Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991

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Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991, by Kenneth M. Pollack. Lincoln, NE and London, UK: University of Nebraska Press, 2002. xv + 583 pages. Maps. Tables. Notes to p. 653. Sel bibl. to p. 675. Index to p. 698. $69.95.

Ken Pollack, the author of the widely quoted book, The Threatening Storm: A Case for Invading Iraq (New York: Bantam Books, 2002), has also produced a much-- needed analysis of Arab military capabilities. In Arabs at War, which is an expansion of Pollack's unpublished 1996 doctoral thesis at MIT, the author lays out a conceptual framework to analyze the performance of six Arab countries from the War of Liberation with Israel in 1948 through the liberation of Kuwait by the US-led coalition in 1991. But, instead of analyzing military effectiveness, the book turns into an expose of Arab military ineffectiveness. Pollack lists ten categories to frame his analysis of why the Arab militaries have been generally ineffective for over 40 years. The categories include: unit cohesion; generalship; tactical leadership; information management; technical skills and weapons handling; logistics; maintenance; morale, training; and, finally, cowardice.

The performance of the Egyptian and Iraqi Armed Forces constitute the longest chapters in the book, since they were involved in the majority of fighting during the period that Pollack reviews. Syrian, Jordanian, and Libyan military actions are analyzed in progressively shorter chapters, while Saudi Armed Forces' actions during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 are covered in just over 20 pages. Over 35 maps are scattered throughout the text, illustrating the battles and forces involved in major campaigns or key military engagements. These maps help orient the reader to the situation on the ground, though additional maps would have helped the reader through this voluminous work, as very few tables were used. In each chapter, Pollack summarizes his view of the strengths and weaknesses of the six armed forces that engaged in combat with other Arab countries, Israel, Iran, or the United States.

Pollack then draws together the key points from his analysis of each of the six armed forces into his final chapter, "Conclusions and Lessons." Here, he explains why the Arab armies performed so poorly in combat during the latter half of the 201 Century - certainly not for a lack of money spent on their armed forces or on expensive arms purchases from the United States, from other Western countries, or from the Soviet Bloc. …


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