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Iranian Assassination – Narco-Cartel Plot Charged

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

The US Attorney General Eric Holder, supported diplomatically by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, charged the Iranian government earlier today with a plot to enlist a Mexican narco-cartel to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. SECSTATE Hillary Clinton, the FBI Director and President Barack Obama have all weighed in on this issue with strong public statements:

U.S. authorities said they had broken up a plot by two men linked to Iran’s security agencies to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir. One was arrested last month while the other was believed to be in Iran.

Iran denied the charges. But President Barack Obama called the plot a “flagrant violation of U.S. and international law” and Saudi Arabia said it was “despicable.” Revelation of the alleged plot, and the apparent direct ties to the Tehran government, had the potential to further inflame tensions in the Middle East, and the United States said Tehran must be held top account.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a Reuters interview, expressed hope that countries that have hesitated to enforce existing sanctions on Iran would now “go the extra mile.” At a news conference, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the convoluted plot, involving monitored international calls, Mexican drug money and an attempt to blow up the ambassador in a Washington restaurant, could have been straight from a Hollywood movie.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder alleged that the plot was the work of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is the guardian of Iran’s 32-year-old revolution, and the Quds force, its covert, operational arm. “High-up officials in those (Iranian) agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot,” Holder told the news conference.

“I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here,” he said….

I confess that I am not quite sure what to make of this story. 

If accurate – the case originated with a DEA confidential informant in Mexico – it would amount to a new stage of reckless boldness by Iran’s hardline Pasdaran clique of security and intelligence agencies run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their retired leadership that have a semi-hegemony over the Iranian regime. It also points to the danger to American national security of a long, basically open, border with a failing state Mexico that is deeply embattled in a polycentric counterinsurgency war with the rapidly morphing narco-cartels (that said, I do not expect the administration to move a policy inch to repair the latter). Why would Iran do this – and in such a harebrained manner?

Some possible motives:

* Internal factionalism – Iran recently released imprisoned American hikers, albeit after a substantial ransom payment. Potentially, this could be viewed in the topsy-turvy world of Iranian Islamist politics as a “goodwill gesture” toward the United States. Historically, such gestures provoke rival factions in Iran to initiate anti-American actions, including acts of terrorism, usually via proxies. If an intel operation was “factional” rather than blessed by a wide elite consensus, it might very well be a marginal idea carried out on a shoe-string.

* Counterpressue – Indirect Iranian skirmishing against the US which is drawing down in Iraq and is pressuring Iran’s ally Syria. Also against the Saudis who brutally suppressed a predominantly Shia “Arab Spring” rising in Bahrain which, if it had succeeded in toppling the regime, would have added Bahrain to the regional “Shia Revival”.

* Opportunism – The Pasdaran leadership may have  believed the stories of American decline, assessed our extensive military commitments and budgetary problems and taken the Obama administration’s temperature and concluded that the benefits of carrying out the assassination outweighed the remote risk direct  of US military retaliation.

Some points to consider:

* Proximity – Iran could more easily, with less risk and with far greater likelihood of success, carry out acts of anti-American terrorism closer to home in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan the Gulf States, even in Saudi Arabia or Egypt.  Acts of terrorism in the American homeland risk a massive overreaction by Washington ( the US only needs the Navy to deal out severe consequences to Iran) which might welcome a legitimate pretext to bomb all of Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities and national security sites.

* Self-Preservation by the Mexican narco-cartels make such cooperation with Iran less likely, having the example of their Colombian predecessors in the 1980’s before them when they raised the ire of the USG sufficiently. The narcos have their hands full fighting the Mexican Army and one another without adding the CIA, Global Predator drones or the SEALs to their plate.

* Friends of MeK – By some miraculous deus ex machina, the cultish, 1970’s era Iranian Marxoid terrorist group, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MeK) have spent a wealth of funds to buy the lobbying services of a glittering array of former top US national security officials and general officers – despite being on the State Department’s official terrorist list.

….Among the new faces: former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton (D), who once chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and who served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission; Ambassador Dell Dailey, who was the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism from July 2007 to April 2009; General Michael Hayden, director of the CIA from 2006 to 2009; and not one, but two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe and ex-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) also spoke.

In what should be a national scandal, those names are not even a comprehensive list of the very influential former politicians, K Street lobbyists and Beltway law firms accepting payments to whisper in the ears of current officials in the national security community, regarding Iran, on behalf of the MeK. Not sure how it is legal to do so either, since aiding a group on the State Department’s list by providing services normally can get you hauled into Federal  court pronto, if you are an ordinary American citizen. A most curious situation….

