Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Muslim world: More complex than West Virginia 

Behold, Nancy Pelosi's choice to chair the House Intelligence Committee, waxing boneheaded on the subtle differences at the heart of Islam:

Forty years ago, Sgt. Silvestre Reyes was a helicopter crew chief flying dangerous combat missions in South Vietnam from the top of a soaring rocky outcrop near the sea called Marble Mountain.

After the war, it turned out that the communist Viet Cong had tunneled into the hill and built a combat hospital right beneath the skids of Reyes’ UH-1 Huey gunship.

Now the five-term Texas Democrat, 62, is facing similar unpleasant surprises about the enemy, this time as the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

That’s because, like a number of his colleagues and top counterterrorism officials that I’ve interviewed over the past several months, Reyes can’t answer some fundamental questions about the powerful forces arrayed against us in the Middle East.

It begs the question, of course: How can the Intelligence Committee do effective oversight of U.S. spy agencies when its leaders don’t know basics about the battlefield?

To his credit, Reyes, a kindly, thoughtful man who also sits on the Armed Service Committee, does see the undertows drawing the region into chaos.

For example, he knows that the 1,400- year-old split in Islam between Sunnis and Shiites not only fuels the militias and death squads in Iraq, it drives the competition for supremacy across the Middle East between Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

That’s more than two key Republicans on the Intelligence Committee knew when I interviewed them last summer. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and Terry Everett, R-Ala., both back for another term, were flummoxed by such basic questions, as were several top counterterrorism officials at the FBI.

I thought it only right now to pose the same questions to a Democrat, especially one who will take charge of the Intelligence panel come January. The former border patrol agent also sits on the Armed Services Committee.

Reyes stumbled when I asked him a simple question about al Qaeda at the end of a 40-minute interview in his office last week. Members of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, are paid $165,200 a year to know more than basic facts about our foes in the Middle East.

We warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up a l Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.

Al Qaeda’s Sunni roots account for its very existence. Osama bin Laden and his followers believe the Saudi Royal family besmirched the true faith through their corruption and alliance with the United States, particularly allowing U.S. troops on Saudi soil.

It’s been five years since these Muslim extremists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center.

Is it too much to ask that our intelligence overseers know who they are?

Civil War
And Hezbollah? I asked him. What are they?

“Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah...”

He laughed again, shifting in his seat.

“Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?”

“Pocito,” I said—a little.

“Pocito?! “ He laughed again.

“Go ahead,” I said, talk to me about Sunnis and Shia in Spanish.

Reyes: “Well, I, uh....”

I apologized for putting him “on the spot a little.” But I reminded him that the people who have killed thousands of Americans on U.S. soil and in the Middle East have been front page news for a long time now.

It’s been 23 years since a Hezbollah suicide bomber killed over 200 U.S. military personnel in Beirut, mostly Marines.

Hezbollah, a creature of Iran, is close to taking over in Lebanon. Reports say they are helping train Iraqi Shiites to kill Sunnis in the spiralling civil war.

“Yeah,” Reyes said, rightly observing, “but . . . it’s not like the Hatfields and the McCoys. It’s a heck of a lot more complex.

Sheesh. Has this guy read the hard news part of a newspaper in the last twenty-seven years? Imagine how shocking it will be for Reyes to learn that the United States has enemies.

If you were wondering how seriously our new Democratic overlords would take national security, the Reyes appointment rather neatly answers the question. Not at all.

Via Glenn and Tom Maguire, who notes that the reporter who "mousetrapped" Reyes did the same thing to Republicans before the election.

How can any sitting Representative in the United States Congress be so ignorant? What do they do all day?


By Blogger Unknown, at Sun Dec 10, 09:21:00 AM:

What a silly question. What do they do all day? Raise money for re-election, of course.  

By Blogger Admin, at Sun Dec 10, 09:30:00 AM:

i guess starting a dumb war that will cost a trillion dollars, that we can't get out of without making it worse, is what real national security is all about.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 10, 09:33:00 AM:

I confess a similiar ignorance. I've been reading this blog regularly for a year, and newspapers since I was a kid. I had a similiar level of knowledge as the Congressman. It's more embarassing for him but it really has about the same level of effect.

