- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

The clerical dictatorship in Iran wants the defeat of President Bush because his commitment to political democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and his endorsement of freedom for the people of Iran threatens a regime that knows it is deeply unpopular. Mr. Castro also wants to see Bush defeated because his determination to help democratic allies could threaten the emerging pro-Castro axis in Latin America. Both dictatorships have plans that could result in visible and sharp foreign policy setbacks that might cost President Bush the 2004 election.

Although vulnerable at home the Iranian clerical regime has since 1979 been, in the words of the U.S. government, the “most active state sponsor of terrorism.” Since the removal of the Taliban in November 2001, Iran has used its covert and propaganda assets to destabilize Afghanistan. Iran is also is highly active in helping pro-Iranian-Shi’ite extremist group take power in Iraq using elements of the Shi’ite clergy, an Iranian-funded political movement with an armed wing, a radical pro-Iranian cleric and a massive propaganda operation (39 radio and television stations).

This might succeed through a variety of means by October 2004. If so, it would be a major foreign policy defeat if the Bush administration’s liberation of Iraq were to result in “two Irans.”

In parallel with this ongoing but still mostly unrecognized Iranian covert action, there are reliable reports of numbers of Iranian-supported Hezbollah terrorists infiltrating into Iraq from their bases in Syrian-occupied Lebanon. It is quite likely they are planning massive terrorist attacks on U.S. forces for the spring, summer and fall of 2004 as well as the taking of U.S. hostages.

These hostages would likely be made available to the media with the intention of demonstrating the failure of the Bush policy and of creating public sympathy in the U.S. for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

In the Americas, Mr. Castro has been using a deceptive political strategy and long-established relations with radical leaders who are not formally communist to establish a new axis with governments friendly to him. These now include 231 million people ruled by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Lucio Gutierrez in Ecuador and the shadow power of Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe in Bolivia, who recently removed the elected president.

The Organization of American States expelled Mr. Castro in 1962 because of his support for terrorism and armed subversion against a number of countries including Colombia, where the communist guerrillas continue their fight to take power. In June 2004, the OAS will meet in Ecuador to choose a new secretary general. Right now, it is very likely the candidate favored by Mr. Castro and his friends — Mr. Chavez, Mr. da Silva, Mr. Gutierrez— will be selected. This is partly because the combination of 44 years of Cuban covert and open political operations and millions of dollars in discount price oil sales provided by Mr. Chavez to Caribbean and other countries are likely to produce the needed votes.

It is also because the pro-Castro axis will back a “respectable” candidate who will have committed in advance or who will be seen as persuadable on the next step — the readmission of the Castro regime to the OAS. This would likely occur in October 2004 perhaps with Mr. Castro holding a press conference in Washington D.C. and then walking in triumph past the White House to the OAS to be greeted by thunderous applause.

Fortunately, there are political counter strategies, which can still prevent both these negative October surprises.

Constantine C. Menges, a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute, is a former special presidential assistant for national security affairs. His forthcoming book is “2008: The Preventable War The Strategic Challenge of China and Russia.”

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