In his classic “Twenty-Seven Articles,” published in the Arab Bulletin in August 1917, the renowned British Army officer T.E. Lawrence advised beginners to use prudence when working with Arab armies. “Do not try to do too much with your own hands,” he warned. “Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”
It was sage advice from a seasoned warrior who traipsed around the Middle East wearing local garb, speaking several Arab dialects and living with Arab irregulars during their struggle against the Ottoman Empire. Since that time, the United States and Europe have engaged in dozens of interventions across the globe, from occupied Germany after World War II to the soft, limestone cave complexes of Afghanistan after 9/11. In some cases, as in Germany and Bosnia, these interventions have achieved impressive results. But in others, as in Somalia in the early 1990s, they have gone gravely awry.