For his ignorance to matter, he must be ignorant AND that ignorance must limit his effectiveness at his job.

Knowing whether Al Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite isn't going to help us find Bin Laden. Or stop the roving death squads. Or even negotiate with these people.

An embarassing lack of knowledge but not an important one.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Sun Dec 10, 09:42:00 AM:

What utter nonsense anonymous. Sheer, utter nonsense.

How about knowing one's enemy? ARe you saying that Sun Tzu was wrong?

Further, this moron of a congressman is supposed to know this stuff. If you want to live out your life fat dumb and ignorant there's not much anyone can do to stop you, but Reyes is supposed to KNOW this stuff so he can make good decisions on our behalf.

My goodness.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 10, 09:54:00 AM:

Coming out with the personal attacks. Very effective in showing me how wrong I am. How about instead you steer clear of ad homine and give me an example where knowing the sub-category of Islam that Al Qaeda belongs would help that Congressman do his job.

By the way, Sun Tzu is overrated and over quoted. The man's been dead and dirt for almost two thousand years. I'm sure even he would agree that knowing your enemy is valuable not in and of itself but because it makes you more effective against him.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 10, 09:59:00 AM:

Uptown: I suppose that leveling the
World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon, which amounted to losses far in excess of a trillion dollars, was chopped liver?

Go downtown and see for yourself.  

By Blogger K. Pablo, at Sun Dec 10, 10:44:00 AM:


By Blogger Admin, at Sun Dec 10, 11:09:00 AM:

K. Pablo:

I was in Greenpoint, Brooklyn teaching high school near the waterfront at Automotive High School on 9/11, I saw it unfold firsthand; and I still don't see a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Sun Dec 10, 12:05:00 PM:

Listne here anonymous whoever the heck you are. How about you recognizing that you're part of the problem? "Attacking" people like you is right now just about the only way to reach past your denial and ignorance.

Again, you may wish to dwell in denial, but I don't. You may not see the gathering threat but I do.

As for ancient wisdom it seems to me that we just celebrated the second millenium after the birth of Christ. Should we ignore his words because they are old?

And thank you for proving my point. I guess that's what this means:

I'm sure even he would agree that knowing your enemy is valuable not in and of itself but because it makes you more effective against him.

Isn't that precisely my point? We have a man who is clearly ineffective as the head of an important committee. Instead of trying to deny why not help us deal with it?

Or is that asking too much?

My goodness.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Sun Dec 10, 12:07:00 PM:

Of course you don't see a connection uptown ruler, and I doubt you ever will.

What you've demonstrated is a willful ignorance of the threat we face. But don't take that personally. There are plenty of us who do see the threat and are acting to confront it. So please go back to your state of comfortable numbness, it'll all work out.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 10, 02:09:00 PM:

"Coming out with the personal attacks. Very effective in showing me how wrong I am. How about instead you steer clear of ad homine and give me an example where knowing the sub-category of Islam that Al Qaeda belongs would help that Congressman do his job."

By splitting off the Shias from the Sunnis. For example, Al Qaeda and specifically Saad bin Laden, Osama's son, has been dispatched to Lebanon to assist Hezbollah in overturning the Sinioa government and achieve "Anschluss" with Syria. Which in turn is ruled by the Alawites who most Sunnis and Shias don't even consider Muslims (they are considered more akin to Mormons/Scientologists).

The point is the Al Qaeda - Shia -Iranian alliance is unstable because only one group will come out on top in the Caliphate. Just as Khomeni slaughtered the Communists who aided him once he took power.

By getting these guys to fight and kill each other (which is not that hard if you try) we reduce the chances of getting nuked in America and enhance critical intelligence (since the rivals will drop a dime on each other).

Reyes is an ignorant fool. Not even qualified to be a Congressman much less sit on the Intel Committee much less chair it. Well what can you expect? He's an ethnic machine pol, lacking in anything but Tammany Hall ethnic patronage.