I have no brief for Iran, the regime is a dedicated enemy of the United States, but a group of exiled Iranian Marxist-terrorists who used to work for Saddam Hussein hardly have our best interests at heart.

It will be interesting to watch this case unfold, but in the meantime, opinions are welcome in the comments, particularly on the Mexican narco-cartel angle.

Hat tip to James Bennett.

A Mexican Standoff with Reality

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC –  Flanked by the embattled President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon and the Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, a weary looking President Barack Obama used a press conference to angrily denounce as “Alarmist and inflammatory” a recent report issued by the conservative Heritage Foundation that declared the massive chain of UN administered Mexican Refugee camps in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas as “a bottomless well for narco-insurgency” and “a threat to the territorial integrity of the United States”. The camps, home to at least 2.5 million Mexican nationals, are dominated by the “Zetas Confederales”, a loose and ultraviolent umbrella militia aligned with the feuding Mexican drug cartels that now control upwards of 80 % of Mexico.

President Obama’s political fortunes have been reeling recently in the wake of high profile incidents that include the kidnapping of his Special Envoy for Transborder Issues, former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, and the car bombing assassination of popular California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that killed 353 people in Sacramento last month. Both events have been tied directly to factions of Zetas “hardliners” who operate with impunity on both sides of the US-Mexican border. President Obama used the conference to point to the “clear and hold” COIN strategy that has recently restored order and even a degree of tourism to Las Vegas, once the scene of bloody street battles between Zetas, local street gangs and  right-wing American paramilitary groups, as a sign of the success for his administration.  Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill remain skeptical and say that it is likely that President Obama will face a primary challenge next year from Senator Jim Webb (D- Va), a former Secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, who called the president’s COIN strategy “The right course of action” but ” Two years too late”….

That fictional scenario above is offered as a thought experiment.

Thursday, in a statement that was issued in part for public diplomacy purposes, DNI Adm. Dennis Blair, dismissed any strategic implications regarding the strength of Mexico’s drug cartels that the Mexican government is struggling to suppress:

Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. [Let me] repeat that. Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state. The violence we see now is the result of Mexico taking action against the drug cartels. So it is in fact the result of positive moves, which the Mexican government has taken to break the baneful influence that many of these cartels have had on many aspects of Mexican government and Mexican life.

While it might be tempting to ask what the good Admiral is smoking, Blair is neither a naif nor a fool but a very experienced and saavy intelligence manager who is engaged in pushing a political line of the Obama administration, in deference to the wishes of the government of Mexico. The line is being peddled on many fronts; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has just declined offers for increased appropriations for improving border security in favor of “surging” Federal agents on a temporary basis (i.e. a political show that will accomplish nothing). Here is SECSTATE Hillary Clinton on the same subject on the same day as Adm. Blair while on an official visit to Mexico:

On Thursday, Mrs. Clinton noted that no official of the Obama administration had ever used the phrase “failed state.” She said Mexico faced a “public safety challenge,” likening it to the surge of drug violence in American cities in the 1980s. And she lavished praise on the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, for taking strong measures against the drug cartels.

This line that Mexico is fundamentally sound, while helpful to President Calderon’s political standing when expressed in public, is analytically speaking, sheer nonsense, and if enforced in private, counterproductive to having sober USG interagency planning sessions to make certain that worst case scenarios, like the one imagined above, never come close to materializing. Such politicized groupthink also interferes with effective cooperation with Mexico to address a 4GW type problem that has already mestastasized to a dangerous degree into American territory. Earlier, while still free of Mexican diplomatic and political pressure, the U.S. military accurately assessed the potential threat of Mexico devolving into a failed state in this JFCOM planning document (we won’t be seeing anything like this in public again, barring leaks):

In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

….The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.

Banning terminology like “failed state” or admission of adverse data points from Mexico or the Southwestern U.S. (!) into an integrated analytical picture because the self-absorbed and greedy oligarchy that rules Mexico heatedly objects, is a recipe for policy failure and “snowballing” interrelated problems as each new development is inadequately addressed for political reasons. This new eggshell to tread carefully upon is going to be added to our longstanding, politically determined, refusal to contemplate our own drug policy honestly in light of it’s effect on our national security interests (We are turbocharging guerillas, Islamist insurgents, terrorists and criminal networks all over the globe with billions of American narco-dollars and corrupting and demoralizing our own allies in the process).

If the current situation in Mexico existed anywhere else in the world, our national security elite would already be discussing the potential for a mass exodus of refugees at given levels of escalating violence. The United States government conceives of the border in terms of an economic immigration problem not as a political mass-migration problem; such an event, spilling over into the hot deserts of the American border states, would very likely overwhelm the capacity for adequate humanitarian response. A Katrina moment in the cacti.

