WHAT ABOUT TERRORISM?!
By Michael S. Smith II
Without question, the Obama administration’s interest in averting the “known unknown” of Iranian foreign policy being formulated by vociferously anti-American, radical religious ideologues with nuclear weapons at their disposal is reasonable. Still, it is nevertheless mystifying to watch the most overt feature of Tehran’s misbehavior — support for numerous militant Islamist groups labeled terrorist organizations by the US — receive very little attention from President Obama. Particularly as Israel’s March 2014 seizure of an arms shipment to Sunni Hamas fighters in Gaza from the Shiite Iranian regime demonstrates Ayatollah Khameini and his minions in the IRGC are undeterred in their sponsorship of terrorism.
Al-Qa’ida is also among the Sunni terrorist groups enjoying Tehran’s support. And as threats posed by al-Qa’ida constitute another priority area of concern for makers of US foreign policy, demands from the administration focused on disrupting the so-called “secret deal,” as the Treasury Department put it in July 2011, between top Iranian officials and senior al-Qa’ida leaders are notable, well, by virtue of their absence.
Just last month, Treasury officials shared with the press that the government of Iran has allowed a top al-Qa’ida fundraiser, Yasin al-Suri, who was designated by Treasury in July 2011 pursuant to revelations of his work raising money for al-Qa’ida from within Iran, to continue operating inside Iran. Further, Treasury also announced the designation of Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov, another “key Iran-based al-Qa’ida facilitator who supports al-Qa’ida’s vital facilitation network in Iran, that operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities.” Moreover — and just as ironic as the relationship between the Shiite Iranian regime and Sunni al-Qa’ida may seem to some — according to Treasury officials, the al-Qa’ida members and facilitators Iran is allowing to operate within its borders are playing important roles funneling people and money to al-Qa’ida’s newest affiliate, Syria-based Jabhat al-Nusrah.
Of course, Jabhat al-Nusrah is not only busy conducting attacks against both Tehran’s top regional ally, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and its chief terrorist proxy, Hizballah. Rather, according to America’s top intelligence official, Jabhat al-Nusrah is also preparing jihadis to attack the US.
As observed by Dipak K. Gupta in a June 2011 contribution to the Journal of American History, contributors to the field of terrorism studies “often explicitly aim to influence public policies.” Oddly, however, none in the US have managed to spark activity in the foreign policy-making sausage factory that has been sufficient to deter Iran from using terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. This, and there is no shortage of low-hanging fruit any given member of Congress could use as the basis for crafting bills that seek to empower America’s Special Operations community to engage in more rigorous efforts focused on disrupting Iranian support for several of the most high-profile terrorist organizations on the planet.
Granted, and as lamented in 2011 by esteemed terrorism expert David C. Rapoport, Americans’ “indifference to history” can have deleterious effects on efforts to utilize lessons learned from both past acts terrorism, as well as ineffective counterterrorism policies, in order to improve America’s counterterrorism posture. Yet the chorus of concerns over the Obama administration’s “policy entrepreneurship” on the Iran front flowing from the offices of Congressional Democrats and Republicans alike suggests a majority of Americans probably don’t think fondly of the regime in control of Iran. And they probably don’t favor reducing pressures placed on the regime by their government. Because they haven’t forgotten how much American blood has been spilled by terrorists supported by Iran. And not all Americans are unaware Tehran is now backing foremost lethal factions of the Afghan Taliban responsible for the deaths of many American soldiers.
Granted, as former CIA Mid East political analyst Dan Byman put it in a February 2012 Foreign Policy piece: “highlighting Tehran’s ties to al-Qa’ida, as the Treasury designation quietly does, is a valuable form of pressure. Because Iran and al-Qa’ida both have an interest in keeping their relationship hidden, making it public may undermine it — or at least stop the ties from getting stronger.” But by now it’s obvious — or it should be — that any successful public diplomacy campaign focused on influencing the behaviors of top Iranian officials will require participation from higher-profile American officials than representatives of the Treasury Department. That is, if Washington is actually capable of influencing their behaviors in the first place.
Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense for the Obama administration to publicly ask Ayatollah Khamenei to hand over senior al-Qa’ida leaders and key facilitators living comfortably in Iran in exchange for Iranian assets frozen by Treasury? If tensions between radical Shiites and Sunnis are as severe as has been suggested by those who have blindly claimed Iranian officials will not assist al-Qa’ida leaders, it should be easier for Iran’s Supreme Leader to entertain a proposal like this than one focused on halting a “nuclear energy” program that enjoys popular support among Iranians.
Clearly, the Syrian issue is not the only thing that’s taking a backseat to President Obama’s efforts to prevent the mullahs from going nuclear on his watch. Meanwhile, through its relationships with an array of militant Islamist groups — particularly those designated foreign terrorist organizations by the US State Department, such as al-Qa’ida — leaders of the Islamic Republic are poised to continue killing Americans and our allies for years to come. Indeed, the regime has been doing a fine job of murdering Americans and our allies without deploying nuclear weapons for the past 35 years.