Uptown: the connection between Saddam's overt defiance of the US and Osama's publicly stated views that the US can be hit and defied without consequence ought to be clear to anyone who has ever troubled to actually READ what Osama has said. Or for that matter Ahmadinejad. BOTH have cited America's retreats and cut-and-run and half measures IN IRAQ wrt SADDAM as evidence that the US lacks the WILL to do anything and if you kill enough of them they will surrender.

A more deliberate way to encourage 9/11 could not be imagined.

Since 9/11 happened due to Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq's operational assistance, as documented by the 9/11 Commission (not stamping the Muscle Hijacker passports, Saddam's Intelligence service helping meetings in Kuala Lumpur, etc) the only way to increase the difficulty in such attacks is to convince by FORCE that Osama and Ahmadinejad are wrong and America can and will remove regimes that are overtly hostile to us.

Or you can hold drum circles and "pray that they love us."  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Dec 10, 02:42:00 PM:

Concerning the OP, that is pathetic. I mean, absolutely and tragically apalling. I don't need any more evidence that Congress has absolutely no f'ing business overseeing our work; they don't take it seriously and any decisions that they make will be born of ignorance. I know a 19 year old Marine Private First Class who is more informed than these civilian Congressional jackasses.

As for follow up comments; 1st anonymous: Just because you are also ignorant of such questions doesn't mean that they aren't important. If you can't understand the differences between Shi'i and Sunni (not simply that they're different, but the differencES) then you can't understand the Middle East. Seriously.

Uptown: "i guess starting a dumb war that will cost a trillion dollars, that we can't get out of without making it worse, is what real national security is all about."

Let's pretend that this was a serious question and not just rhetorical BS designed to make you feel better about your position and deride the opposition. Yes, it is. Guiding a nation is all about hard decisions, and you are in it for the good of the country as a whole, not to proliferate warm and fuzzy feelings. If something is judged to be in the national interest, especially the long term because that has the highest payoff for your efforts, then you do it. And going, "oh well it's too hard, let's go home" destroys your credibility and ensures that neither your enemies nor your friends will trust you to stick it out through tough times anymore.

Last Anonymous: I like you, let's be friends.  

By Blogger Admin, at Sun Dec 10, 03:18:00 PM:


millions of us were for going after bin laden, but adamantly opposed to the iraq invasion for the obviously bogus and since debunked reasons, which have - of course - changed since then.

credibility? national interest?

i stand by my statement.

where does invading a country which was not a threat, which did not contain wmds, which will cost us upwards of a trillion dollars, which we can't get out of easily, which has cost the lives of 1000's, which has made us an international pariah, which may be one of the "worst blunders in american history", make us more secure?

fuck warm fuzzy feelings, kill bin laden, but Iraq was a mistake from the beginning and still is.

perhaps if all those highly credibly people waving wmd's in everyone's faces before the war had listened to the rest of us, we would not be having this conversation.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 10, 04:08:00 PM:


As with most dissenters these days you choose to ignore the facts in making your self righteous claims:

That Iraq had WMD was not in doubt by the UN, heads of governments and their intelligence agencies. They only difference was how to approach the situation.

There was ample evidence, even before the oil for food scandal was discovered, that the continuation of the sanctions would not be supported by either France, Russia or China.

The Iraq had not abided by the terms of the peace treaty.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Sun Dec 10, 05:14:00 PM:

TH: "What do they do all day?"

Many years ago I wrote a newspaper article about a typical day in the life of a Congressman. I accompanied a U.S. representative through his entire workday. Thirteen hours. Lots of walking back and forth between the office and the House Floor for votes and quorum calls. Greeting constituents. Meeting advocates. Reading and signing hundreds of letters. Fixing Mrs. Smith's Social Security problem. Helping the widow Jones get her pension money. Committee meetings. Supervising staff. It goes on and on. No time for lunch. Very little time to think about issues.

Much of the public policy research work is coordinated by staff, drawing heavily on the resources of the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress.

