The Obama administration has a habit of helping our enemies obtain weapons, with lethal consequences. The Fast & Furious operation resulted in guns going to Mexican drug lords. The Libyan “lead from behind” operation allowed weapons to get loose and ultimately into the hands of Islamist jihadists. The latest episode involves arms flowing from Islamic countries, who claim to be in our camp, to Islamist jihadists, some with ties or affiliations with al Qaeda.
While the United States has not been directly arming the Syrian rebels itself – at least not openly – the Obama administration has effectively outsourced this task to our allies in the region, principally Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They have done so in part through the Free Syrian Army, which operates from bases in Turkey.
As the New York Times reported on October 15th, most of the arms shipped are “going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”
Qatar is reportedly the largest source of shipments going to the jihadists fighting in Syria. According to the Times, “American officials have been trying to understand why hardline Islamists have received the lion’s share of the arms shipped to the Syrian opposition through the shadowy pipeline with roots in Qatar, and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia.”
Vice President Joe Biden curiously omitted to mention Qatar at last week’s vice presidential debate when he discussed the countries supplying aid to “the free forces inside of Syria.” He listed only Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. Was this simply an oversight or an intentional omission to cover up the fact that an Islamic country in the Gulf region with whom we have close military and economic ties is in fact actively helping our enemies? Does Biden want us to forget how President Obama publicly praised the emir of Qatar in April 2011 during the emir’s visit to the Oval Office for his country’s role in supporting democracy in the Middle East, as a hedge just in case more evidence becomes known of Qatar’s complicity with the Islamist jihadists in Syria?
Here is what President Obama said publicly according to the White House transcript on April 14, 2011:
Well, I want to welcome the Emir of Qatar, and we have just completed a very useful conversation. I expressed to him my appreciation of the leadership that the Emir has shown when it comes to democracy in the Middle East… In addition to our efforts in Libya, we have a strong relationship between our two countries. It is an economic relationship. It is a military relationship. It is a cultural relationship. And obviously, Qatar has done very well under His Highness’s leadership, but his influence extends beyond his borders. And so we’ve had discussions about how we can continue to promote democracy, human rights, increased freedom and reform throughout the Middle East.
In remarks Obama made privately to donors about the emir’s visit on the very same day in April 2011, which were caught by CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller via an open mike, the president made fun of the notion that the emir is really a democratic reformer. However, at the same time he praised the emir for buying peace by redistributing the country’s riches:
The emir of Qatar come by the Oval Office today, and he owns Al-Jazeera basically. Pretty influential guy. He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform. You’re seeing it on Al-Jazeera. Now, he himself is not reforming significantly (laughter from the audience). There is no big move towards democracy in Qatar.
You know part of the reason is that the per capita income of Qatar is $145,000 a year. That will dampen a lot of conflict (quiet laughter) – $145,000 a year!
Now keep in mind they have like 1.7 million people, and 75 percent of them aren’t even Qatari. They’re from all over the world. You know, Filipinos and Pakistanis.
But you know the average income is $145,000 a year. Now granted, if you look at the curve, I’m sure not every laborer there is making (that), but I make this point only to say that if there’s opportunity, if people feel like their lives can get better, then a lot of these problems get solved.
Obama can joke about the Qatar emir’s dedication to democratic principles, but Qatar’s role in the arming of Islamist jihadists is no laughing matter. Obama knew by his own admission, when at the same time he was publicly extolling “the leadership that the Emir has shown when it comes to democracy in the Middle East,” that the emir was in reality no democratic reformer. However, the Obama administration decided to rely on Qatar to help “promote democracy, human rights, increased freedom and reform throughout the Middle East.” And now, as the Obama policy of outreach to the Islamists unravels in the aftermath of the Benghazi disaster, the administration is suddenly waking up and expressing alarm that our partner Qatar is helping to arm the hard-line Islamist jihadists!
There were red flags unheeded by the Obama administration. For example, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group has been directing fighters, cash, and arms, funneled through Turkey, to the same Free Syrian Army our allies are arming. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group was designated an Al Qaeda affiliate by the United Nations pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999) and 1989 (2011), in addition to being listed by the U.S. State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. Meetings between Libyan jihadists and senior Free Syrian Army leaders, held nearly a year ago, were reported on at the time by the Daily Telegraph.
According to reports by the Vatican’s Fides News Agency last June, jihadist rebels “heavily armed and bankrolled by Qatar and Saudi Arabia” have been wreaking havoc on Christian churches and communities in Syria.
“Peace in Syria could be saved if everyone told the truth. After a year of conflict, the reality on the ground is far from the picture that imposes disinformation in Western media,” said a testimony sent to Fides Agency by the French Bishop Philip Tournyol Clos, a Greek-Catholic Melkite Archimandrite, who visited Syria, by traveling to different cities, like Damascus, Aleppo and Homs. “In the capital car bombs and assassinations on behalf of Islamist suicide bombers, drawn by the desire of heaven, that cradle the dream of the end of the Alawite regime are feared. Currently the country, through the bloody work of adventurers who are not Syrian is trying to be destabilized.”
Islamist monarchies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood now controlling the political levers of power in Egypt, seek a post-Syrian regime on the Islamist model, not on the secular democratic model that we fantasize for the Middle East. How many times do we have to be burnt before our foreign policy establishment acknowledges and acts upon that incontrovertible fact?
Could there be more disastrous unintended consequences from our allies arming Islamists, our most dangerous long-term enemies, in a conflict with the Syrian dictator for whom our short-term goal is regime change? Absolutely, because the Islamists our allies are arming will be in the strongest position to fill the vacuum of power if and when Assad is forced out. Another Benghazi-type tragedy, or worse, could then be in the offing.
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