Devil’s Bargain


In its quest to secure a deal with Iran to freeze its nuclear ambitions, the Obama administration derailed a U.S. law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking into this country by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organization. That’s the conclusion of a report by Josh Meyer published by Politico last weekend.

It makes for unsettling reading and shows how complicated — and morally compromising — it can be to reach a strategic goal. “The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities,” Meyer wrote.

According to the report, the Obama administration made a devil’s bargain to keep the Iran deal on track. “As Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way.”

There were other factors to consider. One was Hezbollah’s multiple roles as a terrorist group, militia and crime syndicate on the one hand, and a Lebanese political and social welfare organization on the other. Another was the not-always-overlapping priorities of the various U.S. agencies and the State Department when it came to Hezbollah.

“Nowhere was the tension between law enforcement and diplomacy more acute than in dealings with Hezbollah, which was fast becoming a key part of the Lebanese government,” Meyer wrote.

Not all the interviewees in the Politico report agreed with the criticism against the Obama administration. A former senior member of the national security establishment said Cassandra may have been closed for lack of evidence or out of concern for interfering with intelligence activities.

“What if the CIA or the Mossad had an intelligence operation ongoing inside Hezbollah and they were trying to pursue someone against whom we had impeccable [intelligence] collection and the DEA is not going to know that?” the official said. “The world is a lot more complicated than viewed through the narrow lens of drug trafficking.”

That may be true, but criticism of what appeared to many to be President Obama’s and Secretary of State John Kerry’s blind pursuit of a nuclear deal with Iran is nothing new. It’s what made some of those in our community who nevertheless supported it experience moments of pause and deep reflection. Now comes the Politico story, which appears to provide a better picture of what may have been going on behind the scene.

It is a picture that, if true, is very disturbing. Devil’s bargains are a near constant in the world of realpolitik. But if the Obama team really did impede a potential Hezbollah prosecution in order to advance the Iran deal, it is probable that significant Israeli and U.S. interests and concerns were sacrificed in order to reach that goal.

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