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.
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.