We are only two years into the Iran nuclear deal. We could be a decade from knowing whether President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy accomplishment succeeded in diverting the most misanthropic regime south of Moscow from developing nuclear weapons.
But thanks to investigative reporting by Politico, we know another piece of the price the Obama administration paid to secure the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Apparently, it wasn’t enough for the United States to let Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad continue to slaughter Syrians despite crossing Obama’s red line of chemical weapons, or to allow Iranian troops to establish a presence on Arab territory wedged strategically between Israel and Turkey, or to watch in silence as Iran kept working on ballistic missiles (the better to deploy those theoretical nukes), or to make a separate, cash-heavy deal to win the release of Americans who never should have been held by Iran in the first place, or to resist sanctions to punish support of terrorists and rebels destabilizing the Middle East and beyond.
According to Politico, senior Obama administration officials also ensured that a long-term Drug Enforcement Administration operation called Project Cassandra would never damage its target: Hezbollah, which has diversified its operations the past decade-plus to add drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises to its terrorism, paramilitary operations, political oppression and stockpiling of weapons for its next war against Israel.
The problem isn’t that Hezbollah has found more ways to cause mayhem or that its criminal activities are pumping $1 billion a year into its war chest, supplementing its Iranian subsidies, but that Hezbollah is smuggling cocaine and other drugs into the United States and laundering its money here. Hezbollah is directly hurting Americans.
The DEA spent eight years gathering evidence, putting the pieces together and making drug connections from high Hezbollah officials to top Iranians, Syrians, Colombians and Venezuelans. But when it was time to seek indictments or extraditions, the Obama administration stood in the way, apparently to prevent any irritations with Iran.
A former career Treasury Department official who served in the Obama administration, Katherine Bauer, wrote in testimony to Congress in February that Hezbollah investigations “were tamped down for fear of rocking the boat with Iran and jeopardizing the nuclear deal.”
Bauer noted an arrest in Atlanta in October 2015 of a Hezbollah operative looking to buy cocaine and weapons and said such arrests have been made around the world since then. It’s not news that Hezbollah is packed with people who relish the opportunity to wreak havoc, but the Politico report is eye-opening about how its tentacles have reached into the United States.
The Obama administration decided not to try to break up the Hezbollah criminal network, and perhaps that was the right call. Maybe the diplomatic opening with Iran was worth letting Hezbollah run wild. Maybe Hezbollah will find drug- and gun-running to be so lucrative that its leaders will give up terrorism and the dream of wiping Israel off the map.
But maybe not. What’s now clear is that the final ledger on the Iran deal will require balancing even more blood and violence than we could have imagined two years ago.