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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Sunnis, Shi’a, Whatever

Today’s New York Times included an op-ed by Congressional Quarterly editor Jeff Stein that ought to be read by anyone who believes Republicans are the adult party when it comes to national security. Stein reports on his campaign to ask people in the administration and the Republican Congress who have critical responsibilities for the War on Terror if they know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Muslims. The answer is: they don’t.I won’t bother to quote from this piece, because the whole thing should be read. The bottom line is that a whole lot of Republicans who have championed, and even helped manage, the post-9/11 fight against jihadist terrorism, and the horriby botched sideshow in Iraq, don’t know a damn thing about Islam. Since even the dimmest Republican has probably on occasion echoed talking points suggesting that we are fighting to vindicate the true and pacific Islamic tradition as opposed to jihadist extremism, this ignorance about the basic divides in the Islamic world is, well, terrifying. It’s all the more alarming given the decisive importance of Sunni and Shi’a factions in Iraq.You don’t have to be a Democrat to be shocked by Stein’s disclosures. Over at National Review’s in-house blog The Corner, hyper-conservative Jonah Goldberg said this:

[I]t seems to me a no-brainer that anybody with serious strategic responsibilities in the war on terror should know the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. One needn’t be an expert on the theological distinctions. But one should know that the distinctions exist and are important. These people could have answered Stein’s question easily if they’d read any one of literally thousands of op-eds or popular magazine articles on the Middle East in the last five years.

No kidding. Jonah does not go the next step to wonder if there’s a connection between Republican policymakers who ignorantly think of all Muslims as essentially the same, and a Republican national security message based on the assumption that Americans in general can’t distinguish Iraqis from Palestinians from Saudis from Iranians.But if you take that next step, it does perversely rebut the notion that Republicans are cynically exploiting popular misapprehensions about Islam and the Middle East. Maybe the GOP, from George W. Bush on down, is essentially no better informed about such nuances as the difference between Sunnis and Shi’a than regular folks who are not charged with responsibility for our country’s security.’That theory would certainly help explain the Bush administration’s disastrous mistakes in Iraq and elsewhere. And just as certainly, it should refute GOP claims that its control of Congress is essential to national security.

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