Welcome to the Middle East’s Napoleonic Era

    Nawaf Obaid

    Security, Middle East

    A Free Syrian Army fighter reads the Quran in the rebel-held town of Dael, Syria May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir

    The nations of the Middle East are caught in a psychological malaise that is the fundamental cause of the crippling situation in which the Arabs currently find themselves.

    The recent coordinated bombing on the Syrian regime by America, Britain, and France—three nations that have struggled to achieve common strategic objectives in the Middle East—was not only remarkable for who took part, but also for who did not. Where were the Arab states? Nowhere to be found, because these nations are caught in a psychological malaise that is the fundamental cause of the crippling situation in which the Arabs currently find themselves.

    Ultimately, this defeatist mentality is the result of a complex mix of historical defeatism, internal squabbling, distracting embroilments, and endemic corruption that has stifled development. After losing successive battles, starting with those against Israel between 1948 and 1973, the Arabs still inherently believe themselves to be militarily incapable. The sense that Iran is powerful and on the rise is belied by its third rate military and shattered economy. And instead of concentrating most of their military resources on the larger and more strategically important issues of Syria and Iraq, the leading Arab states are bogged down in a justified, but no end inter-Arab war in Yemen, a conflict with minnow Qatar, and a domestic insurrection on the Sinai.

    The situation can be compared to the Napoleonic Wars, with the Arabs in the role of Prussia (and other European monarchies) and the Iranians as the French under Napoleon. The Prussian military had been defeated by Napoleon in 1806 at the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt. A grand coalition of all the major European powers set out to defeat Napoleon’s rising French imperial army. These powers had superior military might and numbers, but were hobbled by disorganization, inefficiency, mediocre commanders and a system that didn’t allow personal initiative and flexibility. But above all else, the European powers, led by King Frederick of Prussia, didn’t think they could actually vanquish Napoleon, and this psychological weakness led to their humiliating defeat on the German plateaus.

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