In This Review

Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991
Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991
By Kenneth M. Pollack
University of Nebraska Press, 2002, 698 pp.

Why have Arab armies performed relatively poorly in every major war they have fought since 1948? In seeking to answer this question, Pollack has examined in detail all the wars fought by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Syria up to the Persian Gulf War. Although he draws only on English-language sources, Pollack provides an extremely valuable, compendious, and convincing military history of the contemporary Arab world, making this book a standard work of reference. Pollack focuses primarily on interstate fighting rather than irregular conflicts and thus gives less attention to Lebanon (except for the 1982 Syrian engagement with Israel). Yet militias have been successful against both the United States and Israel, raising some interesting analytical comparisons that fit in with Pollack's conclusions. He dismisses the view that Arab military problems relate to issues of personal bravery, unit cohesion, or even logistics but instead points to poor training in handling and maintaining weapons, along with dire tactical leadership. He does not relate military performance to wider social or cultural factors in this volume, although these countries also do not score well in the management of their political and economic affairs.