The United States has expressed concerns in the past about Iran’s reach in the Western Hemisphere, especially over the alleged 2011 plot to kill Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir on U.S. soil. Now President Obama has signed into law the Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act:
The law was the White House’s most public strategy to date to counter Iran’s influence in the Americas, and gives the State Department 180 days to draw up a plan to ‘address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity.’ The US received prompt criticism from Iran who said the US ‘still lives in the cold war era and considers Latin America as its back yard.’
Some American critics also have similar worries that this is just a reprisal of Cold War strategy. They are right insofar as Iran isn’t a threat in Latin America the way, say, Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba were. But as the U.S. and Iran come closer to the decision point in the long-running nuclear controversy, it is just common sense for Washington to batten down the hatches. There is evidence that Hezbollah has become more entrenched in the global black market for drugs and diamonds and the like, and several countries in Latin America form an important part of that network.
In typically vague bureaucratic language, the Act calls for a “multiagency action plan” and “a counterterrorism and counter-radicalization plan to isolate Iran.” Whatever Washington ends up doing, it needs to pay attention to hemispheric sensitivities. The U.S. is not trying to go back to the days of gunboat diplomacy here.