Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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A Hidden Grain of Truth that Should Resonate
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting feature on the late Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah and his rather mysterious death on Feb. 12 in Damascus.

Mughniyah, of course, was one of the true pioneers in the use of terrorist tactics by radical Islamists against the West. Among the interesting details the report has is that, on the night his car blew up, incinerating him inside, Mughniyah was on his way to meet Syrian president Bashar Assad.

But there was one Mughniyah quote buried deep in the story that I thought was perhaps the most important in looking at what Hezbollah, Iran and Syria are up to. This should particularly resonate for those looking at Hezbollah in Latin America.

In an interview that he gave just before his death, and which was published afterward, Mughniyah was quoted as saying the following:

"The Americans are making up stories about me and hold me responsible for a lot of attacks against them that happened around the world," he told Ibrahim al-Amine of Lebanon's Al-Akhbar. "Sometimes they think of me as if I have the key to the universe. It is difficult for them to understand that I am part of an institution that patiently plans and designs its moves."

Yes, that is what is particularly difficult for U.S. policy makers to understand.

The several billion dollars of promised Iranian investment in Latin America, the careful cultivation of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the outreach to Bolivia, whose president, Evo Morales, arrived in Tehran yesterday, the opening of embassies across a region where it has no historical and few commercial ties, is not just a random desire by Iran to spend money.

There is a carefully thought-out plan, visible in the intelligence training Iran is offering, the banks opening in Venezuela to bypass international sanctions, and promises (often empty) of massive aid.

It is easier to personalize a problem and demonize an individual than it is to try to look for the broader, and more dangerous issues in terrorism and other security-related topics. This was true in the drug war in Colombia.

The thinking in the 1980s was that if Pablo Escobar were eliminated, the cocaine empire would crumble. When it didn't, the mantra was that the trade would collapse when the Cali cartel was eliminated. Then, the Northern Valley cartel, the the FARC.

Now, the Northern Valley folks are in US prisons, as are most of the Cali people. The FARC is in disarray. What has not changed is the amount of cocaine being produced in Colombia. An interesting conundrum we would rather not examine.

Because of this tendency to personalize a problem, the wider issues are often missed.

I have sat in discussions with senior government officials on the security threats from Latin America where neither Venezuela nor Iran is ever mentioned. Where Daniel Ortega, the gatekeeper to much of the Central American criminal/terrorist pipeline, is not mentioned.

The reason, according to a friend who has been in meeting where Latin American issues are discussed, is that it is an article of faith, believed zealously by many policy makers that 1) there is nothing unusual going on in Latin America; 2) if it is going on, it isn't serious; and 3) if it is serious, we can handle it.

In other words, mutually reinforcing, false assumptions, and one that Mughniyah, among many others, understood and exploited.
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