Even after working for the Department of Defense for two years, even after working for electoral candidates, even after doing plenty of consulting work, even after being exposed through these jobs to the massive idiocies in the world, this op-ed, "Can You Tell a Sunni From a Shiite?", still left me stunned.
Stunned that people in charge of our security -- not just random elected and civil service officials don't know the basics about Islam and the Middle East, but people in charge of intelligence and analysis and policy -- have no clue about the factors that drive much of the world's conflicts.
I'm not saying it's crucial to know the details of the long-ago who's-the-rightful-successor-to-Mohammed schism in the Muslim religion, but good Lord, you have to at least know what the implications are today! If you don't know that Iran and Iraq are majority Shia (according to the op-ed, I'm looking at you, Willie Hulon, Chief of the FBI's new national security branch, and you, Congressman Terry Everett, vice chairman of the House intel subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence), or aren't sure whether al Qaeda leaders are generall Sunni or Shia (you, Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, who heads a House intel subcommittee charged with overseeing the CIA's performance in recruiting Islamic spies), you should lose . . . your . . . job. Appointees should be fired and elected officials voted out of office -- those who have positions that relate to these issues -- for not knowing this kind of basic information.
As the op-ed author puts it,
I'm not looking for theological explanations, just the basics: Who's on what side today, and what does each want? After all, wouldn't British counterterrorism officials responsible for Northern Ireland know the difference between Catholics and Protestants? In a remotely similar but far more lethal vein, the 1,400-year Sunni-Shiite rivalry is playing out in the streets of Baghdad, raising the specter of a breakup of Iraq into antagonistic states, one backed by Shiite Iran and the other by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states.I would love to see this issue played out in the final debates across the country. I'm not talking about gotcha questions or pop quiz stuff, I'm saying that candidates and/or moderators should ask those who want to have a say in national security -- and especially those who already do -- to explain their thoughts about some of these issues.
If the war in Iraq is as important as these people say, they should damn well understand what it's all about, and also be able to explain it.