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December 09, 2006

Confederacy of Dunces

Looks like incoming House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes is the latest in a long line of Congressional national security experts who don't actually know anything about national security. He thinks the viciously anti-Shiite al-Qaeda are...Shiites, something that even casual observers of the Iraq War know to be false, given that al-Qaeda is gaining ground in Iraq as protectors of the Sunnis. He thinks Hezbollah is, well, he doesn't quite know, which probably also means he doesn't know their sponsors in Iran are Shiite, and thus invested in Shiite dominance in Iraq. Oy.

This isn't like the geography tests high school seniors routinely fail, triggering rounds of handwringing over our failing education system. These issues are important. And Silvestre Reyes is paid to understand them. National security isn't my focus, but I've read at least a couple books on the Middle East, terrorism, and Iraq. And believe me: You can't get through the intro of these books without being treated to an extended disquisition on the differences between Sunnis and Shiites, who falls where, and how their ancient enmity set the stage for all that has come since. What Reyes' ignorance means isn't that he's got a poor memory for categories: It's that he's not made even basic efforts to educate himself on the relevant concepts.

So what the hell are we paying these people for? And given that Jeff Stein made headlines a few months back with a New York Times op-ed embarrassing an array of Congressmen by detailing their ignorance of these very facts, how detached must Reyes be not to have boned up on those very facts?

December 9, 2006 | Permalink


First, there goes one of my examples for showing what assholes Republicans can be to my Republican relatives at Christmas.

Second, I'm taking a fairly basic class on this stuff right now, and I don't know the details off the top of my head, so I can understand why a lot of people don't. I just have to wonder, though, are there any representatives who know the difference? If there are, do they have a background in defense or intelligence matters? Why or why not? As bad as it is for me not to be terribly familiar with this stuff, it's worse for these guys, because they, you know, make the big decisions.

Posted by: Brian | Dec 9, 2006 1:49:36 PM

"He thinks the viciously anti-Shiite al-Qaeda are...Shiites,"

Well, he is a Democrat. The people elected Dems cuz they wanted change, and this is what they got. Dems aren't perceived as weak on national defence for no reason.

It would be like appointing a woman House Mathematics Chairman or House Automobile-Driving Chairman.

(That last sentence was a joke for all you liberals out there.)

Posted by: Captain Toke | Dec 9, 2006 2:14:07 PM

Toke: Did you never read the other article? It was all about Republicans not understanding the difference between the Sunnis and the Shi'a. In fact, Reyes actually DID BETTER than those Republicans. Stein even notes in the most recent article (I'm guessing you didn't read that either) that Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va., and Terry Everett, R-Ala of the intelligence committee were also stumped.

Now that's not to excuse Reyes--not only should he not be chairing the intelligence committee, he quite frankly shouldn't be in Congress. This guy wants to send MORE troops into a situation he obviously has no understanding of. I find that's disgusting.

But it has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans.

Posted by: Eric The Political Hack | Dec 9, 2006 2:58:11 PM

Captain Dope -- uh I mean Toke,

You obviously didn't read all of Ezra's post, or click the links. At the page behind the "made headlines" link, is a previous article in October where he asked a bunch of *Republicans* the exact same question, and most of them couldn't answer it either.

So this doesn't prove that Democrats are weak on nat security (relative to Republicans). It proves that both sides of the aisle are filled with ignoramuses.

I'm not sure which scares me worse.

Posted by: Steve | Dec 9, 2006 2:58:30 PM

Those of us who aren't always have a hard time understanding schmoozers and salesmen. I am not completely sure that knowledge, facts, reality, truth, reason matter in selling tomato soup or in selling war or peace, but the tomato soup and war still seem to get sold. The salesmen don't put that high a premium on the facts.

Now what is Reyes job? To hustle his colleagues and constituents. His staff will provide alternatives, and Reyes will try to determine what can be sold and how to sell it. Too much knowledge might get in his way. He does get feedback from his constituents.

Which is why it is about getting the voters in Congressperson X's district to watch Gore's movie, not about Congressman X watching it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Dec 9, 2006 3:03:17 PM

I was never convinced that Al Gore "got" the Internet so much as he had some able staffers who were practically evangelical on the subject who sold him on it and drafted supporting legislation for him to sponsor. Al does deserve credit for listening to their arguments, of course.

Along these lines, I assert that, for evaluating a congressperson in a particular policy area, you have to consider his/her entire retinue. Is the office stacked with political flacks or policy wonks? A press that was doing its job might actually look into the matter...

But I have to agree that Reyes' ignorance here is utterly appalling -- these are things he should have picked up simply in the course of doing his job (though for many Democrats the job consisted in twiddling their thumbs while the Republicans held their own closed meetings).

