Comparing Notes

Andrew Exum tacks together a few thoughts on Israel:

I still think the U.S. military has a lot to learn from the IDF in terms of tactics, techniques and procedures. But since I left the active duty army in 2004, I have interacted quite a bit with Israeli military officers both through formal interviews and informal discussions over beer or coffee. I still learn a lot whenever I talk to them, but I am increasingly struck by the very real differences that have emerged between them and their U.S. military peers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. One difference concerns the attitude toward the population within which they operate.

Last fall, I was in Israel for a two-week visit and conducted a few formal interviews with various Israeli officers, journalists and scholars. I met for coffee one morning with a retired Israeli general officer to discuss the fighting in southern Lebanon during the 1990s, and before too long, the two of us were engrossed in conversation about guerrilla warfare, Lebanon, the learning process that militaries go through in combat, and a host of related subjects. One hour became two, and two hours became three. The two of us must have downed three cups of coffee apiece, and my hand cramped from all the notes I was taking. At the end of the conversation, though, this retired officer took my hand, squeezed it hard, and said, "Andrew, just remember one thing: the Muslims are like shit. They stink, and there are plenty of them for all of us."

Now in 3+ years of living in the Arabic-speaking world, I have to admit I have heard some pretty horrifically anti-Semitic things said in both polite and not-so-polite conversation. But pardon me if I was a little struck by hearing this language from a retired, educated military officer rather than from, say, a taxi driver in Beirut or some 16-year old Palestinian kid who grew up in Bourj al-Barajneh. Anyway, I shook the man's hand, thanked him for his time, and went on my way shaking my head. Could I imagine a senior U.S. military officer, post-Iraq, saying something like that to a guy with a notebook at the end of a formal interview? I could not.