Primary Sources

Will Saudi Arabia's Shiites remain docile?; Europe's dim view (quelle surprise!) of the United States; new doctors as menaces; the fairer, cleaner sex

The Other Shiites

Even as America worries about Iraq's Shiite-Sunni divide, a similar fault line threatens Saudi Arabia, according to a new report from the International Crisis Group. The kingdom's two million Shiites account for only 10 to 15 percent of the population, but they are concentrated in the Eastern Province, which is close to Iraq and home to the country's largest oil fields and processing facilities. Saudi Arabia's Sunni monarchs have long pursued policies intended "simultaneously to pacify and marginalize" the Shiite population: encouraging Sunnis to resettle in the Eastern Province, seizing the property and merchandise of Shiite merchants, and imposing restrictions on Shiite religious observances. Shiite clerics have generally responded by urging distance from political matters and quiet, gradual attempts to bring about reform. The report notes, however, that a Saudi branch of Hizbollah was founded in 1987 and continues to operate, and that thirteen Saudi Shiites were indicted for their alleged role in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers. It adds that many Saudi Sunnis think their Shiite countrymen are "biding their time, banking on external support—U.S. or other—to establish their own independent state." The risk of violent confrontation is currently low, the report concludes, but this relative calm brings its own danger—that the Saudi government will feel little pressure to take actions that might pre-empt a more militant, destabilizing Shiism.

"The Shiite Question in Saudi Arabia," International Crisis Group

Transatlantic Fence-mending

Has the Bush administration made much headway in its second-term efforts to ease tensions between the United States and Europe? A new survey suggests that the answer is no. Of respondents in nine EU countries, 52 percent think U.S.-European relations have stayed the same since the president's re-election; 25 percent think they have worsened; and just 20 percent think they have improved. (Europeans appear to dislike the Bush administration in particular more than they do the idea of U.S. leadership in general.) There seems to be slightly more eagerness for rapprochement on this side of the Atlantic: 54 percent of Americans would like to see the country move closer to Europe in security and diplomacy, whereas roughly the same percentage of Europeans would like to see the EU become more independent of the United States.

primary sources chart

When asked to rate their feelings toward America on a scale of one to 100, Europeans and citizens of Turkey (a country currently under consideration for EU membership) averaged a lukewarm 50; in contrast, Americans asked to rate their feelings toward European nations gave Germany, Spain, the UK, and Italy scores of 60 or higher, and granted even France a 53.

"Transatlantic Trends, Key Findings 2005," German Marshall Fund et al.


A Few Good Bureaucrats

It's pretty clearly not a good idea to recruit the former head of the International Arabian Horse Association to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency—but a new study suggests that the unfortunate case of Michael Brown represents just one extreme example of the problem with tapping outsiders to head government bureaus. Using the Bush administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool, which grades federal programs on a scale of one to 100, a political scientist has found that agencies headed by career civil servants score five or six points higher, on average, than those run by political appointees (factors such as the size and complexity of the agencies were controlled for). He notes that although political appointees tend to have more education and more-varied management experience than bureau chiefs who come up through the ranks, longtime civil servants have experience within the agency they head and tend to remain in their posts longer than political appointees. In addition, political appointees are likely to have other appointees, rather than experienced civil servants, as their top advisers: 10 to 33 percent of executives in appointee-run agencies are appointees themselves, compared with just three percent in agencies run by career officials. Brown's FEMA, the study comments, had a particularly "appointee-laden" management structure.

"Political Appointees, Bureau Chiefs, and Federal Management Performance," David E. Lewis, Princeton University

Presented by

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

 Marshall Poe is a writer and historian. He is the editor in chief of the New Books Network.

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