We [Stein and Silvestre Reyes, incoming Intelligence Committee chairman] warmed up with a long discussion about intelligence issues and Iraq. And then we veered into terrorism’s major players.

To me, it’s like asking about Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland: Who’s on what side?

The dialogue went like this:

Al Qaeda is what, I asked, Sunni or Shia?

“Al Qaeda, they have both,” Reyes said. “You’re talking about predominately [sic]?”

“Sure,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“Predominantly — probably Shiite,” he ventured.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Al Qaeda is profoundly Sunni. If a Shiite showed up at an al Qaeda club house, they’d slice off his head and use it for a soccer ball.

That’s because the extremist Sunnis who make up al Qaeda consider all Shiites to be heretics.  ~Jeff Stein

It’s reassuring to know that leading Intelligence Committee members on both sides of the aisle are equally clueluess–we wouldn’t want sheer ignorance of vital information to become a partisan football!  No, stunning, earth-shattering ignorance of the most basic information about the Islamic world and the jihadis is broadly bipartisan.  This helps to explain why Congress has been so bad about holding the executive accountable on foreign policy–it isn’t just that they’re lackeys and weak-willed, but they also wouldn’t know enough to correct Mr. Bush’s own stunning, earth-shattering ignorance about the region. 

Whenever anyone says, “The government knows more than you do,” that person is almost certainly wrong.  This is especially true when it comes to any one individual serving in the government.