The Arsenal of Theocracy

There are now hints that something more than a video might have been behind the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi.  Far from being a dusty backwater Libya is apparently the source of  arms flowing into Syria. The New York Times reports that:


Evidence gathered in Syria, along with flight-control data and interviews with militia members, smugglers, rebels, analysts and officials in several countries, offers a profile of a complex and active multinational effort, financed largely by Qatar, to transport arms from Libya to Syria’s opposition fighters. Libya’s own former fighters, who sympathize with Syria’s rebels, have been eager collaborators.

“It is just the enthusiasm of the Libyan people helping the Syrians,” said Fawzi Bukatef, the former leader of an alliance of Libyan brigades who was recently named ambassador to Uganda, in an interview in Tripoli.

And there’s no shortage of them either. The Daily Mail quotes MI6 sources which say “there are now more weapons in Libya than the entire arsenal of the British Army — and much of it is unsecured.” In particular:

Up to 3,000 surface-to-air missiles have gone missing in Libya since the conflict – and spy chiefs say the state has become the ‘Tesco’ of the world’s illegal arms trade.

More than one million tonnes of weapons belonging to Colonel Gaddafi were looted from arms dumps after the dictator was toppled in October 2011.

MI6 agents fear large numbers of weapons – which included 22,000 shoulder-launched missiles capable of bringing down an aircraft – have been smuggled out of Libya to groups linked to Al Qaeda.


Tesco, for those who’ve never heard of it is British for “big time supermarket”. It’s the supermarket of weapons.

The New York Times continued: “As the United States and its Western allies move toward providing lethal aid to Syrian rebels, these secretive transfers give insight into an unregistered arms pipeline that is difficult to monitor or control. And while the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell.”

The NYT uses the artful modifier “Western allies” to avoid drawing attention to the fact that American ally Qatar has apparently been supplying arms to Syria all along. The Libyan operation captured an entire supply dump of weapons — bigger than the arsenal of the British Army, according to MI6 — and moved substantial quantities into Syria.  And the best part is that everyone was doing it out of humanitarian motives, from a “responsibility to protect”.

The international opposition to owning firearms apparently extends only to US citizens. The right of al-Qaeda right to keep and bear 51 caliber machine guns and surface to air missiles shall apparently not be infringed. Look at it this way: the protections of the US constitution are coming to the world — first.


Could this have anything to do with the attack on the US consulate at Benghazi? That is the 64 million dollar question. But the anecdotal evidence is suggestive. A Reuters reporter was recently shown around that picturesque city. “A Reuters reporter was taken to an undisclosed location in Benghazi to see a container of weapons being prepared for delivery to Syria. It was stacked with boxes of ammunition, rocket launchers and various types of light and medium weapons.” His guide, who spoke “Manchester accented English” said:

“Even when the war in Syria ends, there will be another war in region; Sunni against Shia. At the beginning, there was just Assad to bring down … now Hezbollah, Iran are involved.”

In the immortal phrase of Karen Carpenter, “it’s only just begun.” That wouldn’t come as a surprise to Spengler, who has long resigned himself to seeing the region go up in smoke. He writes, “Syria and Egypt are dying. They were dying before the Syrian civil war broke out and before the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo.” You mean that stuff about the Arab Spring wasn’t true?

Sometimes countries dig themselves into a hole from which they cannot extricate themselves. Third World dictators typically keep their rural population poor, isolated and illiterate, the better to maintain control. That was the policy of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party from the 1930s, which warehoused the rural poor in Stalin-modeled collective farms called ejidos occupying most of the national territory. That was also the intent of the Arab nationalist dictatorships in Egypt and Syria. The policy worked until it didn’t. …

Egypt remains a pre-modern society, with nearly 50% illiteracy, a 30% rate of consanguineal marriage, a 90% rate of female genital mutilation, and an un- or underemployment rate over 40%. Syria has neither enough oil nor water to maintain the bazaar economy dominated by the Assad family.

Both were disasters waiting to happen. Economics, to be sure, set the stage but did not give the cues: Syria’s radical Sunnis revolted in part out of enthusiasm for the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and partly in fear of Iran’s ambition to foster Shi’ite ascendancy in the region.

It took nearly two years for the chattering classes to take stock of Egypt’s economic disaster.


So what is the goal of Western policy there? Greasing the skids? Is the Arab world ground zero in the new Zombie Apocalypse?

But gradually the penny is dropping.  It may have taken 2 years to realize that Egypt was falling apart but it took less than a year for the NYT to realize Libya was connected to the process of arming Syria.  At this rate of learning Hillary Clinton will have realized the place is a mess by the middle of her administration. Too bad there are millions of humans of beings involved and that war often spreads unintentionally ever further afield.

It has been said that “the ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.”  The present bunch will eventually learn — at everyone else’s expense.

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