Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA ought to be required reading for every member of the new Administration (along with Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 and Douglas Frantz's and Catherine Collins' The Man from Pakistan: The True Story of the World's Most Dangerous Nuclear Smuggler.) Weiner's book is a cautionary tale of just how unexpected the sudden shifts in the world can be, and just how unprepared our intelligence community has been over the past sixty years.
Weiner notes that President Jimmy Carter and his CIA Director Stansfield Turner were wholly unprepared for the Iranian revolution that plagues the world still:
The idea that religion would prove to be a compelling political force in the late twentieth century was incomprehensible. Few at the CIA believed that an ancient cleric could seize power and proclaim Iran an Islamic republic. "We did not understand who Khomeini was and the support his movement had," Turner said--or what his seventh-century view of the world might mean for the Untied States.
"We were just plain asleep."
It is hard to imagine that anyone in the incoming team is "just plain asleep" to the still rising tide of Islmaist fundamentalism, both Sunni and Shia variety, but the story in today's Guardian makes you wonder. "Obama camp prepared to talk to Hamas," runs the headline, and the opening paragraphs of the story are enough to alarm even the most ardent Obamian:
The incoming Obama administration is prepared to abandon George Bush's doctrine of isolating Hamas by establishing a channel to the Islamist organisation, sources close to the transition team say.