Americans are learning more about the latest piece of major folly the United States has stumbled into in the Middle East, providing arms indirectly to Islamic extremists, considered to be our most important foe, in Libya and Syria.
It almost certainly wasn't done deliberately, but what occurred was that some in the administration of President Barack Obama wanted to provide military aid to the rebels against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya and, subsequently, to Syrians fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Knowing that probably most Americans, including in the Congress, would not want the United States to involve itself in the civil wars in either Libya or Syria to the degree that providing arms to one side or the other would have represented, the Obama administration decided instead to provide arms, or money or other materiel translatable into arms, to the Libyan and Syrian oppositions through third parties.
The instruments chosen were Sunni Muslim Persian Gulf monarchies Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. By involving them, the United States knew that it would be handing off to these countries the choice of recipients of the aid, including the arms. The CIA and the Defense Department were also -- in spite of the holes in U.S. intelligence -- fully aware that both the Libyan and Syrian opposition included Islamic extremists, with some groups affiliated with al-Qaida, even though their links to that organization might have been unclear.
So now we face the results. Post-Gadhafi Libya is still a seething mass of well-armed militias, lacking governmental authority and any semblance of law and order, more than a year after the death of Mr. Gadhafi. For example, no arrests have yet taken place as a consequence of the September killing in Benghazi of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three of his colleagues.
In Syria, one major element in U.S. and international efforts to try to figure out what should happen next there, in face of continuing inconclusive combat, many deaths, and thousands of refugees on the run, is the presence among the Syrian opposition of -- again -- well-armed Islamic extremists, some of whom no doubt obtained their weapons through the good offices of America's intermediaries in the region.
This is entirely crazy in terms of logical policy. It could even serve as evidence that the United States is not smart enough to play in Middle East politics and war, particularly to provide arms. In the short run, supply of U.S. arms to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for transmission to Middle Eastern rebel movements should stop flat. The United States arming Islamic extremist insurgents, sworn enemies, is breathtakingly bad policy and should end now, before more damage is done.