Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith is claiming President George W. Bush was unaware that there were two major sects of Islam just two months before the President ordered troops to invade Iraq, RAW STORY has learned.
In his new book, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created A War Without End, Galbraith, the son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, claims that American leadership knew very little about the nature of Iraqi society and the problems it would face after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
A year after his “Axis of Evil” speech before the U.S. Congress, President Bush met with three Iraqi Americans, one of whom became postwar Iraq’s first representative to the United States. The three described what they thought would be the political situation after the fall of Saddam Hussein. During their conversation with the President, Galbraith claims, it became apparent to them that Bush was unfamiliar with the distinction between Sunnis and Shiites.
Galbraith reports that the three of them spent some time explaining to Bush that there are two different sects in Islam–to which the President allegedly responded, “I thought the Iraqis were Muslims!” ~The Raw Story
This was an item that I mentioned in passing a few days ago and did not link to at the time, but remembered distinctly having heard a credible report about it on NPR as I was driving cross-country. It has apparently been an item in the public sphere for many years, and doesn’t surprise in the least, but it is interesting that more people have not made more of the President’s astonishing ignorance of the place whose deliverance and reform he has made into our national mission. As I understood the anecdote I heard on NPR, Bush was similarly unclear on who these Kurdish folks were. It’s all so complicated–thank goodness everyone wants freedom and democracy makes you get along with your neighbours, so all that strenuous thinking won’t be necessary.
After discovering that Sunnis and Shi’ites are both Muslims, which must have taken a minute to sink in, you can only imagine how scandalised Dobleve must have been to learn that the revered martyr and second Imam of all Shi’ites was named Husayn. I can see it now:
Bush: You mean these, er, Shi’ites like Husayn?
Rice: They love him. He is one their most revered figures.
Bush: But we all know Hussein killed the Shi’ites….It was the Shi’ites right?
Rice: No, Mr. President, that’s the other Hussein. You know, the one with the beret.
Bush: But I’m confused. In all these speeches you people give me, I keep saying that Hussein killed his own people, so he must be the Shi’ite one.
Rice: Unfortunately, Mr. President, that line is just a bunch of hot air we use to confuse people. Most of the people Hussein has killed can’t really be called his own people, but we say that so people will think that he’s completely nuts. Hussein hates the Shi’ites, and doesn’t care much for Husayn, either.
Bush: Okay, fine, so there are Shi’ites. But who are these other folks? Sunnis? Sounds like an Oklahoma football team to me.
Rice: Yes, Mr. President, very droll. Sunnis are the majority sect of Islam. They only recognise the four rightly-guided Caliphs and follow the traditions of the Prophet, which are collectively called the Sunnah. But they aren’t a majority in Iraq. But they’ve always been more or less in charge of Iraq ever since it was created in 1920.
Bush: But we just figured out that Husayn and the Shi’ites were in charge,didn’t we?
And on and on it would go, painful, confusing step after painful, confusing step until Mr. Bush would perhaps have become vaguely aware of the existence of the three generic groups and the rough outlines of why they differed. It’s just another in a long, long line of examples of why Mr. Bush was and is unfit to be President, and why his decision to invade Iraq had to have been made in a state of such stunning ignorance and misinformation that it should terrify every sane citizen left in this country. I don’t pretend that many modern presidents were necessarily that much better educated or better informed, but most of them did make a meager effort to become superficially acquainted with the countries where they were sending American forces at least a little in advance of sending them there.
In this kind of show-off wonkery Clinton was probably the most capable showman of my lifetime, which did not make his decisions any better, but it gave you the sense that if he was going to screw up spectacularly it was entirely for reasons other than shocking ignorance; when Clinton screwed up, which was more often than many are inclined to remember during the last bad five years, it was because his solutions were horribly flawed and dedicated to serving his own egomania and “legacy.” Mr. Bush seems to go from crisis to crisis in an impenetrable bubble of ignorance about each and every topic, perhaps surrounded by some kind of anti-knowledge shield developed specifically for him.
This fits into a pattern that Ricks has noted in Fiasco: an amazing presumption that Iraq would take care of itself, that there was no need to think very hard about “Phase IV” (as the post-war phase was called), much less prepare in depth for what would await American forces. In Bush’s world, God makes everyone want freedom. Full stop. There is nothing else to know.
There is something essentially neoconservative in this contempt for learning about a country’s history (except as a useful propaganda tool), culture, religious differences or social customs, so it is little wonder that Bush was the perfect sap for neocon agitators: his simplistic view of the world, founded in stunning ignorance, and their simplistic view of the world, founded in lunatic ideology, were perfectly suited for each other and reinforced the flaws of the other with their own amazing lack of interest in the real world.