I agree with Ilya Somin: No one should serve on the Congressional intelligence committees (or, for that matter, the committees on defense or foreign relations) without being about to pass this simple binary quiz about the Sunni/Shi’a split.
Of course, Somin has a solution to the problem of Congressional ignorance. Comfortably, it turns out to be the same solution he and his fellow libertarians offer for every problem from the price of fish to the common cold: “reducing the size and scope of government.” If Congressmen weren’t so busy passing out the pork, he says, they’d have more time to study Middle Eastern politics. And if you believe that, he’ll tell you another one.
No doubt it was by mere oversight that Somin didn’t suggest the same test for various posts in the Executive Branch, starting of course with the Presidency. (I seem to recall, when the Republicans nominated for President an ignorant provincial who didn’t know the name of the President of Pakistan and got Slovakia confused with Slovenia, the right-wing commentariat all chorused “This isn’t a game of Jeopardy.”) How many of the twentysomethings the Bush Administration recruited from the Heritage Foundation resume bank to run the Coalition Provisional Authority could have passed the ABC quiz?
Ignorance in government is a problem. The only solution is to attract a better class of elected and appointed officials. Somehow I doubt that constantly chanting “Private sector good! Public sector bad!” helps that solution along.