Posted by: idlemind | Dec 9, 2006 7:54:09 PM

There is a difference here. While Jo an Davis and Terry Everet should have been thrown off the committee for their ignorance. Reyes is the guy Nancy Pelosi appointed to chair the committee!

All bad, but on a scale of 1 - 10 The GOP losers would be a 7, and Pelosi's either ignorance or hubris in appointing an unqualified man to the post of chairman is a 10.

Jane Harmon knows what she is talking about and should have been the chair person for the Dems. Everybody knows it but politics trumped national security.

Posted by: The Ugly American | Dec 10, 2006 12:55:00 AM

please put jane harman in the chairmanship. please democrats.

Posted by: john marzan | Dec 10, 2006 5:05:37 AM

That committee has different rules for membership. Maybe one of them should be passing a basic test to qualify.

Posted by: Alex | Dec 10, 2006 10:05:38 AM

It seems amazing to me that people whose job it is to understand at least the basics of region as important to counterterrorism and national security could be so ignorant of some of the underlying concerns of the Middle East. To my mind, language concerns are also very, very important. Much more so than domestic sexual politics...

Posted by: sean | Dec 10, 2006 11:35:18 AM

Harman wouldn't have been any better. At least Reyes voted against the damn war. It was leaders like Harman who helped get us into this war, and I don't want the leader of the intelligence committee being involved in perhaps the biggest intelligence lapse in my lifetime.

Posted by: Eric The Political Hack | Dec 10, 2006 1:06:36 PM

Well, I am just a blogger commenter but BOY AM I CHEESED OFF THAT JANE HARMON WASN'T PUT IN CHARGE! I mean, I don't know all that much about her and not really about her voting record, but I do know from driving past it that their family made really nice speakers AND RAYS got all those questions wrong!

Pkay, so the post key is around here somewhere. There it is@

Posted by: jerry | Dec 10, 2006 1:51:22 PM

My real question is why do bloggers and blogger commenters know so much more about this stuff than the representatives? It might be that the representatives are spending too much time fundraising, but that doesn't answer the related question, which is, why are so many bosses so much more ignorant than the people they supervise?

Posted by: jerry | Dec 10, 2006 1:53:26 PM

Bush eventually learned who the President of Pakistan was, so we can hope that this article will spur Reyes to learn his stuff too.

The point about campaign reform giving Congress more time to do what it should is a good one.

Posted by: Sanpete | Dec 10, 2006 2:42:26 PM

This is incredibly sad and by now we are all coming to the realization of what it means to have such types on the left and on the right "fighting for us" post 9-11. Change focus: I would like to know from Stein (sp?) what people he has asked these quiz questions to and gotten GOOD answers? Who had interesting insights that were non-obvious? Who were the smart ones?

Posted by: TCO | Dec 10, 2006 6:17:13 PM

uh, Ezra? Hezbollah generally operates in Lebanon, not Iraq. There is an Iraqi Hezbollah - I believe its a party of Marsh Arabs - but presumably the reporter was referring to the Lebanese party. Moreover, while the US media typcially depicts Hezbollah as a sectarian Shia organization, in fact it is self-consciously multi-religious. Members of its party caucus in the Lebanese parliament include Sunnis and Christains.

Posted by: Rich C | Dec 10, 2006 8:18:50 PM


First, maybe you should reread Ezra's post. He said that Hezbollah's sponsors were Iranian and have an interest in Shi'a dominance in Iraq. He never said Hezbollah operated in Iraq, although there have been reports of Iraqi Shi'a militia members coming to the Beqaa Valley to get training.

Second, while Nasrallah has been apt at pushing for inter-confessional dialogue (not only with Sunni, but with Christians and, to a lesser extent, Druze) and cementing an alliance with the Christian General Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah still remains fundamentally a Shi'a party. So although the March 8 opposition coalition (between the Aoun alliance and Amal's and Hezbollah's Resistance and Development bloc) includes Christians, it does not include any Sunni parties. And it should go without being said that since Lebanon's electoral system is sectarian, there are no Sunni Hezbollah MPs.

This is not to say that there are no Sunni supporters of Hezbollah; I personally know some, and at the protests this week there have been Sunni speakers and clerics putting pressure on Siniora's government to resign or expand the cabinet to give the opposition mor e power.

At the end of the day, though, every major party in Lebanon is sectarian. While the electoral system didn't start this division, it certainly reinforces it, which is, to my mind, one of the major political problems in the country.

If you're interested in reading more about what's going on here on the ground in Beirut, you can come read my blog.

Posted by: sean | Dec 11, 2006 5:26:36 AM

again the beltway democats prove they're as woeful as the repubs.

Posted by: christian | Dec 11, 2006 3:44:02 PM

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