The Daily Star, Lebanon
The 'Unsettling Ignorance' of United States Officials


October 20, 2006
Lebanon - The Daily Star - Original Article (English)    

A boy stands beside his father who was injured
by a roadside bomb attack in the town of Khalis,
50 miles north of Baghdad, Oct. 19. Ten were killed.

—BBC NEWS VIDEO: Bush admits plan for
Baghdad is failing, Oct. 19, 00:01:36

RealVideo[LATEST NEWS PHOTOS: Baghdad].

A boy holds the feet of his dead father's corpse outside a
hospital morgue in Baquba, about 40 miles northeast of
Baghdad, Oct. 18. He was killed by a sniper at a market.


The account of Jeff Stein [national security editor at Congressional Quarterly RealVideo] of the ignorance of American officials when it comes to the basics of Islam is cause for concern. Given that the "war on terror" is currently being fought by U.S. troops on two fronts, in Afghanistan and Iraq, one would think that all American decision-makers would be well-acquainted with the basics of those countries and their cultures. But Stein, who has long had access to Washington insiders, has revealed that a number of congressmen and top intelligence and law enforcement officials know little about the "enemies" with which the U.S. is at war, and that many don't even know the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni.

For over three years, the United States has had a presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which have mixed Sunni-Shiite populations. The mere fact of America's presence in these countries ought to have improved cross-cultural understanding. One of the reasons that this has not happened is that American officials on the ground administer their policies from heavily fortified compounds inside places like Baghdad's Green Zone. With key decision-makers operating in these cocoon-like environments, often knowing alarmingly little about the countries that they are trying to shape, it's no wonder that the policies the U.S. continues to pursue so doggedly are flawed.

This lack of basic knowledge is especially worrisome when it comes to Iraq, where violence between Sunnis and Shiites threatens to erupt into a full-scale civil war. Without an understanding of the dynamics at play, how can the United States ever hope to restore stability to the country? Official ignorance is also troubling in view of the fact that the Bush Administration continues to hint at an expansion of the "war on terror" in our region, through a military strike on either Syria or Iran.

From our view here in the Arab world, it seems as though the American government is unleashing a super-efficient killing machine without clear understanding or even a clear objective. That kind of aimlessness - caused in part by ignorance about this part of the world - could turn the imaginary "clash of civilizations" into self-fulfilling prophecy.



WindowsVideoABU DHABI TV, Dubai: Excerpts excerpts from an interview with Iraqi Member of Parliament, Iyad Jamal Al-Din, Seprember 10, 00:02:31, Via MEMRI

"Blessed be America for giving Saddam a good kick, sending him straight into the abyss of jail. Blessed be America for giving Mula Omar a good slap, sending him straight into the garbage bin of history and into the dunghills of oblivion. ... Along came America and broke the cage open, but the bird does not know how to fly, because it has never used its wings. "

Iraqi Parliamentarian Iyad Jamal Al-Din