The Obama administration’s fast and furious response to the Iranian bomb plot

The GOP is clearly eager to use whatever weapons it can grab in its campaign to ensure that Obama is a one-term president. Still, it’s hard not to wonder whether there might be a connection between the fact that yesterday, Attorney General Holder leaped into the media spotlight to draw attention to an alleged assassination and bombing plot, and today he has been subpoenaed by a Congressional committee chairman. Both cases involve US surveillance of Mexican drug cartels.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) subpoenaed Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday for documents related to the “Fast and Furious” gun tracking operation.

Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, contends Holder knew more about the botched operation than he has told Congress. His subpoenas are directed to Holder and other senior officials at the Department of Justice.

“Top Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Holder, know more about Operation Fast and Furious than they have publicly acknowledged,” Issa said in a statement announcing the subpoenas.

“The documents this subpoena demands will provide answers to questions that Justice officials have tried to avoid since this investigation began eight months ago. It’s time we know the whole truth.”

The 22-item subpoena seeks documents and communication records between Holder, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona, the Executive Office of the President employees — including the White House’s associate communications director Eric Schultz — and nearly 20 other high-ranking officials within the DOJ.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on Issa’s committee, called the subpoena a “deep-sea fishing expedition” and a “political stunt.”

“This subpoena is a deep-sea fishing expedition and a gross abuse of the Committee’s authority,” said Cummings in a statement. “It demands tens of thousands of pages of highly sensitive law enforcement and national security materials that have never been requested before and are completely unrelated to Operation Fast and Furious. Rather than legitimate fact-gathering, this looks more like a political stunt.”

Under Operation Fast and Furious, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) oversaw the sale of thousands of firearms to known or suspected straw buyers for Mexican drug cartels with the hope of dismantling their gun trafficking routes. But the guns weren’t given proper supervision and most of them disappeared. Two of the guns sold under the operation were found at Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder scene in Arizona last year.

On Tuesday, Holder said: “[W]hat I want the American people to understand is that in complying with those subpoenas and dealing with that inquiry, that will not detract us from the important business that we here to do at the Justice Department, including matters like the one that we have announced today.”

Meanwhile, CBS News reports:

The Obama administration was taking its case against Iran to the world Wednesday, trying to stir up an international response to charges that the Islamic republic plotted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S.

“It’s critically important that we unite the world in the isolation of and dealing with the Iranians,” Vice President Joe Biden said on “The Early Show” Wednesday. “That’s the surest way to be able to get results.”

Mr. Obama’s top national security aides have said the administration will lobby for the imposition of new international sanctions as well as for individual nations to expand their own penalties against Iran.

The State Department sent a cable to all American embassies and consulates around the world telling them to put the Iran case before their host governments. The officials said the cable, sent late Tuesday by Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and classified secret, tells them to detail the evidence against Iran as presented by federal prosecutors.

Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi warn:

U.S.-Iran tensions have long been a powder keg, overflowing with nuclear programs, human rights abuses, Stuxnet and secret assassinations. And the alleged terror plot against the Saudi Ambassador shows how easily a single incident can spark a wider conflict. Without serious efforts to defuse a crisis that is steadily spiraling out of control, we are on the precipice of a major war in the region.

This is why a containment policy can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Short of a government collapse in Tehran or strategic shift in Washington — both unlikely in the short to medium term — containment has created an environment in which adversaries repeatedly provoke one another, without having the ability to reverse any escalation.

The Obama administration must avoid falling further into this trap — particularly if there are Iranian hardliners trying to bait the U.S. into a conflict.

Even so, as Reuters reports, the administration is showing little hesitation in escalating the emerging crisis:

U.S. officials said on Wednesday it was “more than likely” that Iran’s supreme leader and the head of its Quds force knew of the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, but acknowledged the claim was based on analysis rather than hard evidence.

Muhammad Sahimi, at Tehran Bureau, points out:

[D]espite its repressive domestic policy, when it comes to dealing with the outside world, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) has followed a pragmatic approach, based first and foremost on protecting itself from external physical attacks, and then on expanding its influence when and where possible. We can see this from how it dealt with and received weapons from Israel in the 1980s during the notorious Iran-Contra affair, from the pragmatic way it sat out the conflict when the U.S. and its allies attacked Iraq to expel it from Kuwait in 1990 (despite many internal voices demanding that Iran assist Saddam Hussein’s regime against the Western forces), from its arming of the Bosnian Muslims with U.S. consent during the war with the Serbs, and from the significant assistance it provided to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Based on a purely cost-benefit analysis, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to imagine that the IRI could have benefited from such a plot as is alleged. At a time when (a) international pressure on Iran is mounting in response to its gross human rights violations, (b) the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran are showing signs of working, (c) the IRI is deeply worried about the fate of its strategic partner in Syria, the government of Bashar al-Assad, (d) tensions with Turkey are increasing over its hostile policy toward the Assad regime, and (e) a fierce power struggle is underway within Iran between the supporters of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is essentially impossible to believe that the IRI would act in such a way as to open a major new front against itself.

Moreover, although the IRI has carried out assassination operations beyond Iranian borders, some of which I have described here and here, they targeted Iranian dissidents, not foreign diplomats. Even at the height of the assassination wave, the IRI did not go after non-Iranians. It is keenly aware that it is under the American microscope. It is thus hard to believe that the IRI would actually embark on such a useless assassination involving a low-level, non-player individual, dealing with people that they do not know.

Furthermore, the IRI ended its foreign assassinations in the mid-1990s. And, with a single exception more than 30 years ago, the IRI avoided carrying out any such plots on U.S. soil. The first and last such act occurred in July 1980, when Ali Tabatabaei was murdered at his home in Bethesda, Maryland, by Dawud Salahuddin, an American sympathetic to the 1979 Revolution. Tabatabaei, press attaché in the Iranian Embassy in the United States under the Shah, had joined the opposition after the Revolution. Salahuddin, who was paid $5,000 to kill Tabatabaei, currently lives in Iran.

One may argue that the targets of the operation were Saudi Arabia and Israel. But this seems even more absurd. If the IRI really intends to harm Saudi Arabia, due to the increasing tension with the Riyadh government, why should it try to do it here in the United States and in Washington? Why not attack the Saudis embassies in, for example, chaotic locations in the Middle East, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen? Why not carry out a sabotage operation against Saudi Arabia’s oil fields in the eastern part of the country, where the Shia population is centered? That would increase the price of oil dramatically, which would benefit the IRI and hurt the fragile economies of the West.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email