More on CRS here:


Service to local constituents is what gets most people in Congress reelected.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Dec 10, 05:54:00 PM:

That's a pretty apt summary. Most Congressmen are not stupid, just ignorant of many of the details of certain topics that they should have mastery of.
Reyes may or may not be a "machine politician", but at this time it has been shown that he is ignorant of some fundamentals that he should know in his new position. I hope that he is just ignorant and not stupid, and that he is wise enough to find smart staff to research and brief him.
But this is quite humoressly and embarrassingly illuminating as to the extent of real "knowledge" which some of our Congressmen actually have. Scary that they have so much oversight power and can be so friggin' ignorant, at times. And that is probably a bi-partisan trait, too.

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Dec 10, 08:12:00 PM:

I still don't see a connection between 9/11 and Iraq.

Of course you don't. That would require opening your mind to what was found in the Iraqi intel service archives documenting Saddam's connections and repeated communications with AQ.

To maintain a proper suspension of reality, one must always deny these inconvenient truths.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Sun Dec 10, 11:10:00 PM:

DEC makes me feel better. Congressfolk working hard to serve their constituents warms my heart. Furthermore, the CRS is at least marginally smarter than Congress (bet your butt CRS would have answered the question correctly), so that aspect could help too.

Let me throw this out there since I've never understood it. If Syria was closest to Iraq's baathist ruling party (ie Sunni), and they also pull the strings on Hezbolla, which has Iranian (Shia?) ties....what the hell's going on? Seems to me they're not picking one sect over the other.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Dec 10, 11:58:00 PM:

Syria was not close to Iraq, not since Saddam came to power. I'm not especially versed in Baathist theory, but apparently the two groups viewed one another as rivals in the same way that Maoist, Stalinist, and Marxist Communists do. Syria alligned with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War.

Another element... the Syrian government is technically secular. The majority of the country is Sunni, with a decent Christian minority, but the ruling household is an odd offshoot faith called Alawite, that many Muslims consider to be heretical.


Excerpt: "Thence, in 1974, Imam Musa Sadr, leader of Twelver Shi'ites of Lebanon and founder of the Amal Movement, was asked to proclaim that he accepted the Alawites as real Muslims. Most Muslim authorities—both Sunni and Shiite—still do not recognize them as Muslims. Under the dictatorial but secular Assad regime, religious minorities are tolerated, although during the Hama Massacre in 1982, perhaps 20,000 predominantly Sunnis were killed, after an uprising led by the Muslim Brotherhood."

As religion goes, the Syrian dictatorship steps lightly, and as such they usually play according to the rules of strict power politics. For instance, Syria supported and opposed the Christian factions in the Lebanese Civil War (at one point, 'alongside' Israel) and supported and opposed Muslim ones according to its interests at the time.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Mon Dec 11, 06:58:00 AM:

Recently I reached the conclusion that we in America are witnessing a coup d'etat. My contention was that the standing government, those boys and girls who are paid by us to make the bloated machinery work, were in open rebellion against the Bush Administration.

This quote supports my thesis:

Much of the public policy research work is coordinated by staff, drawing heavily on the resources of the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress.

It is quite easy to imagine that these policy types, many of whom simply cannot be fired from their jobs not matter what, can manipulate their situations to suit their personal politics.

Given the Abyssal ignorance of the congressman in question, it is easy to see that he wouldn't know if he was being told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So he'll get what someone gives him and since he lacks any awareness of the situation he'll simply accept this as fact and formulate his positions based on it.

This yet another way that the pampered mandarins in DC are ruling us.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Mon Dec 11, 10:36:00 AM:

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

By Blogger D.E. Cloutier, at Mon Dec 11, 10:47:00 AM:

That is where Lobbyists come in, Skipsailing. Lobbyists actualy perform a very important function. On any controversial issue, each side comes in and makes its very best arguments in a short meeting. Lobbyists serve as a double check on the bureaucrats. (A Congressman also must consider his political party's position, too.)  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Dec 11, 01:35:00 PM:

But we don't actually have a photo like they have at the golf tournaments, of Osama handing a 3'x 7' check to Saddam, so there's no reason to think they're connected.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Mon Dec 11, 03:53:00 PM:

that's hardly a source of comfort, in fact DEC I believe your post simply supports my contention that DC is the new forbidden city.

