By Barry Rubin
Here’s still another of a series of self-serving leaks from the Obama Administration. In this case, however, different from the half-dozen previous examples, it reveals something very important about policy. Call it, “Fast and Furious, Middle East Style.”
In the Fast and Furious operation, the U.S. government funneled weapons to Mexican drug gangs. Now it is funneling weapons, at least indiscriminately, to anti-American, antisemitic, radical forces in Syria. That is, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. I am certainly not saying all the arms are going to that movement’s cadre and units the control. Yet what we know gives us ample reason to believe that it is the biggest beneficiary.
Suppose that there was one Mexican drug gang that was a bit more brutal. Would Fast and Furious then have been a great idea because it left that one out of the weapons’ distribution? No.
Yet that is precisely what is happening in Syria. Read closely the New York Times article on this matter because it reflects the precise information leaked by “American officials and Arab intelligence officers.”
“A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly [not any more!—BR] in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government….”
What does this mean? Read on:
“…in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said.”
This must be seen in the context of Obama Administration policy which can be fairly and accurately summarized as follows: Al-Qaeda bad; other revolutionary Islamist groups good. By “good,” they mean that it is possible to work with these groups, reasonable to help them, and logical to believe that they are already or will be moderate.
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Reading further removes all doubt:
“The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.”
So we can conclude:
- The fact that a lot of the weapons are being smuggled by the Muslim Brotherhood means they will go to Muslim Brotherhood cadre, strengthening that group’s ability to seize power first in the opposition and later in Syria as a whole
- While al-Qaeda is the group most likely to massacre Christians and Alawites, the Muslim Brotherhood is second on that list of potential mass murderers.
- Does the administration’s strategy mean that arms will not be given to radical Salafist groups not affiliated to al-Qaeda—which are much more important in Syria than formal affiliate of al-Qaeda—also likely to commit massacres and help produce an extremist Syrian regime some day?
- Doesn’t the fact that two of the three countries engaged in arms’ financing and supplying—Qatar and Turkey—are pro-Islamist create a real danger that the Syrian Islamists will be disproportionately armed? The same may also be true of the Saudis who backed Sunni moderates in Lebanon but helped anti-American Sunni Islamists in Iraq.
- This is in tandem with the continued Obama Administration support for the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Syrian National Congress (SNC)? Despite the fig leaf of putting a Kurd as the head of the group, the Brotherhood’s control continues. Since U.S. policy is being coordinated with the SNC, despite the opposition of other Syrian rebels, one can assume that the Brotherhood will be the big winner from this arms’ supply.
Now there are those in the West who favor the survival of Bashar al-Asad’s regime because they say that a revolution will bring something worse, that is, a radical Sunni Islamist regime. And there are also those in the West—like myself—who favor the overthrow of that regime because we believe that there is a chance for a better regime (better for Syria’s people and U.S. interests). Still others, believing no good solution is possible, think it best that the fighting continue, keeping Syria weak and reducing Iran’s strategic power.
Yet nobody should want to see U.S. help that makes the creation of a radical Sunni Islamist government, determined to wage jihad on America and on Israel, more likely. None should want to see a revolutionary and repressive Salafist state installed in Syria that would link up with other radical Sunnis (in Tunisia, limited by a coalition; in Egypt, if it beats the army challenge; in the Gaza Strip and the main opposition in Jordan) to form a bloc that would further destabilize the Middle East.
Is the administration secretly seeking to build up such a bloc, foolishly thinking this will counter Iran thus “serving” U.S. interests? That’s a logical speculation but so far I see no evidence that this is a conscious idea. As an al-Qaeda measure, yes, but is there a broader strategic “genius” at work here?
Let’s be clear. Obama Administration policy is promoting Sunni Islamism rather than fighting against it.
Is anyone in political life and especially in Congress going to suggest that U.S. help in arming radical Syrian Islamist forces should be banned? All arms to the greatest extent possible should be funneled to Syrian Sunni moderates, units competently led by Syrian officers who have deserted, or Kurdish and Druze nationalists.
Otherwise, one day we might wake up to find Syria is governed by a new dictatorship dedicated to destroying U.S. interests in the region, waging a jihad to destroy Israel, and spreading radical Islamism elsewhere, violently suppressing Syria’s people, and producing a massive flight of the country’s large Christian minority.
If this were to happen that would not be the result of a failed U.S. policy that tried to prevent it but a successful U.S. strategy that helped bring America’s second-worst enemies to power.
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.