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The most basic rule of war is this: know your enemy.
A major reason that Bush’s Iraq war is such a disaster is that the commander-in-chief is clueless about the culture of Islamic people. That’s no surprise, since George W has the intellectual curiosity of a butter bean. But what’ll really give you gas is to realize that most of the Bushite counterterrorism officials also don’t know beans about their enemy.
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Jeff Stein, the national security editor at Congressional Quarterly, has recently been asking these officials a rather fundamental question: “Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?” Since the Sunni-Shiite culture clash is a 1,400-year-old conflict that is now playing out in a civil war in Iraq, with our soldiers trapped in the middle, an understanding of this difference is crucial to the war.
The head of the FBI’s national security branch agreed that it is important for a man in his position to know the difference… but he didn’t. He could not even tell whether neighboring Iran is Sunni or Shiite – a rather crucial distinction, since the new Iraqi government is forging alliances with Iranian theocrats.
Likewise, Rep. Jo Ann Davis, who heads the subcommittee overseeing much of the CIA’s work in Islamic countries, was stumped by Stein’s question: “The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa,” she said. Also stumbling was Rep. Terry Everett, head of a subcommittee on tactical intelligence: “I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something,” he answered. Then Terry said: “Now that you’ve explained it to me, what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult.”
This is Jim Hightower saying… Golly, Terry… really? Shouldn’t you have thought about that 2,800 lives and $373-billion ago? Sheesh, these people clearly don’t know what they’re doing.
“Can You Tell A Sunni From a Shiite?” The New York Times, October 17, 2006.