire support role. As it is we can roll american armor into a city like Fallujah and avoid catastrophic massacre like the Russians in Grozny-but the IA will likely end up like the latter rather than the former. They make excellent bullet-soakers but they are magnets for anti-tank weapons.

  4. I wasn’t talking Manpads. I was talking real Air Defense. I-Hawk, Patriot, etc. As to the need for fully armored vehicles: 1) We find tanks useful for fire support and intimidation or they would not still be in use in Iraq. 2) The Iraqi Army will need the ability to defend their own country. Iran/Syria are next door neighbors. The Persians might decide they want their mesopotanian provinces back.

  5. It is fair to say that historically, Arab armies have been far more hierarchical even at the individual unit level, and that this has been problematic because it’s hard to get, for example, a tank crew to work together effectively if one member is disabled or gone. Those who drive are different from those who load the guns are different from those who shoot the guns. However, modern training techniques are being used in Iraq, to force all members of a crew to know how to do every job. Yes, there are cultural problems. One thing people I’ve known who’ve trained Arabs have said is that they really hate it when a person in authority makes a mistake and so they try not to notice if he does. But I have a very hard time believing that can’t be addressed with training, at least on something like properly manning a tank.