National Review, By Andrew C. McCarthy — October 12, 2016
As has been widely reported this week, Hillary Clinton has accused the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar of “providing financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups.” She made this explosive claim in a memorandum outlining what is portrayed as her nine-point plan to defeat the Islamic State (the jihadist network also known as “ISIL” and “ISIS”) in Iraq and Syria.
The allegation against these two regimes is far from the only bombshell in the memo, which Mrs. Clinton sent to the White House in August 2014, a year and a half after she had stepped down as secretary of state. She sent it to John Podesta, who was then a top adviser to President Obama and is now the chairman of Clinton’s presidential campaign. The memo is included in the trove of e-mails hacked from Podesta’s accounts and published by WikiLeaks in recent days.
Another passage that has thus far received little attention is this one (the italics are mine):
We should return to plans to provide the FSA [i.e., the Free Syrian Army], or some group of moderate forces, with equipment that will allow them to deal with a weakened ISIL, and stepped up operations against the Syrian regime.
There has been no small amount of controversy regarding Obama-administration plans to arm so-called rebels fighting Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria — including questions about Mrs. Clinton’s knowledge of those plans. In particular, Congress has inquired about the administration’s participation in the shipment of weapons from Libyan Islamists to the Syrian rebels, including in 2012, while Clinton was still secretary of state.
As I noted in a recent column, one major weapons shipment from Benghazi to Turkey for eventual transit to Syria occurred just days before jihadists affiliated with al-Qaeda murdered four American officials in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. One of the officials killed was J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Benghazi who reported directly to Clinton — both in that capacity and in his earlier capacity as Obama-administration liaison to Islamist groups the Obama administration was supporting in Libya’s civil war. Siding with Islamists against the regime of Moammar Qaddafi, which was previously touted by the State Department as a key counterterrorism ally, was a policy spearheaded by Secretary Clinton.
The September 2012 weapons shipment was coordinated by Abdelhakim Belhadj, an al-Qaeda–affiliated jihadist with whom Stevens had consulted during the uprising against Qaddafi. Belhadj, one of the Islamists empowered by the Obama-Clinton Libya policy, took control of the Libyan Military Council after Qaddafi was overthrown. The 400 tons of weapons he dispatched from Benghazi arrived in Turkey the week before Stevens was killed. The ambassador’s last meeting in Benghazi, just before the September 11 siege, was with Turkey’s consul general.
While under oath in early-2013 Senate testimony, Clinton denied any personal knowledge of weapons shipments from Benghazi to other countries.
In the 2014 memo to Podesta, Clinton refers to the administration’s past “plans” to equip Syrian fighters, specifically either the Free Syrian Army or other “moderate forces.” Those plans undoubtedly included coordination with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to steer weapons to Syria, ostensibly to fight both Assad and ISIS. Nevertheless, Clinton’s memo asserts the Saudi and Qatari governments both support ISIS and other “radical Sunni groups.”
These “radical” groups include jihadists tied to al-Qaeda, who thread the “moderate forces,” the arming of which Clinton’s memo urges the administration to “return” to. Moreover, as I explained in an August column, the Free Syrian Army has long been coopted by the Muslim Brotherhood — an anti-American sharia-supremacist, pro-jihadist organization that the Obama administration (very much including the State Department under Secretary Clinton) portrays as “moderate.”
It must be noted that critics, including yours truly, have opposed working with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey to arm Syrian fighters because these countries aid and abet jihadists. Whether our government has colluded with these countries to steer weapons to Syrian groups, or has directly provided weapons to groups backed by these countries, many of the weapons so provided have ended up in the hands of anti-American jihadists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda.
The allegation in Mrs. Clinton’s memo that the Saudi and Qatari governments support ISIS and “other radical Sunni groups” (a reference that obviously includes al-Qaeda-affiliated groups) is extremely controversial. It has long been the U.S. government’s position — including that of the State Department when Mrs. Clinton was running it — that while jihadists are supported by some individual people and entities in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, including some with government ties, the regimes themselves are strong counterterrorism allies of the U.S. For example, the State Department’s most recent international-terrorism report outlines extensive efforts to combat terrorism undertaken by those two governments, even as it concedes that “some individuals and entities in Saudi Arabia continued to serve as sources of financial support for Sunni-based extremist groups, particularly regional al-Qa’ida affiliates such as the Nusrah Front.”
Critics (including yours truly) have long contended that, for all their ostensible opposition to “extremism,” the Saudis and Qataris endorse and enforce the ideology that leads inexorably to jihadism. The Saudi regime in particular turns a knowing blind eye to influential Saudis and Saudi institutions that support jihadists. The U.S. government’s portrayal of them as reliable counterterrorism allies is based on the wayward notion that “violent extremism” can be separated from the ideology that catalyzes it; thus, the administration’s theory goes, as long as the Saudis and Qataris oppose “violent extremism,” they are allies — regardless of how much the regimes’ sharia-supremacist policies promote worldwide jihadist terror.
In stark contrast, Mrs. Clinton’s memo to Podesta, which she clearly expected to be for the White House’s eyes only, adopts the view of the Saudi and Qatari governments that Mrs. Clinton and the Obama administration publicly reject. This underscores an overarching theme Mrs. Clinton made explicit in private speeches to financial institutions that she adamantly refused to disclose during the Democratic nomination contest against Senator Bernie Sanders: She holds private positions that often differ sharply from her public positions.
There are other eye-popping assertions in the memo.
In addressing “the regional restructuring that is taking place” across the region, Clinton laments that Turkey has “move[d] toward a new, more serious Islamic reality” (emphasis added). This is startling. It is plainly an allusion to the fact that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has transitioned Turkey from a Western-leaning secular democracy to an increasingly repressive sharia state. This transition to sharia supremacism is the focus of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, a book I wrote at the height of “Arab Spring” uprisings. The theory is that as societies move toward what Mrs. Clinton refers to as a “more serious Islamic reality” — i.e., as more sharia compliance is imposed — they become substantially less democratic, in the sense of democracy as a culture of freedom, equality, and respect for minority rights.
When this theory is touted (I am hardly its only proponent), Mrs. Clinton publicly joins the chorus of Islamists and Leftists shouting “Islamophobia!” In fact, as secretary of state, Clinton worked closely with Erdogan’s government, which the administration depicted as “moderate,” “democratic,” and a strong American ally — even as Erdogan imprisoned journalists and political opponents while backing Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, however, we learn that when speaking privately, Mrs. Clinton appears to have a quite different conception of the “Islamic reality.”
Remarkably, Clinton’s memo also reports:
A source in Tripoli stated in confidence that when the U.S. Embassy was evacuated, the presence of two U.S. Navy jet fighters over the city brought all fighting to a halt for several hours, as Islamist forces were not certain that these aircraft would not also provide close ground support for moderate government forces.
This is remarkable. For four years, critics have bewailed the Obama administration’s failure to take any military action to rescue or at least defend Americans during the aforementioned terrorist attack in Benghazi. It has frequently been pointed out that, even if American aircraft were not equipped to fight, their mere appearance could have intimidated the “Islamist forces” and stopped the siege, enabling a rescue. But though Clinton’s memo notes how effective just such a display American air power can be, neither she nor President Obama dispatched military aircraft to Benghazi when they were needed. Instead, they collaborated on a deceptive strategy to blame an anti-Muslim video for the attack.
It seems Hillary will have some explaining to do.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.