Lacking anything resembling an adequate number of Arabic-speaker, the military is apparently trying to build devices reminiscent of the old Universal Translator to fill the gap. It's rarely discussed, but you've got to think that the severe paucity of people who speak Arabic (to say nothing of Farsi, Pashto, etc.) is incredibly crippling to a whole range of military, diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement endeavors. Indeed, as best I can tell it's a fairly serious impediment to American journalism, and therefore to the general public understanding of what's even happening.

Clearly, it would take a long time for a massive investment in building skills in Middle Eastern languages to pay off, but all that goes to show is that we couldn't start such an effort soon enough. Indeed, had we really done it seriously in fall 2001, it might be paying off at least a little already.

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