The Blind Leading the Blind
Public CQ discovers what the incoming Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a man he acknowledges to be better informed than other Washington politicians, understands about al-Qaeda. (Hat tip: Tigerhawk)
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.
If readers take this as data, not confirmation of any partisan political view, then it is easy to understand why Washington has been so ham-handed in fighting the war on terror. It goes a long way toward explaining why Michael Scheuer of the CIA and John O'Neill at the FBI were voices crying in the wilderness in the days leading up to 9/11. It may provide some insight into why the US officials during the early days of the occupation of Iraq behaved the way they did. Because we didn't have a clue.
Neither did I, frankly until the months and years after the war on terror started, but then, it wasn't my profession to understand the threats to America and to defend against them. Now I'm beginning to understand what I should never have forgotten: that a man in an expensive suit behind a big desk is still just a man. Ok. That's where we are. What do we do about it?