A Fast and Furious foreign policy

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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Let’s get this straight: Guns are too dangerous to be left in the hands of ordinary Americans. But guns in the hands of unknown rebels, who may turn out to be violent extremists, are just fine.

At the same time the Obama administration is threatening to curtail access to firearms in order to prevent gun violence at home, the president is channeling Warren Zevon abroad: “Send lawyers, guns, and money.”

And send them to the most dangerous, unstable places in the world.

The United States armed the rebels who overthrew Qaddafi in Libya. The administration is at least contemplating arming anti-Assad rebels in Syria. And although France balked at the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we will be providing logistical support to our freedom-fries friends in Mali.

What could possibly go wrong?

Arms shipments from Qatar secretly approved by the Obama administration have already wound up in the hands of Islamists.

“The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya,” The New York Times reported, “allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.”

Armed Libyan militants, in turn, murdered four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, in an attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There is no evidence of a connection. But what happened in Benghazi seems like a good reason to refrain from encouraging the distribution of weapons without knowing where they will end up or who will start firing them.

Qatar is also the source of many of the weapons flowing into Syria, where jihadists are said to be getting most of the weapons sent to the rebels. “The opposition groups that are receiving most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” an American official told The New York Times.

Even the Obama administration has been reluctant to directly arm the Syrian rebels, assuming their public statements match what is happening covertly. “Providing arms has to be done in a way that helps promote a political solution,” an Obama official told ABC News. “And until we understand how these arms promote a political solution, we do not see how provision of arms is a good idea.”

But, the official acknowledged, “the president has never ruled out in the future providing arms.”

Many of the Islamic fighters heading into Mali were dislodged by the “kinetic military action” — the Obama administration declines to say “war” — in Libya. According to some reports, the Malian government was toppled in part by defectors trained and armed by the U.S.

Arming the enemy of one’s enemy is nothing new. It was even part of the strategy that helped the West win the Cold War (though even then it did not always work). But arming just anyone, without solid intelligence or U.S. supervision, is a fool’s errand.

Remember Fast and Furious, the ill-fated gun-running operation in which weapons were allowed to walk into Mexico? Many of these guns ended up in the hands of cartels and didn’t turn up again until after they were used in violent crimes, including murders.

If Fast and Furious was a fiasco, how much worse is the potential of a foreign policy predicated on arming rebels in countries filled with Islamic radicals, where the U.S. government has little clue what is going on and no direct control over the weapons’ distribution?

This hands-off approach is designed to avoid accountability, but it leads to longer-term problems. The New York Times story on the weapons going to Libyan jihadists noted, “Relying on surrogates allows the United States to keep its fingerprints off operations, but also means they may play out in ways that conflict with American interests.”

No background checks, no waiting periods, nothing even as strict as the so-called gun show loophole.

You can also bet that these are military-style weapons, with no restrictions on magazine clips.

To quote the next line from Warren Zevon, “The shit has hit the fan.”

The theory behind this Fast and Furious foreign policy is that the Obama administration can wage the war on terror without consequences. But even the most clever politicians and policymakers cannot avoid the law of unintended consequences.

There’s an old adage in the gun control debate: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.

Imagine how much truer the second half of that statement is when guns are shipped to outlaw nations.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.