Alla yous who don't believe me when I claim people in the Middle East know more about us, by several orders or magnitude, than we know about them, consider this: Last night I caught a quiz show on Lebanon's Future TV. The contestants were a guy sporting a beard, a woman in a hijab, and another guy in a checked shirt. I couldn't really follow the questions, but here is a completely representative sample of answers I wrote down in one two-minute stretch:
"Richard Armitage," "Michael Howard," "Kim Jong-Il," "Ahmed Chalabi," "Hillary Clinton," "Catherine Zeta-Jones," "Master and Commander," "John Abizaid," "Secretary of Defense."
This story by "Spengler" [thanks to Arts & Letters Daily for the link] gives a nice rundown on how seriously the U.S. is outclassed in the intelligence game, but I think stuff like these quiz show questions (with which the contestants had very little difficulty) is even more telling. These aren't even people (as far as I know) who make it their business to know about the West. This is just a wide, deep, general, social familiarity that Americans can't hope to match.
Americans' disinterest in the foreign part of foreign affairs is a national trait I not only endorse but participate in fully; if you'd told me two years and three months ago that I would ever have to know or care who Syria's deputy defense minister is (answer: Issa Darwish), I'd have killed myself three times. But as deep as we're in now, and as long as it will be before we can get out, I refer one and all to the great Somerset Maugham story "The Outstation," for a demonstration of what happens to even the most powerful westerners when they aren't duly deferential to the locals.
My fellow Americans: Put down your blogs and hit the books.