Thursday, December 14, 2006

Snapshot of the "average American"...

I could not help a quiet smile.

Reyes sat down with a reporter for the Congressional Quarterly to answer a few questions, like: Is Al Qaeda Sunni or Shia? Answer: Sunni. Reyes stumbled around and tried to sit the fence by saying both. Clueless.

What's the difference, Mr. Intel Committee chairman, between Sunni and Shia? This one actually requires two minutes of reading and even Wikipedia can keep you in the ballpark. Suffice it to say, Shia are followers of Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. Ali was married to the prophet's daughter Fatima, and when the prophet died some Muslims thought Ali should lead Islam and others thought a learned scholar should be the leader, hence the split between Shia, followers of Ali, and Sunni, a long time ago after Muhammad died.

That thumbnail sketch would have gotten him through it, even as crudely as I related it.

Now are there Republicans who voted for the war who don't know these facts? Sure. But we're now talking about the people in charge, and as of January Reyes is in charge and he's clueless.

Pelosi told Brit Hume that the war in Iraq isn't a war, but a situation that needs to be fixed. She picks a guy who doesn't know why Al Qaeda was formed or which branch of Islam it represents.

The Herald this morning mentioned Reyes' response to the question "What is Hezbollah?". He offered to respond in Spanish but, as the Herald article pointed out, it is unlikely that Spain has much to do with the correct answer.

I wonder - I can think of some - a few - NZ politicians who would certainly know the answers to two of the three questions. But what about the likes of the common back-bencher?


Dave Justus said...

I saw this series, and I don't think it is 'fair.' Reyes will be in charge of congressional oversight of intelligence, but he won't be a part of collecting or analyzing intelligence in any way. Simply put, that isn't his job. The oversight duties have nothing to do with knowledge of the middle east any more then they required detailed understanding of the Soviets during the cold war.

In some ways, being an 'expert' on such things might be a detriment to the job, the last thing intelligence agencies need is micro-managing in their analysis.

Further, the historical thumbnail you present doesn't actually tell us anything about the motivations of various Sunni or Shiite groups. Immense detailed knowledge of the middle east and its culture and factions is useful for analysts and others in positions of power (Gen. Abizaid being a great example) but a wikipedia sketch of history is probably useless, and may even be counter-productive, at least Reyes KNOWS that he isn't a middle east expert, which is useful.

The probligo said...

Dave, I have worked 30 years in managerial roles. I do understand the difference between "oversight" and action.

From that experience though, I do know that there is a considerable need - no, a paramount need to understand the functions and the work content being processed.

What you are saying seems to be that he is a good functionary bureaucrat, and that little more is required in the Chairmanship of the Intel Committee.

I beg to differ.

If Reyes is to function as the leader of a group responsible for setting government policy in as sensitive area as your country's international security then I for one would expect him to have at least a working knowledge of what is happening and who is involved.

What you are proposing is that the factory where I work would function just as well if the Managing Director did not know the difference between a press and a roll-former.

Dave Justus said...

Your post, and even more your comment, betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how the U.S. government works and the seperation of powers. Perhaps it should be titled Snapshot of the average New Zealander.

Management of the CIA, and other intelligence agencies is not in the Congress, it is in the executive branch. Congress has oversight, which includes budgeting and legal oversight to protect rights, but it doesn't choose targets or provide analysis.

Government Policy for intelligence is set by the executive branch.

So what I am suggesting, is that the accountants and benefits administrator of you company would function just as well if they didn't know the difference between a press and a roll-former. I would submit that that is accurate.

Further, Sunni-Shia is only a very small portion of the total sum knowledge needed for U.S. intelligence, Islamic Terror is important of course, and probably near the top of the list of concerns, but it isn't the only thing our government worries about. Intelligence Gathering for the worlds sole superpower unsuprisingly blankets the globe, and their are numerous threats that have to be looked at. Expertise on Sunni-Shite issues is important for several people in the various organizations, general knowledge for some higher up, but probably not hugely relevant for even the DCI, presuming that the analysis he is getting from below is accurate.

As an example, the President of the company I work at doesn't need to know the difference between programming in PHP and Java, as long as the IS people he has are able to let him know what the best tools for the jobs we need to are, he just needs to get them to us.

The probligo said...

So I guess that is why the international actions of the US are as they are.

No one with responsibility needs to know anything more than "American interest - YES".

No one with "responsibility" wants to know anything more than the sycophantic bureaucrats feed them, just in case there is a sudden need for a politician to take "responsibility". How can you be responsible for something if you act on advice.

And I guess that your analysis explains exactly why Rummy was so good at his job too. You really have to admire his version of "I don't know".

I will stick with a boss who knows the fundamentals and principles of the business he (or she) is running, who has a good general knowledge of the threats and opportunities that exist, and who takes the time to get the knowledge where and when those threats and opportunities change.

Oh - to be clear - opposing, challenging, and questioning government policy and action is as important a function in a democracy as is determining those policies and actions. To put a know-nothing into an opposition leadership position is no different to making the tea-lady the leader of a minority shareholder group.