On Tuesday I interviewed journalist and author Lawrence Wright, long a contributor to The New Yorker. Wright’s The Looming Tower won the Pulitzer for general non-fiction last week, and its chilling account of the rise of al Qaeda awakens any objective reader to the facts that this worldwide Islamist threat is not the creation of the Bush presidency, and more than retreat from Iraq would stall its growth or limit its appeal. There is no alternative to fighting it wherever it appears, just as there is no alternative to cabining Iran’s ambitions. (The transcript of Tuesday’s interview with Wright is here, and the audio here. A two-hour interview with him from last September is here, and the audio of that program is here and here.) Wright’s September 2006 New Yorker article, “The Master Plan,” on the grand strategy of the new generation of al Qaeda is more evidence that we have no alternative to victory in Iraq, and that the Democrats’ proposed course of action is simply suicidal.
Every responsible public official with any part in the conduct or oversight of the war needs to read Wright –his book and his articles and his interviews. He is respected across the political spectrum and his reporting is superb. Here is Wright’s damning assessment of our leadership’s knowledge of the enemy:
HH: The penetration of the book into some leadership circles is profound. In other places, I still find myself amazed that leading public figures are not only unacquainted with it, but unacquainted generally with the nature of al Qaeda. Is that a phenomenon still surprising to you, that our political leadership is often in the dark about the nature of our enemy?
LW: I get so discouraged about this, and it’s not just the political leadership. It’s, you know, our intelligence community, which is supposed to know all of this. I mean, one can expect that it’s hard for politicians to keep up to date with everything, and they rely on our intelligence community to keep them supplied with the relevant information. But you know, it’s not a joke when the head of the counterterrorism division for the FBI testifies under oath that he doesn’t know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, and that he thinks that’s an irrelevant question. It’s not irrelevant. It’s at the heart of things. It’s the reason that we are so handicapped in our battle against this enemy, because we don’t understand the first thing about them.
HH: How about when the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee confesses the same ignorance of the difference between the Sunni and Shia?
LW: There’s no excuse for it, Hugh. It’s…you pretend, you say that you are trying to ensure the nation’s safety, but part of…you know, the first act that you would take in that capacity would be to learn something about the enemy that you’re fighting against. But the arrogance and the ignorance that’s been displayed in our intelligence and political life is almost breathtaking. It’s…certainly, we don’t deserve to win this battle if we don’t make the effort to find out who these people are, and why they’re fighting against us.
The MSM has given a pass to senior leadership of the Democrats by refusing to ask them the sort of basic questions that would reveal their profound ignorance of the war and the enemy. Every time a Democratic leader appears on a Sunday show and gets asked about the minutia of deal-making on the Hill but gets no questions on the Mali operations of al Qaeda or some similar question that pushes them to study and learn the issue is another day of MSM’s complicity in the ignorance that is going to get a lot of Americans killed.
Even if you are lazy, at least listen to the three hour interview which, shorn of its news breaks and commercials, is really only about two hours. Download it into an iPod and take a long walk. You will come back aware of the menace that General Petraeus and the American forces are fighting in Iraq, and others are fighting around the world. We cannot retreat from it, or the separate and just as deadly threat of Shia extremism. When the Vice President spoke bluntly about Harry Reid yesterday, I think it was exasperation not with a political rival, but with Reid’s ignorance about the threat, an ignorance as inexcusable as it is dangerous.