Recall the difficulties the Carter administration had with the relatively minor refugee influx in 1980 known as the Mariel Boatlift when 120,000 Cubans were permitted by Fidel Castro to flee the Communist paradise for life in the United States, along with imprisoned criminals and mental patients whom Castro deported along with the boatlift. A full blown civil war in Mexico could generate 20 to 30 times that number of refugees, among whom narco-guerillas or terrorists or independent bad actors could operate freely, much as refugee camps elsewhere in the world have been breeding grounds for militias, criminal organizations and terrorists.

SECSTATE Clinton, at least, should know all of this very well. The handling of the Marielitos issue by Jimmy Carter probably cost her husband the governorship in Arkansas and led him later as President to enforce a very tough line against Haitian refugees, fearing a deluge of desperately poor Haitians fleeing dictatorship and internecine political violence. It would be far better to prioritize Mexico as a national security issue today, than let it evolve into a transnational powder keg tomorrow. There are, I must observe, far more Mexicans than Haitians in this hemisphere.

But proper response requires empirical investigation and analytical clarity, followed by sensible and determined policy designed to short-circuit negative trends, not empty political assertions designed to tread water, obfuscate and delay action. We have time, but not unlimited time.

(Special thanks to Morgan, Pundita and John Robb for their insights, concerns and/or suggested links yesterday on this issue which were helpful in clarifying my thoughts).


State of Siege: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency (Full PDF Article)   Stratfor reports on Mexico, news ignored by our mainstream media

Latest Academic Mexico Trip Report    “Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?”    Mexico’s Instability Is a Real Problem

Mexico – Failed State/Failed Policies?   Among top U.S. fears: A failed Mexican state  Why Vicente Fox is going straight to Hell 

MEXICO’S BAZAAR OF VIOLENCE   What if A State Failed and Nobody Cared?   American Narcotics: $10 Billion In Mexico

Mexico: Growing Terror and Close to Collapse    The effects of our drug war in Mexico

Mexico is not a poor country   Assessing the threat at our southern border    Mexico’s Columbian Exchange    State of War

 Look who’s sneaking into the country using known drug routes   Mexico plagued by myriad interlaced netwars – a TIMN analysis

SWC Thread (Slapout) w/ Links    Mexico’s Struggle with ‘Drugs and Thugs’ (Full PDF Article) 

Sites Linking to this Post:

Soob Top shelf analysis of Mexico’s civil war and the looming cross border nightmare NEW!

Newshoggers.com (Hynd) – Is Mexico A National Security Threat? NEW!

TDAXP Recommended Reading  NEW!

Fausta’s Blog The “Who painted it?” Carnival of Latin America and the Caribbean 

RBO – Zenpundit: A Mexican Standoff with Reality 

MountainRunner It sure is quiet around here… a few links and musings during the silence 

Threatswatch.org (Schippert) – Exposición Perro y Caballo de la Administración Obama 

John Brown’s Public Diplomacy – March 30 

Peace Like a River – Cables, dispatches and memoranda 

SWJ BLog A Mexican Standoff with Reality…

Committe of Public SafetyCartel War Zen

PunditaWashington continues to plays ostrich about Mexico (Riehl World ViewViva la Revolucion ; Wretchard – Our Southern Neighbor)

HG’s WorldZenpundit Channels Orson Wells in War of the Narco-Cartels

Chicago BoyzA Mexican Standoff with Reality

More as they develop….

Friday, August 10th, 2007


Dave Schuler has a superb examination about Governor Bill Richardson’s major foreign policy essay in the Harvard International Review.

I can applaud the serious effort by Richardson, a former high level diplomat, to address foreign policy in a thoughtful way, even though I agree with Dave that many of Richardson’s proposed solutions do not logically address the strategic trends he identifies ( thought they probably appeal to regular, middle-class, Democratic activists if not the wackiest of the wingnuts).

Sunday, May 27th, 2007


Former UN Ambassador Bill Richardson just suggested to Tim Russert that all American troops should be withdrawn from Iraq in 2007 and that security for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad be placed in Iraqi hands. Right. The embassy would be overrun in about five minutes if that happened. Does the Democratic Party really ache to relive the hostage crisis of their youth ?

I realize that the worst of the delusional screamers now dominate the Democratic primary process but an experienced international diplomat like Richardson should really try to preserve his intellectual credibility. Richardson isn’t going to win the nomination but he just might be a Secretary of State or Defense, and, as such, he shouldn’t be saying really dumb things like this on television.

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