And the colonists were the ones in the red coats, right?

The difference between Sunnis and Shiites? Don't ask us.

Published October 18, 2006 6:02PM (EDT)

Rick Santorum isn't the only one with an Iraq fantasy. In ours, Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein makes it into the next presidential press conference so that he can ask George W. Bush the question that he has been putting to others in Washington: Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?

Bush would be prepared; Stein's Op-Ed in the New York Times this week has eliminated the element of surprise. If that weren't the case, we might all get to see the sort of spectacle that Rep. Terry Everett, the Republican vice chairman of the House Intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence, made of himself when Stein put the question to him the other day. The difference between Sunnis and Shiites? "One's in one location, another's in another location," Everett guessed before admitting that he doesn't actually know.

Rep. Jo Ann Davis took the opposite approach, admitting ignorance first and then making a guess. "You know, I should" know, Davis said. "It's a difference in their fundamental religious beliefs. The Sunni are more radical than the Shia. Or vice versa. But I think it's the Sunnis who're more radical than the Shia."

Everett and Davis shouldn't feel too bad. It's not like American soldiers are dying trying to keep Sunnis and Shiites from killing one another, and it's not like a lot of other Americans know any more than they do. The chief of the FBI's national security branch told Stein recently that the government of Iran and Hezbollah are controlled by Sunnis. He was close; the right answer does begin with an "S," after all. But really, who could care? It's like Trent Lott says: "They all look the same to me."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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