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An army is an army and an officer is an officer. That is apparently the feeling, more or less, of the masses of American soldiers who have flooded the Persian Gulf, the Arab countries and Afghanistan during the past decade. Yet they may find, to their frustration, that they are wrong. Indeed, this week, one member of the armed services pointed out their mistake: In reality, he said, Americans are like bees and Arabs are like spiders.

The person who came up with this analogy is U.S. Army ground forces Lt. Col. Brian L. Steed. For two and a half years, Steed was posted to Jordan as part of an officer exchange program. He is now a senior training and doctrine liaison to another Middle Eastern army: the Israel Defense Forces.

In an article in the December issue of Army Magazine, Steed, a military historian and strategist, attempts to soften the blow of U.S. soldiers' encounters with Arab armies. Steed writes that the differences struck him as he sat among senior Jordanian officers. They would sit, drink tea, exchange pleasantries and leave. "What a waste of time! They did not do anything," he wrote.

An officer and a bee

Steed deduced that an American officer functions like a bee, which will "assess the day in terms of how many flowers it collected pollen from, the amount of pollen collected, the distances flown and so on. The bee is concerned with accomplishment of agenda items or task lists ... The bee accepts the premise that it is better to share more information with the greatest number of members of the community in the fastest way possible."

In contrast, the Arab officer is, metaphorically speaking, a spider, Steed concluded. "The spider sees success as directly associated with his web in terms of its strength, size, location and effectiveness."

Steed wrote that the spider defines its success by the strength of its "web" - the connections it forges daily with others that may assist it in the future. The spider is not interested in sharing information.

"To do so would directly threaten the placement and success its own web ... The main motivation is to increase the web. In general, spiders do not work together to build webs."

Steed wrote that information was not readily shared because it was a means of wielding control.

Games rigged?

He recounted a conversation he had with an Arab officer about the 2007 Asian Cup soccer tournament, and the possibility that the games might be rigged in favor of Iraq because that was in the interest of politically powerful countries.

It was suggested, he said, that such manipulation could occur because a victory for Iraq would likely cause its people to be more peaceful and content. The officer Steed talked with "stated that if you wanted to understand such things you had to follow the politics. I stated that in America if you wanted to understand rigging of games you followed the money."