home Iran, Latin America, national security, Western Hemisphere Iran and Regional Adventurism, U.S. Should Address but not Make a Political Boogeyman

Iran and Regional Adventurism, U.S. Should Address but not Make a Political Boogeyman

Readers of our blog know that we have been talking about Iranian meddling in the Americas since we started the DC Dispatches in 2007. Iran’s regional adventurism is a serious matter. Iran may be a small country in another part of the world, but its rulers have a forgotten that the great Persian empire is no more. Frustrated with that reality, they turn to terror tactics and reckless nuclear projects to compensate for an empire that never will be.

The writings of the late Constantine Menges helped form our initial interest in this subject. Menges was a genuine patriot who thought so many steps ahead from the policy establishment that, reportedly because I never knew him personally, he would leave Members of Congress and Executive branch colleagues in awe with his knack for deconstructing global challenges. When it came to Latin America and the Western Hemisphere, he remains the most prescient and well-grounded analyst of our time.

Menges had an ideological core that helped form President Reagan’s foreign policy that he used to analyze problems in just about every corner of the world. U.S. interests came first. Everything else was secondary. In reading recent media reports about Iran in the Americas, that element, the U.S. national interest, is missing from the discussion. It has been missing for decades.

This quote is emblematic of most of the more recent coverage:

The U.S. State Department said this week it will reevaluate a recent report in which it downplayed Iran’s links to terrorism in Latin America. But don’t expect an immediate change in U.S. policy.

The bold text: “reevaluate a recent report,” refers to the Country Reports on Terrorism published every year by the State Department. The story goes on to say that “the Obama administration will continue trying not to over-dramatize this issue, even if there is mounting pressure from Congress to take a more aggressive stand on Iran’s activities in Latin America.”  I have been hearing this same line for about ten plus years from both Republican and Democratic Administrations.

This latest round of stories was provoked by a report by the former lead prosecutor in Argentina, Alberto Nisman, who was responsible for prosecuting individuals who bombed the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994. Those pre-09.11.01 attacks killed close to 100 people.

Argentina’s government, and some pockets here in the U.S. government, have resisted Nisman’s linkages to Iran, Hezbollah, and others to the attacks. They wanted more evidence. Well, they go it now. Nisman concludes:

For the first time in the argentine and world judicial history, it has been gathered and substantiated in a judicial file, evidence that proved the steps taken by a terrorist regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran, to infiltrate, for decades, large regions of Latin America, through the establishment of clandestine intelligence stations and operative agents which are used to execute terrorist attacks when the Iranian regime decides so, both directly or through its proxy, the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

Menges, who passed away in 2004, had been talking about these very issues long before Nisman cobbled together the mountains of evidence to present the case. Despite the evidence that I am told is a matter of common knowledge in the government, U.S. officials are not interested in discussing publicly. Why the resistance to doing so? Your guess is as good as any. In our intensely politically voyeuristic society (and this city), maybe discretion in this matter is a good thing. Keep in mind, as reported in the Washington Post yesterday, Iran is not being shy about its work in Latin America.

While relations with Iran and Brazil have cooled somewhat in recent years, the damage done to regional security in the Americas by the former leaders of these countries has been significant. Illicit money movement, and travel by Iranians to the region through Brazil, is reason enough to slow down the proposed visa waiver program between the U.S. and Brazil. Rather than tinker with the state sponsors report, these are the small steps that can be taken to deal with Iranian adventurism in the Americas. For this to happen, however, the Obama Administration needs a regional security vision, something it has not had, ever. Congress also needs to make these connections and not press for a Brazil Visa Waiver while at the same time ask the Administration to be tough on Iran because of acts done in our immediate sphere of influence. Latin powers need to step up; Congress needs to put pressure on them as well.

The State Department is not going to, as the media states, re-evaluate any report because it is always reviewing these issues on an ongoing basis.  Why create a political boogeyman for domestic political consumption or fundraising purposes? And if you take a close look at a few items in the public domain, you’ll notice that Iran in the Americas is a matter of ongoing concern. In addition to some reliable news sources, just take a close look at the Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. There are plenty of links to Iranian funny money flows in Latin America.

The hullabaloo generated in recent weeks by the Nisman report seems more of an Argentina issue than one for the U.S. Almost everything in it was known to the United States before it was published; and some of it even may have been supplied by the United States. The report should be reviewed by interested parties; however, the analysis and U.S. follow-up done should focus first and foremost with eye toward U.S. interests.

The Obama Administration can do better on this issue of Iran in the Americas, but the seemingly benign neglect of this issue is not unique to Democratic Administrations.  The Obama team first needs a cogent vision for Latin America. It has never had one.

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