Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fat, Drunk, and Stupid Is No Way to Go Through Life, Son...

But if you are a Republican Congressman or a Republican-appointed bureaucrat, it is.

Billmon watches the clown show:

Whiskey Bar: An Empire of Idiots: Reading this article, all I could think of was Dean Wormer's line from Animal House: "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son." Except I would make it: "fat, stupid and in power."

It's been almost 30 years since the Islamic revolution in Iran, 23 years since the Beruit bombings, 11 years since the Kobhar Towers bombing, three and a half years since the start of the Iraq War. And this is what the FBI's number one point man on national security knows about the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam:

A few weeks ago, I took the F.B.I.'s temperature again. At the end of a long interview, I asked Willie Hulon, chief of the bureau's new national security branch, whether he thought that it was important for a man in his position to know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. "Yes, sure, it's right to know the difference," he said. "It's important to know who your targets are." That was a big advance over 2005. So next I asked him if he could tell me the difference. He was flummoxed. "The basics goes back to their beliefs and who they were following," he said. "And the conflicts between the Sunnis and the Shia and the difference between who they were following." O.K., I asked, trying to help, what about today? Which one is Iran -- Sunni or Shiite? He thought for a second. "Iran and Hezbollah," I prompted. "Which are they?"He took a stab: "Sunni."

Um, I'll take TV sitcoms for $100, Alex.

Hulon is actually one of the smart guys -- he at least knows that there is a difference between Sunni and Shi'a, even if he doesn't know which is which. But when the writer -- the national security reporter for Congressional Quarterly -- took his question up to Capitol Hill, he found out just how deep the well of ignorance runs:

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."

Yeah, it's a family thing -- you know, like the Corleones and the Tattaglias.

Representative Jo Ann Davis, a Virginia Republican who heads a House intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s performance in recruiting Islamic spies and analyzing information, was similarly dumbfounded when I asked her if she knew the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. "Do I?" she asked me. A look of concentration came over her face. "You know, I should." She took a stab at it: "It's a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it's the Sunnis who're more radical than the Shia."

Now she's gone and hurt Sheikh Nasrallah's feelings.

Let's review. We have: The head of the FBI's national security branchThe Vice Chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.The Chairwoman of the House Intelligence subcommittee charged with overseeing the C.I.A.'s recruiting efforts in the Islamic world

And they each know less -- probably much less -- about the most critical religious divide in the Middle East (the same one that is currently getting U.S. soldiers killed at the rate of about three a day) than your average commentator at Little Green Footballs....

Would we be better off if we let the FBI and the politicians play cops and robbers and left the running of the empire to a British-style cadre of foreign policy professionals -- the kind of people who not only can tell the difference between Sunni and Shi'a, but could write PhD dissertations about it? Maybe, although the British experience (not to mention that of the old CIA) suggests it's no panacea. The Brits, after all, had T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, and they still failed in the Middle East -- although not as badly as Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice.

But we might at least be spared the national embarrassment of having dumb-as-dirt congressmen and women freeze like deer in the headlights when asked even the most fundamental (so to speak) questions about the Middle East and the "war" on terrorism.

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