Now we are to rely on lobbyists to inform our congressmen? yes, so the net result of that is a certain amount of our tax dollars go to various federally funded bureaus so that they can hire lobbyists to insure a steady flow of tax dollars.

coup d'etat anyone?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Dec 11, 04:23:00 PM:

Thanks Skip, but no. I had a dessert after lunch today. :)

And I'm shocked, SHOCKED, that people would use money to buy favors! (What is the world's oldest profession, anyways?)


By Blogger skipsailing, at Mon Dec 11, 04:33:00 PM:

so what we have is a self perpetuating closed system that extracts money from the citizens and moves it about based on the whims of the mandarin class.

Its not the congress people that really bother me, its the size of the standing government. Some of these bureaucracies are simply huge and cannot be brought to heel by any administration. further an Administration that behaves in a manner contrary to the percieved best interests of the standing government will face a level of reluctance, perhaps even recalcitrance that makes a mockery of the election.

A few departments come to mind almost immediately: state and the so called intelligence community. they have effectively resisted any attempts to engage in policy implementation with which they disagree. That capability again, reduces the value of our vote. What difference does it make who we vote for if the standing government decides for itself what will actually be done?  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Dec 11, 05:32:00 PM:

Rereading the OP and comments this evening, I was struck by the third comment, by one of the Anonymice Sunday AM. He truly does not see that the answers to these questions are not a matter of tribal trivia, but central to understanding the GWOT. Yet he repeats the generic criticisms from the Democrats: we haven't found bin Laden; Iraqis are killing each other; we need to negotiate.

This suggests that the opinions were in place before there was any data to support them. Which is what I've suspected of Democrats for years. Without knowing any more than a few reflexive principles - getting the head guy is the key, killing is bad, it would be better if we negotiated - Anonymous offers an opinion how we might save the republic. Appalling.  

By Blogger skipsailing, at Mon Dec 11, 07:28:00 PM:

AVI, I think there is another dynamic at play as well.

Take for example "uptown". He sees no connection between Iraq and 9/11. What that tells me is that in his view 9/11 was a single, one off event. Get bin Laden and end the threat of repetition.

Yet what many others see is a grave threat from Islam. OBL was a harbinger of this threat but Iran is its beating heart.

Those of us who support the war in Iraq do so mainly because we see a need to engage Islam on a much broader scale.

But if one sees no threat, then one must develop some other reasoning for the war in Iraq. Bush spoke of Saddam's WMD, this is true. But I never really relied on this threat as the sole reason for toppling him. Yes, we eliminated a clear threat to world peace, but we also challenged Islam in it heartland. Still if one sees no connection one sees no need for us in Iraq.

But again, uptown sees no threat so he sees no need for our work in Iraq. If, in his mind, Saddam didn't have WMD then deposing him gained us nothing.

Is uptown in denial? I think so but only because it explains a lack of understanding of the total picture. It is quite possible that he is ignorant of the gathering storm.

We who see this threat need to spend more time and effort explaining it. Glenn Beck has recently staked his career on explaining this threat to an American public that is very unwilling to confront evil even when it's waging war against us.

Those who have prejudged the situation, as you point out, might be unrecoverable, but I believe that we have a duty to sound a clarion call now.

Baker is advocating talks with a regime that is at this very moment hosting a holocaust denial conference. We have a serious problem and lives are at stake. If we can awaken America without another catsasstrophe we will be lucky. and lives will be saved.

If we can't then America will once again use denial as a means to insure that it is in dire straits before responding to a threat that has grown in plain view for decades.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Dec 13, 11:47:00 AM:

Hey, the gotcha reporter works for the new york times eh? aren't they the bad guys?  

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