If You Thought Benghazi Was Bad, Watch Syria

A New York Times exposé suggests U.S. allies armed Libyan extremists, raising troubling questions over Syria's rebellion

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Javier Manzano / AFP / Getty Images

A member of Liwa Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting along side rebel fighters, aims at a regime fighter in the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, Dec. 6, 2012.

The cat’s out of the bag. During Libya‘s rebellion, the White House OK’ed the arming of rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime to Arab partners in the Gulf, and rumors have abounded ever since over the identity of some of the recipients of weapons sent by U.S. allies. Now, a story in the Wednesday’s New York Times claims to have confirmed rumors that some of the arms supplied by Qatar and the United Arab Emirates ended up in the hands of Libyan Salafi groups. There’s no evidence these arms were actually used in the attack on the Benghazi consulate on Sept. 11, but the Times report will fuel speculation. It may also help explain why the Obama Administration has been dancing around the Benghazi incident as if were a grenade with the pin pulled.

It seems perfectly possible to me that some weapons sent from the Gulf could have found their way to Ansar al-Sharia, the group currently blamed for the Benghazi attack. That creates a problem for the White House. If such a link surfaces, the Obama Administration may try to blame Gulf Allies. Those countries, in turn, can be expected to say the White House ignored warnings the weapons might fall into the wrong hands.

(PHOTOS: Syria’s Slow-Motion, Bloody Civil War)

The intelligence services of the Gulf countries are not capable of directly orchestrating large-scale covert action programs, and in particular, large-scale arms transfers. Because of their limited capacity, they themselves are obliged to outsource the process, which, as it turns out, means handing money and arms to Salafi groups headquartered in the Gulf. Those Salafis are more than happy to take the money, and to use it to arm allied fighters in distant lands.

The key question, though is this: Why did the Administration think that outsourcing covert action to the Gulf Arabs would have a better outcome in the Arab Spring than was the case the last time the United States outsourced covert action to them? That would be when the Reagan Administration armed Afghan jihadists fighting the Russian occupation — most arms and support provided by the Arabs went to Afghan Salafis, not to mention the Arab volunteers who later become the core of al-Qaeda. Are memories truly that short?

Which brings us to Syria. Qatar, for one, has made no bones about its intention to continue arming Syrian rebels until Bashar Assad and his regime fall. The evidence so far is anecdotal, but I’ve heard enough of it to believe that much of the Qatari aid is going to factions of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood – and probably also militant Syrian Salafis. With Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons potentially in play, the regional threat from armed and empowered Salafis is greater in Syria than in Libya.

(MOREAfter Benghazi, Is al-Qaeda Back?)

Now that we’ve violated the iron law of covert action — that when there’s no oversight, money and weapons end up in the wrong hands — it’s time to change course. I’d recommend sitting down with all the players in the region, including Iran, to figure out how to cauterize the mess. And in case I haven’t made my point, blindly dumping more arms into the Middle East isn’t going to solve anything.

The story told by the New York Times suggests that, as Syria circles the drain, it behooves us to find out precisely to whom in that country the Gulf Arabs have been sending weapons and money. And equally important is to learn the lesson that it’s always a bad idea to outsource covert action in the Middle East. You’re better off sticking with a hands-off policy – enforcing embargos and sanctions – and letting the chips fall where they may.

MORE: The Anti-Assad Offensive: Can the West Oust Syria’s Strongman?

15 comments
StaffIran-Conoco
StaffIran-Conoco

Apparently the Republicans realize that a military investigation (sic cover-up) is necessary to prevent the civilian law enforcement from discovering the crimes (pursuant to Executive Order 13491) of rendition/detention of Libyan citizens by CIA operatives in Benghazi before the September 11th attacks. Recent revelations that Ambassador Stevens was a principle in the CIA operations to ship arms from US-backed jihadist in Benghazi those in Syria to fight Iran/Russia-backed government in Syria, suggests Stevens and the CIA contract soldiers killed in Benghazi were casualties in an illegal undeclared war that the US military has waged against the governments of Iran and Russia.

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

For us, there are 2 issues of importance in Syria, Their best interests and Our best interests.

