The Dark Frontier
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's press conference enroute to Paraguay is interesting for a number of reasons -- the first being Paraguay itself. The Power and Interest News summarizes the region's strategic importance to the US. South America is wracked by a confluence of resurgent Marxism, fueled by Venezuela and Cuba; failing states and coca. Of particular interest is the Tri-Border area, centered on the town of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay on the border of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. The Associated Press described it as "a key South American point for Islamic terrorist fund raising to the tune of $100 million a year." The Tri-border area is sometimes described as the Muslim Triangle and is alleged to be one end of a conveyor belt leading to the US southern border.
So great is the supposed US interest in the Tri-Border area that the Vermont Guardian hinted at the planned establishment of an American military base in the vicinity, an allegation that Paraguay later denied. The Vermont Guardian echoed the characterization of Tri-Border area a possible springboard for Islamic terrorism.
The triple border between Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil has been long been rumored to be an “Islamic terrorist training ground.” According to New Yorker reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, the area is “one of the most lawless places in the world … also the center of Middle Eastern terrorism in South America.” In 2002, Goldberg reported that Hamas and al-Qaeda are associated with the terrorists in this region.
But Vermont Guardian journalist Benjamin Dangl noted that some sources felt that the perception of Al Qaeda in South America were the fevered imaginings of an agent of Zionism, just as was the connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
As the U.S. was gearing up for a war in Iraq, Goldberg also wrote an article linking al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used by the Bush administration to further their argument for war. Muckraking writer Alexander Cockburn found various inaccuracies in the article, and also noted that “Goldberg once served in Israel’s armed forces, which may or may not be a guide to his political agenda.”
Whatever the truth to these rumors, Rumsfeld's press conference produced another gem on the arming of the Iraqi insurgency by Iran. After the media asked precisely one question about the Tri-Border area ("Q: Will you be talking about the tri-border issue in Paraguay? A: I think the cooperation that the countries in the tri-border area have demonstrated has been a useful and constructive thing. It's been good. ...") they skipped straight to the subject of the Middle East.
Media: There have been reports about Iran specifically facilitating -- I mean you've addressed them a little bit. But over the weekend there was an even more detailed report in Time Magazine about Iran’s Revolutionary Guards setting up a specific unit in Iraq to carry out car bombings against Coalition forces. Are you aware of those kinds of reports? Do you think Iran's involvement is getting more intensive as the process of writing the constitution goes along?
Rumsfeld: I've not seen that report. I see intelligence reports and we know that we're finding Iranian weapons inside of the country. They don't just get there by accident. They don't fly there. And we know that Iran has a system of government it would like to replicate in Iraq, and we know the system of government they have with a handful of clerics running the place and telling everyone want to do is fundamentally inconsistent with the kind of a constitution that's currently being drafted in Iraq. And an Iraq that is democratic and representative will stand in stark contrast to Iran.
So one ought not to be surprised that they're engaged in the kind of activities that they're engaged in. They're making a mistake, in my view. I think they're going to have to live with their neighbors like any country does over time.
Media: -- Iranian weapons on more than one occasion?
Rumsfeld: I've got another [inaudible] secure videoconference --
Media: These discoveries in the past couple of months -- What do you think it indicates?
Rumsfeld: What I just said.
Some Belmont Club readers have repeatedly written to ask why Secretary Rumsfeld would be at pains to downplay Iranian intervention in Iraq -- both before and after Operation Iraqi Freedom -- when these revelations would serve to strengthen the linkage between terrorism and it's state sponsors, a connection whose existence has been repeatedly denied. (Speculation alert) One possible reason for turning a public blind eye to Iranian belligerence is that any administration which very strongly emphasized it would logically be compelled to do something about it, a step which the Bush administration may be unprepared to take or believes cannot be sustained by domestic political consensus.
One interesting historical parallel to the refusal to acknowledge Iranian aggression was the ignorance feigned by Britain, France and Russia to Italy's torpedoing of neutral merchant shipping en route to Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. Both Germany and Italy operated U-Boats against shipping and one Italian submarine even sank a Republican warship, the submarine C3. Despite the fact that no major power would acknowledge belligerent acts by Italy and Germany against neutral shipping, the "international community" of the 1930s went on to negotiate the Treaty of Nyon proscribing acts of "piracy" without naming the pirates. The text of that treaty (which you can read by following the link) says:
Whereas arising out of the Spanish conflict attacks have been repeatedly committed in the Mediterranean by submarines against merchant ships not belonging to either of the conflicting Spanish parties; and
Whereas these attacks are violations of the rules of international law referred to in Part IV of the Treaty of London of 22 April 1930, with regard to the sinking of merchant ships and constitute acts contrary to the most elementary dictates of humanity, which should be justly treated as acts of piracy ... the British and French fleets will operate up to the entrance to the Dardanelles, in those areas where there is reason to apprehend danger to shipping in accordance with the division of the area agreed upon between the two Governments.
In order to prevent matters from being brought a to a head, Britain and France simply pretended they didn't know who was sinking neutral shipping and instructed their naval forces to conduct a secret war at sea against an enemy they would not acknowledge until two years later. Nor were they alone in this charade. The US Naval Institute has an interesting article describing FDR's undeclared naval war on Germany in 1940.
On the day of the 29 December 1940 "fireside chat," the world waited in anticipation of what the President of the United States would say about national security. Unknown to the public was that months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy was secretly hunting German and Italian warships in the North Atlantic.
Divided Western public opinion on the subject of Islamic terrorism has prevented the issues from being faced definitively. Neither the liberals nor the conservatives -- like the isolationists and interventionists of the 1930s -- have been able to establish a consensus for their point of view. Policy is consequently being made in fits and starts in the tug-o'-war between the sides, essentially awaiting events before taking a categorical direction. Whether that direction will be a genuine "peace for our time" or a new Pearl Harbor is unknown. Until history resolves the dilemma the twilight struggle will continue all over the world, from the Tri-Border area to the Iranian frontier.