McCain's "Misspeak" - a small reminder
There’s plenty of commentary around on Sen. McCain’s recent statement about Iran assisting al-Qaeda. I’m not going to write about whether he was right the first time –- as others have -- but I am concerned about the idea (which seems to be behind some of the commentary) that they couldn’t work together because of ideological or religious differences. I remember similar ideas from the beginning of the war – from people who assured us that Saddam’s “secular” Ba’athist regime could never work with Islamist terrorists, as it could and did.
Of course, it’s good to know the difference between Shia and Sunni, between Ismaili and “Twelver” Shia, between Salafi/Wahabi and other Sunni, between the schools of Islamic jurisprudence, and more besides; I fervently wish that more of our leaders and commentators had a good basic grounding in these things (and I hope to keep improving my own, which is far from perfect). But in getting this knowledge, don’t let’s forget some of those basic truths about politics and strategy and strange bedfellows that continue to apply. Everyone knows the Assassins were a radical Shia sect; not everyone knows they allied variously with the Sunni Sultan Saladin – who had supplanted the last Shia Caliph – and with the Christian crusaders. As some say, the Arab Revolt of WWI may have been considerably exaggerated, yet it still amounted to Sunni Muslims allied with Christian westerners against Sunni Turkey – whose ruler was also the Sunni Caliph. Many have remembered the U.S. giving support to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war; not as many, I think, remember that Israel supplied arms to Iran during that same conflict. Some commentators have noted that, per the 9/11 Commission Report (scroll to “Turabi sought to persuade”), Iran did train al-Qaeda in the early 1990’s. Ideological purity doesn’t survive warfare any better than it does electoral politics. This is as true of the religious as of the secular kind. 1 Maccabees 2:32-41.