We Must Work To Counter Iran's Influence In Our Own Neighborhood
As reported daily, tensions with Iran continue to escalate. The Iranian assassination attempts on the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. last summer, on the Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan last month and on Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India, and Thailand this week serve to only further discredit the government of Iran’s legitimacy to rule.
Iran’s threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz (and risk a major disruption to global oil supply, causing higher energy prices) show that the Iranian government continues to favor global politics over smart policy that seeks the interests of its own people.
This week, Iran claimed additional major advances in its nuclear program. Iran appears to be at the threshold of a nuclear weapons capability. Even though the Stuxnet computer virus derailed the 2009 Iranian effort to expand its enrichment capability for about a year, the enrichment expansion effort has recently recovered. Direct actions, diplomacy and sanctions have not had a visible effect on the continuing enrichment program.
Unfortunately for the U.S. and its allies and partners in Latin American countries, Iran has also sought to offset the international pressure of sanctions by building diplomatic, economic and security relationships in our own hemisphere.
According to recent Iranian state news, the “promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries” is one of Iran’s “top priorities.” Iranian President Ahmadinejad recently wrapped up a tour of four Latin American countries, his sixth trip to the region.
Iran’s government seems to be shrewdly calculating that it can continue to incite anti-American views, infiltrate the populations of strategic border countries in the region, lessen the blow of international sanctions, stem U.S. pressure on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and potentially react to any action the U.S. or its allies may take against Iran. In essence, a Latin American base looks pretty smart for Iran’s interests right now.
In the past decade, Iran has built 17 cultural centers in Latin America, and it currently maintains 11 embassies. According to a recent Defense Department report, the Iranian Qods Force stations operatives in foreign embassies, charities and cultural institutions to build relationships with the local population. We also know that Iran uses terrorist organizations as proxies to achieve its foreign policy objectives.
What is our own State Department doing? How are we utilizing the tools of strategic communication to counter Iran’s hostile infiltration into our own neighborhood? We are downsizing embassies, cutting staff and shifting our focus and resources to East Asia and the Pacific.
While these are certainly reasons for concern, our own nation’s inability to secure the U.S.-Mexico border exacerbates the problem. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) concluded in 2007 that almost half of the foreign terrorist organizations in the world are linked to narcotics trade and trafficking, including Hezbollah and Hamas.
We have spent trillions of dollars for military operations in the Global War on Terror, yet we have neglected the basic self defense of our homeland from these threats that loom just beyond our borders. Now is the time to remember President Monroe’s doctrine, and I believe this doctrine applies to hostile foreign powers such as Iran.
With these concerns in mind, we must ask the question: Are we prepared with the necessary risk-based assessments and strategy to prevent an attack on the interests of the United States or our allies here in our own geographic region?
I believe we need to reconsider our approach to Iran in our neighborhood, which is why I recently introduced the “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” (H.R. 3783). This bill makes it clear that America’s policy is to oppose Iran’s hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere by working together with our allies and partners in the region to mutually deter threats to our interests.
We must consider other alternatives to stopping Iran’s dangerous pursuit of nuclear weapons, including squeezing Iran’s government from every angle possible. In addition, we need a concerted effort, in partnership with our neighbors, to gather better intelligence, weaken the enemy’s strategy and alliances, thus preventing an attack on U.S. interests in our hemisphere or on our soil.
Originally published in The Hill: https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/211405-rep-jeff-duncan-r-sc