The collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of the ISIS forces is one recent example of a phenomenon Dalrymple has noticed before:
The naivety of the expectation that the Iraqi army would be and would act as a real army once it was trained is to me astonishing, though I suppose it is itself naïve to be astonished at such naivety. To have expected such a thing was grossly to overestimate the role of formal training in the establishment of institutions. The necessary was mistaken for the sufficient. Human beings do not work like clockwork and, perhaps, in the end it is best that this is so.
I first noticed the difficulty in Africa. Armies of the newly independent countries had to be built from scratch; despite several rounds of training, they never seemed to act as they were supposed by their trainers to do. Come a real test (usually from a rag-tag band of rebels), they often disintegrated like a cracker under a hammer. France has intervened militarily 50 times in its former colonial empire precisely because no army it has trained has ever defended its government successfully from rebels. This is in large part because the rebels usually believe in something, at least temporarily, however absurd it may be. In contrast, the official army, despite the training, despite the officers’ sojourns in the best military academies, mainly contents itself with the task of extracting as much surplus from the population as possible. The purpose of most such armies is personal enrichment (or should I say disimpoverishment?) and social ascent.