I was traveling yesterday and didn’t get caught up on the news until last night. A few thoughts.
1. Trumped up case? There are conspiracy theories floating around claiming that this bizarre plot — the Iranians recruit a Mexican drug cartel guy who just happened to be a DEA informant to rub out the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. — was probably cooked up by the Justice Department to deflect attention from the Fast & Furious debacle. No way.
To be sure, Attorney General Holder has only himself to blame: under his stewardship, law enforcement has been thoroughly politicized, and when you run the ship that way people are apt to be suspicious of your every move. But this Iran case is not being run by Main Justice — and I don’t mean to cast aspersions at Main Justice, where many fine people work; I’m simply pointing out that if you were an AG trying to pull off a scam, you’d keep it close to home with as few people in the know as possible. The case is being handled by my old office (the Southern District of New York), where the U.S. attorney is a very honorable guy and the prosecutors are notoriously resistant to micro-management by Main Justice. The FBI director is also a straight arrow, as are the vast, vast majority of agents. There are just too many people involved — good, hardworking people, who would take no part in a charade designed to take the heat off the AG.
Two other points on this subject: (a) If you were of a mind to trump up a spectacular case, you could gin up something without involving international relations, the potential of provoking a war, and the involvement of top government officials who don’t have much incentive to go out on a limb for Eric Holder (i.e., the Justice Department does not have its usual free reign when a prosecution implicates the responsibilities of other agencies); and (b) the attorney general knows that Fast & Furious is not going away, so it would be pointless to try to make it go away with a case that will only get a few days’ attention before fading from our notice.
2. Stranger things have happened. Would the Iranians turn to Mexican narco-gangs to kill Saudis in America? The Iranians have shown that they will work with anyone if it means working against American interests. Al Qaeda is a Sunni terrorist organization that is not overly fond of Shiite Muslims. The Taliban was Iran’s nemesis when it was running Afghanistan. Yet, the Iranians have colluded with al Qaeda and armed the Taliban for what they see as the greater good of making trouble for us.
Remember, too, it was only a few years ago that Qaddafi tried to rub out then-crown prince (now king) Abdullah by retaining the services of Abdurrahman Alamoudi — an American-based, well-connected financier of terrorist organizations. The current plot can’t be dismissed out of hand just because the scenario is bizarre. Once you get past the ostensible weirdness of the plot and dig into the details, you learn that the Iranian-American who tried to recruit Mexican assassins actually is related to a Quds operative; he apparently received a down-payment from an IRGC-Quds bank account (i.e., this was not an imaginary $1.5 million scheme); he spoke with Iranian officials on the phone (in calls the FBI monitored); and he correctly identified a known Quds operative from a photo-spread. Again, given the international ramifications, I can’t imagine the Justice Department and the FBI going forward here absent confidence that the case is solid.
3. Iran’s brazenness. It is surprising to hear suggestions that Iran has suddenly crossed a line by — allegedly — plotting to kill a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil. As Iranian provocations go, this one is pretty tame. I related the history here a couple of years ago, and the best accounting is found in Michael Ledeen’s books — most recently, Accomplice to Evil. To highlight just a few things: Iran killed 19 members of our air force at Khobar Towers in 1996; it has had a working relationship with al Qaeda since the early nineties; it was likely complicit in the 9/11 attacks (a matter the 9/11 Commission strongly suggested — but on which neither the Commission nor anyone else in government followed up); and Iran has been plotting against and killing American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq for a decade. Compared to that rich record of direct attacks against Americans, the current plot is no more than par for the course.
4. The Holy Grail. Regardless of how atrocious Iran’s behavior gets, the State Department for 30 years — under administration’s of both parties — has continued to tell itself, and us, that the grand bargain with the mullahs is right around the corner. We’re already seeing that dynamic at work again. Attorney General Holder asserted that the murder plot was “directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government and, specifically, senior members of the Quds Force,” and that “high-up officials in those agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot.” But, as night follows day, the State Department and other administration officials are out throwing cold water on these claims with their usual tap dance: Iran is very complicated; the IRGC is like a government within a government; there are various rogue elements, so this was probably a rogue operation; just because somebody in the Iranian government may have been complicit does not mean muckety-mucks like Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei were involved; diplo-blah, blah, blah. It looks like we will keep chasing the Holy Grail — rationalizing inaction in the face of ever-mounting provocations while we keep searching for “moderates” embedded somewhere in the regime who will somehow maneuver Iran into a new era of good relations with the Great Satan. Continued good luck with that.