Eric Harroun (Right) (Facebook)
There is a bumper sticker popular with Libertarians and other folks critical of government tax policy which reads something like, “Don’t steal, the government hates competition.”
Another area where the current U.S. government has recently made clear it doesn’t like competition from the individual is in the supporting of jihadists in Syria, as recently learned by Eric Harroun, an American army veteran and convert to Islam, who travelled to Syria to fight the Assad regime.
Harroun joined the Free Syrian Army before being separated from his group and being picked up by Jabhat al-Nusra, a brigade of rebels representing Al Qaeda. Harroun fought alongside these Al Qaeda fighters, before finally leaving Syria for Turkey, where he was detainedby U.S. officials and charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (in this case a rocket propelled grenade or RPG) outside the United States.
So far, so good.
If Harroun is guilty –which seems likely, since all the evidence against him appears to be based on his own public statements – then he should indeed be jailed. Converts to Islam feature prominently in Al Qaeda terror plots against the United States (nearly a quarter of Al Qaeda plots in the U.S. were committed by converts), and U.S. officials are right to be wary of those training and fighting jihad abroad returning to the United States. European security officials have also expressed worries about the high number of European Muslims fighting in Syria.
But it raises a question.
If there is a serious security threat posed by men like Eric Harroun firing RPGs at Assad’s troops, why is the United States involved in shipping arms, including RPGs, to the very men with whom Harroun is fighting?
As reported by the New York Times and others, the Central Intelligence Agency is apparently involved in coordinating the shipment of arms purchased by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, including Croatian-made heavy weapons, to Syrian rebels. This effort is camouflaged by an official policy of only providing limited “non-lethal aid” to the Syrian rebels, while covertly the U.S. is assisting in the transport of lethal aid, with the Qataris and Saudis picking up the cost.
Reportedly these shipments are intended for Free Syria Army units, and not Al Qaeda-linked Jihadis, and the CIA’s role is to insure the weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands. But if these reports are correct, they have not proven very successful thus far.
The reason for this failure is because the Obama administration continues to claim that there is a real distinction between groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra and more “moderate” or “secular” Islamists like those tied to the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled Syrian opposition; despite all evidence to the contrary. They have not changed their position even after being repeatedly told by Free Syrian Army (FSA) commanders like Riad Al-Asaad that Al-Nusra fighters are “brothers in Islam”, or that “(W)e are all Jabhat Al-Nusra,” as 29 opposition groups insisted in December when the U.S. designated Al-Nusra a terror group.
Which brings us back to the bumper sticker. The reason why the “Competition” sticker is striking is because it points to a fundamental principle of American justice, namely the rule of law, and the understanding that illegitimate actions do not become legitimate simply because they are carried out by the government.
And yet that is, effectively where the U.S. is today. To paraphrase, to provide Al Qaeda with one RPG is a crime, while to provide it with thousands is policy.
Eric Harroun will most likely be imprisoned for his efforts fighting alongside Al Qaeda, as well he should be. But there will be no accountability for the personnel of this Administration, whose policy is effectively to do the same as Harroun, just on a grander scale.
Kyle Shideler is the Director of Research and Communications at the Endowment for Middle East Truth (Emetonline.org)