To expand a bit on Greg’s excellent “Cheerleader of the Week” post:
One maddening little meme of our present media discourse on the Mideast is the idea that the Sunni-Shia rivalry automatically rules out the possibility of cooperation between, say, al-Qaeda and Iran, or the domination of Iraq by al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. You can practically feel the rictus spreading across Klein’s face when he trots out the Sunni-Shia split as proof that al-Qaeda domination of Iraq was, and is, an impossibility.
Things are more complicated than that; it’s not clear whether Klein and his ilk know this and ignore the fact or whether they are genuinely ignorant or their intellectual horizons so narrowly proscribed that they cannot evaluate the evidence.
For instance, there are some pretty good examples of Sunni-Shia cooperation in terrorist enterprises, not the least among them the campaign to drive India out of Kashmir in order to achieve an anschluss between that province and Pakistan’s Muslim majority.
Sunni-Shia cooperation for political and military ends is not exactly unheard of. The Khilifat movement, which sought to resist the dismantling of the political caliphate by colonial powers inspired cooperation between Shia and Sunni. The Shia (the encyclopedia informs us) didn’t recognize the caliphate, but they didn’t want to see Muslim political power diminished. And that is, no doubt, the same impulse behind things like the 2007 Saudi-Iranian summit, in which the big players in Islamic extremism worked to tamp down Shia-Sunni differences in order to cooperate against the infidel. Iranian boss Rafsanjani has made a point of calling for Shia-Sunni cooperation. So has Sadr.
And there is Shia-Sunni cooperation, in Kashmir, in Pakistan, and beyond. Shia-Sunni cooperation is part of what made taming Fallujah so difficult. Our own Tom Gross made a pretty good list of examples of this back in April.
So it turns out to be complicated. But you get your Joe Kleins of the world, in possession of one fact, and believing that this one fact is a magic bullet that destroys arguments with which they disagree, and it’s impossible to have an intelligent debate.