Senior Officials Can’t Tell Sunni From Shiite
Senior officials in charge of U.S. counterterrorism policy have no clue about the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite.
A complete collapse in Iraq could provide a haven for Al Qaeda operatives within striking distance of Israel, even Europe. And the nature of the threat from Iran, a potential nuclear power with protégés in the Gulf states, northern Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, is entirely different from that of Al Qaeda. It seems silly to have to argue that officials responsible for counterterrorism should be able to recognize opportunities for pitting these rivals against each other.
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?
So, who are these people? Willie Hulon, chief of the FBI’s national security branch. Rep. Terry Everett, vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counter-Intelligence.
Those are the only three cases that CQ national security editor Jeff Stein mentions in his NYT op-ed. Presumably, there are others in that boat–including many on the other side of the aisle. Still, it’s rather sad. He wasn’t even asking detailed questions about the philosophical divide between the sects but merely associating the correct one with the Iranians and al Qaeda.
Al Jackson confessed to not knowing the difference between Iraq and Iran shortly after the 9/11 attacks. But, then, he’s a country singer trying to project an aw shucks image. And I suspect he’s got it figured out by now, anyway. You’d think key committee chairmen and agency heads would, too.
UPDATE: This reminds me of the claim, rehashed a couple months ago, that President Bush didn’t understand the Sunni-Shia difference at the time he launched the war in Iraq. That was at least quite probably wrong. There’s not much doubt about this one.