the House Nancy Pelosi was sworn in only a few days ago, but what may be
the biggest blunder of her reign was committed even before the start of
the 110th Congress. The chairmanship of the House
Intelligence Committee is an issue that has stood out in the news since
the November elections, largely because Pelosi has managed to stumble on
it not once, nor twice, but three times – and with severe consequences.
Congresswoman Jane Harman, who had ended the last Congress as the
Democratic ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, fell out
of favor with Pelosi when the latter noticed that Harman was not
opposing President Bush on issues as strongly as the minority leader’s
memos dictated. Thus, despite Harman’s relatively solid background in
intelligence issues and international relations, and in disregard for
the oh-so-beloved 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to give experienced
members longer tenures on intelligence panels, Pelosi decided to skip
over Harman for the position. Not so disastrous, one might say – until,
of course, the alternative is exposed.
choice for the woman who has promised us an exceedingly ethical Congress
was Alcee Hastings, an impeached judge who was removed from office for
corruption and perjury. But after much criticism and the injection of a
substantial dose of irony, Pelosi relented. Finally, she settled on
Silvestre Reyes, a 10-year veteran of the House of Representatives who
does not know which religion the 9/11 hijackers adhered to.
That’s right. Reyes was given a pop quiz that
consisted of questions the easiness of which should insult any
Congressman. The first question was… ready for this? Is Al-Qaeda made up
of Sunnis or Shiites? “They have both,” Reyes replied, giving a
politician’s measured, moderate reply to avoid sounding completely
wrong. Then, in a fit of confidence, he went on, “predominantly –
It is quite incredible that at a time when
America is fighting a global war that threatens its very survival, the
man in charge of intelligence in the U.S. House of Representatives is
unaware of the fact that one of Al-Qaeda’s eventual aims is to eliminate
the existence of Shiites the way we want to eliminate Al-Qaeda. Five
years ago, Osama Bin Laden sent 19 terrorists to kill 3,000 Americans,
on behalf of a Sunni organization. One needn’t be head of the House
Intelligence Committee to understand this fact, nor a Congressman. The
only prerequisites to having such knowledge are a shallow interest in
anything beyond MTV’s Real World and an IQ only moderately above that of
Al-Qaeda’s religious affiliation is not a
negligible detail, not an inconsequential piece of trivia. It defines
much of the global war on terror – from the Middle East, to the
Philippines, Africa and even the cities of Europe and the United States.
The Sunni-Shiite divide, in turn, is the fulcrum around which the
immediate and long-term future of the Middle East will revolve. Ruptures
between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon are already becoming
apparent, while tensions between Iran and Sunni Arab countries are far
The mere magnitude of the situation should
suffice in demonstrating that any participation in policy
decision-making on behalf of 300 million people, and in the interest of
six billion, requires a far more than basic understanding of the vital
relations with and within the Muslim world. Here, we don’t even have the
basics. And that was question number one.
The second question was not much more difficult.
“Hezbollah,” Reyes was asked, “what are they?” The House Intelligence
Committee chairman eloquently articulated a response: “Hezbollah. Uh,
Hezbollah… Why do you ask me these questions at five o'clock?” Reyes
could not even say “what” Hezbollah is. Not even its Shiite affiliation
or its location in Lebanon – never mind its activities and funding from
Iran and Syria. Its identification as a destabilizing armed force in
Lebanon was too much to expect.
Well, they’re watching this. They’re all watching
it, and closely. Al-Qaeda, the Sunnis, the Shiites, Hezbollah, the Iraqi
people, the Iranian Mullahs. Heck, the world. They’re watching the
United States put in a powerful intelligence position a person with no
comprehension of the identity of either America’s major terrorist enemy
or one of the Middle East’s principal militias. How disheartening it is
to our friends the Iraqis, the Lebanese and democratic forces around the
Arab world. And how emboldening it must be to our enemies.
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