Obama Hits Iran-Venezuela Ties. Now What?
One certainly hopes that President Obama’s recent criticism of Iran-Venezuela relations indicates a new willingness on the part of his administration to confront the growing menace of the radical Islamist regime in the Western Hemisphere. In comments submitted to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, the president said that Hugo Chávez’s ties to Iran "have not ...
One certainly hopes that President Obama’s recent criticism of Iran-Venezuela relations indicates a new willingness on the part of his administration to confront the growing menace of the radical Islamist regime in the Western Hemisphere.
In comments submitted to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, the president said that Hugo Chávez’s ties to Iran "have not served the interests of Venezuela or the Venezuelan people" and expressed concern about his anti-democratic behavior and his failure "to contribute to the security in the region."
"Here in the Americas," he said, "we take Iranian activities, including in Venezuela, very seriously and we will continue to monitor them closely."
The president’s comments came on the heels of further explosive revelations on the extent of Iranian subversion of U.S. interests in the region. Earlier this month, the Spanish-language network Univision aired an investigative documentary,"The Iranian Threat" — the product of months of research — that included incriminating information on Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats in Mexico discussing waging cyberattacks on sensitive U.S. computer systems, including those of nuclear power plants.
Shortly thereafter, U.S. law enforcement officials revealed details of an investigation into a Lebanese bank in Canada that laid out Hezbollah’s sophisticated global money-laundering operations that includes direct involvement by senior officials in the lucrative South American drug trade. The revelations put the lie to the State Department’s long-repeated talking point that Hezbollah merely "raises funds" in Latin America for its operations in the Middle East.
Both reports drew sharp reactions from Capitol Hill, where a number of members have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the direction of the administration’s regional policy. Senator Bob Menéndez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said he would hold hearings on Iran’s destructive role in the region when the Senate reconvenes in 2012.
House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said she would request the State Department to conduct its own investigation "into Iran’s deeply troubling partnerships with regional dictators such as Chavez, Morales, Correa, Ortega and the Castro brothers."
(It bears noting as well that in the Nov. 22 Republican presidential candidates’ National Security Debate, the threat posed by radical Islam operating in the Western Hemisphere was featured prominently as a national security issue that official Washington was neglecting.)
Thankfully, it appears the steady drumbeat of concern about Iran and their Hezbollah proxies’ strategic push into the Americas has finally caught the White House’s attention. To date, U.S. law enforcement agencies have had to confront this threat virtually alone. It is time the entire Executive Branch foreign policy apparatus joins in, including the slumbering State Department.
Most importantly, it is time for ramping up actions to back up the president’s words. This includes not only identifying more individuals, companies, and/or governments found to be aiding and abetting Iran and Hezbollah in their nefarious activities and bringing the full weight of sanctions against them, but also conducting a full-bore public diplomacy campaign for regional audiences on Iran’s intentions and activities in the region and the dangers for their societies therein.
To date, consorting with Iran has been a freebie for anti-American demagogues like Chávez, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales. The administration needs to move now to raise the costs.