The ITT List
Tuesday Oct 17, 2006 1:20 pm
National security editor at Congressional Quarterly Jeff Stein writes in the NY Times that he's been interviewing Washington counterterrorism officials, and has asked them this rather fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?”
After all, wouldn’t British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants?Think Progress has video of House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King saying that being in Baghdad is "like being in Manhattan."
But so far, most American officials I’ve interviewed don’t have a clue. That includes not just intelligence and law enforcement officials, but also members of Congress who have important roles overseeing our spy agencies. How can they do their jobs without knowing the basics?
Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.
“Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” I asked him a few weeks ago.
Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: “One’s in one location, another’s in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don’t know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something.”
To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. “Now that you’ve explained it to me,” he replied, “what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area.”