If Jeff Stein’s piece is accurate, it’s pretty depressing. I can think of some arguments against this sort of gotchya work — and I would like to know how many people in government answered the question correctly that didn’t end up in his piece (quoting them would spoil all the fun). He says “some” easily handled the question. Well is some “most” or is some “almost none.”
But, it seems to me a no-brainer that anybody with serious strategic responsibilities in the war on terror should know the difference between Shiites and Sunnis. One needn’t be an expert on the theological distinctions. But one should know that the distinctions exist and are important. These people could have answered Stein’s question easily if they’d read any one of literally thousands of op-eds or popular magazine articles on the Middle East in the last five years.