As for their best interests, our assistance to the rebels is the right thing to do from any humanitarian stand point, in fact if we simply and efficiently targeted Assad's war making capability that would be the right thing to do.

Our best interests are more defined by whether the rebel outcome is more or less likely to be favorable to us after the war and that is a whole different kettle of fish and could easily go either way especially given the Taliban involvement with the rebels.

 But certainly by not providing material assistance it is more likely to go against us in the long run. 

Of course, then there is the matter of Russia who, until now would have taken our heightened involvement as a direct affront to their interests.

The bottom line is that Assad is using this opportunity to commit ethnic cleansing (genocide) on all tribes that are not his and we have a distinct moral duty to interfere in this process.

Will some weapons end up being used against us, sure almost unavoidably, but that does not mitigate our obligation to behave in a reasonable and humane fashion.

rorywong654
rorywong654

The West never consider or the well beings of other citizens ahead of their own interest.

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

This article contains nothing but speculation.

Intervention in Libya achieved the goal of a secular government and population friendly to the west. Non-intervention in Syria is fast achieving the opposite.

gornisht
gornisht like.author.displayName 1 Like

Re Syria. It is most interesting that now, after an additional couple of thousands have been killed ,( since China and Russia vetoed any resolution months ago) that Russia's Putin and Obama are talking about the possible use of chemical gas by Syria. This would indicate, that as long as one does not use chemical weapons, the slaughter can proceed  . Is there something that I am missing now?  Further, that the chemical weapons might fall into the hands of TERRORISTS?

If your ass was on the line, wouldn't you use whatever at your disposal?

How does one spell proactive? A red line for Assad, but no red line for Iran!

elcidharth
elcidharth

Thank God, US did not supply arms to Tahrir Square demonstrators demanding Hosni Mubarak's head. They did supply weapons to Syrian opposition.

Under the circumstances, since Egypt ought to thank Uncle Sam. Meddling in the internal affairs of Muslim countries by Pentagon and CIA has caused more miseries to the native population than hurricane Sandy.

leave them alone. It is not our fight.

...and I am Sid Harth@elcidharth.com

maco
maco like.author.displayName 1 Like

Journalists are amazing. I remember the height of Gaddafi article after article was - why is the administration taking too long to start arming the rebels. Now, forget that, why did you do it???

manapp99
manapp99

@maco Doubt you read an article by Robert Baer suggesting arming of the rebels. 

WilfTarquin
WilfTarquin

@manapp99 @maco Of course not. He's an isolationist. He thinks that if the US just hunkered down inside its fortified borders, everything would work out for the best.

PoojaRudra
PoojaRudra

NOTHING......JUST WAIT AND WATCH WHEN ASSAD WILL CHANGE HIMSELF IN GADDAFI... NOT ONLY ASSAD ALL THE FAMILIES OF ALWAITE WILL BE SLAUGHTER.. VERY VERY HARD TIME IS COMING VERY VERY FAST.

manapp99
manapp99

@PoojaRudra I am afraid you are correct. Remember the Chinese curse. "May you live in interesting times"

Dachman
Dachman

Syria kills 30,000 and the world accuses Israel of genocide, what a joke!

JimmyJimmy
JimmyJimmy like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@Dachman There is a civil war (funded by the U.S. and its allies) going on in Syria. Syria is not currently occupying land that does not belong it it. Syria does not attempt to starve and jail another country's people enmass. Can you not tell the difference between an internal civil war and a country that occupies, expels, starves, tortures and kills another country's people? Are you that daft?

kjmcnichols
kjmcnichols like.author.displayName 1 Like

Tell that to the Kurds.  Why don't you spend more than five minutes studying the situation.  Whose land does Israel "occupy?"  Jordan's?  Who's occupying Gaza?  Maybe Hamas, since they kicked the PA out?  Starve and jail?  How's that border crossing between Gaza and Egypt working out?  For people like you, it's always Israel's fault.  We've been told for years that all the problems in the Mideast are because of Israel.  Guess that's why every Arab country is a complete cluster, and is likely to remain so for a long time.  

rorywong654
rorywong654 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Dachman Syria killed 30000 or even more with the assistance of the West,I mind you.It's not a joke.