Last week a major politically charged controversy erupted after President Barack Obama in an interview with Oscar Haza from the Spanish language America Teve program “A Mano Limpia” pointed out that the destabilizing role of Iran in the world is “troubling”. But in the same interview, the President pointed out that “what Mr. Chavez has done over the last several years has not had a serious national security impact on us.”
This declaration by the president prompted a reaction by Republican White House hopeful, Mitt Romney, who responded in a strongly worded statement that “Hugo Chavez has provided safe haven to drug kingpins, encouraged regional terrorist organizations that threaten our allies like Colombia, has strengthened military ties with Iran and helped it evade sanctions, and has allowed a Hezbollah presence within his country’s borders.”
Several Republican leaders including Senator Marco Rubio who echoed Romney’s words called the President’s views naïve. Congresswoman Ileana Ross Lethinen expressed shock over the President’s remarks.
In reaction to this criticism a spokesperson for the president stated, “The president has refused to surrender to the antiquated rhetoric of people like Hugo Chavez…whose power is diminishing”. The spokesperson not only suggested that Chavez’s power is declining but also that the United States is strengthening alliances with other countries in the region.
Unfortunately, the President and his spokesperson are incorrect in their way of reasoning. The influence of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution has not diminished even considering the prospect of Chavez’s death. In terms of strengthening our alliances with other countries in the region, the U.S., in fact, has been effectively isolated in the region due mainly to the efforts of Chavez and his allies.
The denial of a security threat coming from Venezuela is rooted not only in the views of the White House but it also reflects a deeper institutional and awareness problem that transcends the realm of political views.
If we piece together the logic of the president’s thoughts we find that his conclusions do not follow his premises. This logic is not logical and reads as follows:
“Iran is dangerous and destabilizing”
“The Government of Venezuela is an ally of Iran”
Therefore, “Venezuela is not dangerous to our national security”.
Iran is considered to be a rogue state that supports terrorism and seeks nuclear weapons. This is precisely the reason why the Islamic Republic is subject to U.S. and international sanctions. If Hugo Chavez has for years declared its enmity to the United States and has brought Iran and Hezbollah to the region, it makes sense that our security establishment and the State Department should work on the premise that there is a potential danger and also act upon it.
However, the establishment has shown a bizarre way of managing these threats. Here is an example. Late in June the Miami-based Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, published a story according to which the Venezuelan government provided Iran with a private port in North-Western Venezuela in the area of Paraguana, an area located in the Caribbean, a few miles away from Aruba and Curacao and with easy access to Colombia and the Panama Canal.
El Nuevo Herald claimed it had obtained documents according to which the Venezuelan government hired the Iranian Offshore Engineering & Construction Company (IOEC) to expand construction of a shipyard located at the port. This contract also takes into account the possibility of building “pads”.
The daily also quotes witnesses who claim that after the contract was signed the Iranians took full control of the entire port, not only the shipyard. Meanwhile, Venezuelan workers were sent home while still receiving their salaries while the Iranians remained in the facilities. This is a clear indication that Iranians are conducting secret activities.
The same area of Paraguana was identified in November, 2010 by the German newspaper Die Welt as the location where Iran had placed middle range missiles, similar to those that were recently tested by the Iranians. Die Welt also wrote about the contract recently reported by El Nuevo Herald but stated that Iranian personnel operating the port also included elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
In an article we published a little over a year ago we explained why the Die Welt report should be taken seriously, mostly given Iran’s search for a source of a second strike capability or even as a threat against the U.S. in retaliation for international sanctions or a strike on its nuclear facilities. The fact that Iran is actively seeking to develop nuclear weapons should be a source of further concern. (See Americas Report story).
However, the State Department insisted that there is no evidence that supported the content of the Die Welt report. In addition, Douglas Frasier, the head of U.S. Southern Command pointed out a year ago, like President Obama last week, that there is no indication that the Venezuelan -promoted Iranian presence in Latin America constitutes a threat to the U.S.
It seems that the U.S. security and the foreign policy establishment’s need for hard evidence has given way to not taking any of these reports seriously even though there is sufficient reasons to do so. This is a clear dereliction of responsibility since it is now well known that Iran is positioning itself in the Western Hemisphere and that its presence in Latin America is growing. It is clear that this naïveté is part of a general view held by these institutions with regard to the dangers we face.
What comes to mind when thinking about what is happening now in the Western Hemisphere is the Israeli experience before the Yom Kippur War in October, 1973.
Several months before the war, Israeli military intelligence was aware of Arab plans to launch a war against Israel. This knowledge included details such as Egypt’s attempt to cross the Suez Canal and recover substantial parts of Sinai. They also were aware of Syrian plans for such a war and even figured that a joint Egyptian-Syrian attack was possible.
However, there was a general belief (known as “the conceptzia” or “the conception”) by key Israeli leaders and analysts that Arab nations would not go to war even when all the signs indicated the exact opposite. “The conceptzia” was based on the idea that Israel had crushed the Arabs so badly six years earlier that they would not dare to risk another such defeat. But the Arab nations did attack as the minority Israeli military intelligence opinion predicted. This attack brought about a situation of near destruction of Israel, whose armed forces eventually succeeded almost miraculously in repelling the enemy attack.
Minority voices that have warned about the dangers of the Venezuelan-Iran cooperation have been often dismissed as warmongers, paranoids, or holders of dangerous, neo-conservative views.
The U.S. establishment finds itself in the position of denying or waiting for more evidence when there is already a strong indication of close cooperation between two radical anti-American states in our own backyard.
This is why it is important for the White House to have independent –minded people who can think above and beyond the bureaucratic structures of the establishment. A good and reasonable imagination is what is needed. After all the 9/11 commission clearly concluded that lack of imagination in our security agencies constitutes a problem.
It is the role of the President of the United States, its cabinet and its National Security Council to challenge conventional views not to uncritically accept them.
If the White House remains captive to these prejudicial conceptions the problem will worsen. Security challenges will remain in place regardless of the pacifist nature of a substantial part of our policy-making establishment who seem to be more traumatized by the recent American wars than guided by a cool and realistic analysis of the situation at hand. The irony is that while we are imposing harsh sanctions on Iran, we are ignoring the build- up of Iranian assets in Venezuela and the other areas in the Western Hemisphere.
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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