The United States has halted the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, the country in which the Obama administration still can’t seem to decide whether or not there was a coup. For those of us concerned with Middle Eastern history, it's a nice sign that America is at least questioning how it goes about being the largest arms dealer in the world. But even as we rethink our involvement in Egypt, we're becoming increasingly entangled in Syria's civil war — and during all this time, we've seen a large push for domestic gun control here at home. Ironically, many in power who call for tightened domestic gun laws, such as Secretary of State John Kerry or Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), shamelessly support the arming of affiliates of radical Islamic groups in Syria. Guns and fighter jets only follow the orders of who is in power, but we constantly give away weapons and disregard our problematic historical precedent.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went even further than the Obama administration, calling for the reallocation of $1.5 billion in foreign aid to Egypt to fix issues at home, like broken-down bridges and failing roads. Even though the legislation was slaughtered in the Senate (86-13), Paul notched a victory by simply getting a vote. America's ties with Egypt go back decades — in 2010, the U.S. gave more aid to Egypt than any other country in the Middle East save for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Israel. This was before the fall of our secular former ally, President Hosni Mubarak.
While events like Aurora or Sandy Hook stick out in our minds as reasons to support gun control, Americans all too often forget that they live in the country that is the largest arms dealer in the world. In 2011, overseas weapons sales by the U.S. made up over three-fourths of the global arms market and totaled over $66 billion — a threefold increase over 2010. The second-place finish goes to Russia, our ever-present frenemy, which sold only $4.8 billion in arms. Things just aren’t the same since the Cold War ended.
The unintended consequences of these arms sales could be extremely alarming, most notably in the Arab world. America has a habit of sticking the barrel of its gun in other people’s business, yet we rarely reflect on the hypocrisy of our own arms policy. We’ll take away guns from law-abiding citizens who have never committed a crime, and give them to Syrian rebels who may or may not have kidnapped 11 Lebanese Shi’ite pilgrims. It’s hard to blame John “Bomb Iran” McCain for getting confused as to what side people are on, as his legislative history is filled with foreign interventions that end poorly: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and so on.
President Obama made the right decision: In a time of political and military turmoil, we shouldn’t hand over fighter jets when we don’t know who will be in power in a couple of months. But he’ll deserve real credit when he stops the massive increase in arms sales that has taken place under his administration. To increase foreign arms sales threefold in one year, yet spend time traveling around the country clamoring for domestic gun control, is very bold. One only has to look at the history of American allies-turned-enemies to see how arms dealing only ends up with more death, destruction, and debt on both sides.
That we find ourselves in this situation time and time again and keep selling arms to allies who turn on us is depressing enough. Politicians who realize this — like Rand Paul already has, and like Obama may be starting to — should recognize that if you can't play God with guns abroad, doing it at home isn't going to work either.