On this blog, since at least 2008 (a few posts here, here, and here), we’ve published several posts about Hezbollah in Latin America and the threats posed by other radical terrorists groups in Latin America. I started studying the matter while I was attending graduate school at Georgetown University in the mid-1990s. At the time, it was a very boring subject. It probably still is to most people.
In between Georgetown University trying to removing crucifixes from the classrooms, and generous amounts of coffee that I used to make it through certain classes, I read a monograph or paper by Constantine Menges about threats in Latin America. Of course, it had absolutely nothing to do with Hezbollah. It was mostly post-Cold War review of where the region was headed.
Menges was ahead of his time and, in my book, one of the best, if not the best scholar in security-related issues when it comes to matters of the Western Hemisphere. A former Reagan administration official, he served in various senior U.S. government capacities including as NIO for Latin America. Menges had a unique way about his writing and speaking. Most importantly, he made you think about things in a way that this town, official Washington, rarely does.
If he were still around he would probably agree that radical Islamic terror, from Tierra del Fuego and up, needed to be contained. Where it existed, eradicated. I could also see him supporting the concept of combatting not only radical Islamic terrorism, but a broader idea of defeating the radical Islamic totalitarianism fueled or supported, in part, by adversaries of the United States such as Venezuela or Cuba, not because they really care about Islam, they don’t, but because it is anti-American.
Radical Islamic terrorism and Latin America are rarely in the same sentence in the news, think tanks, or at Congressional hearings these days, but they should be. Beyond a few scholars, bloggers, and Members of Congress such as Rep. Jeff Duncan or Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Latin America remains a somewhat tertiary issue when competing for attention from policymakers. Fortunately, the Trump administration seems to be changing that.
For example, CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently reminded people that Hezbollah poses a threat, right here, in the Americas, particularly in Venezuela:
The Cubans are there; the Russians are there, the Iranians, Hezbollah are there.” He continued, “This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place, so America needs to take this very seriously.”
The president’s new chief of staff, former SOUTHCOM Commander John Kelly, also knows about the arc of (radical Islamic terror) instability that originates in the Middle East, curves through north Africa, and ends up, right here, in the Western Hemisphere in seemingly unlikely places such as Venezuela, among others, and yes, with groups such as Hezbollah.
Merges talked a lot about the “invisible war” and “destabilization coalition” that, Reagan would later defeat. The group included the likes of the Russians and Iran. Iran is still at it, of course, and some experts argue that Russia has found second wind, trying to settle old scores or ignite new ones to undermine America. I’m not so sure about Russia’s designs on Latin America, but Iran, with its proxy Hezbollah is certainly waging a war to undermine U.S. interests in the Middle East and in the Western Hemisphere.
Who would have thought in the 1990s that Iran would have an ally in Venezuela? Not many. Sure they had Cuba, but Venezuela? Yet Iran has Tareck Zaidan El Aissami Maddah (sanctioned by the Trump administration), a good friend of Hezbollah, ensconced as Vice President of one of the most oil rich nations in the world. Keep an eye on Venezuela. There are issues there that should interest every American that run deeper than human rights and democracy. For example, at least since the mid-2000s, Venezuela has served as a terror sanctuary and it should have been designated as such way back then. It is never too late to make it so.
N.B., When the Congress returns from its summer recess, the House Foreign Affairs Committee should mark up and send to President Trump H.R. 3118, The Iran and Hizballah Western Hemisphere Prevention Act of 2017. The bill was introduced in July by Rep. Jeff Duncan, Chairman, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, one of the champions of a liberty agenda for the Americas. This measure is a good first step to not only move product in this space, but also raise awareness of the growing Hezbollah problem in the Western Hemisphere.