During the final 2012 presidential debate, Barack Obama asserted Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi had more American blood on his hands than anyone other than Al Qaeda’s founding leader.
This was a highly dubitable portrayal of history — for the facts just don’t add up to support this claim. But even more specious was the president’s insinuation that having American blood on one’s hands constitutes a raison d’être for the use of force to address one’s anti-American aggression. For if spilling American blood was truly a way to elicit military strikes under Obama’s watch, we would by now be at war with Iran. A country whose leaders have far more American blood on their hands than Colonel Qaddafi or the leaders of Al Qaeda — an enterprise that would not have as much blood on its hands were it not for Iran’s support.
Since the “revolutionaries” stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage, no government, other than the radical Shiite regime ruling Iran has been more overt, or more diligent in its use of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.
At war with the US since the late 1970s, this regime’s top foreign policy goal is to destroy the “Great Satan” (America) and our chief ally in the Middle East, Israel. To this end, the regime literally created an official state enterprise with a mandate to create, fund, and arm Islamist terror groups: the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite and clandestine Quds Force.
An obscure entity for your average American citizen and counterterrorism official alike, it is the Quds Force that was behind Iran’s foiled 2011 plot to attack foreign officials and facilities in Washington, DC.
Indeed, it is the Quds Force that manages the Supreme Leader of Iran’s relations with the world’s most lethal militant Islamist groups. From Shiite Hezbollah, which has been Iran’s chief terrorist proxy since it was formed with help from the Revolutionary Guards, to Sunni entities like Hamas, foremost lethal factions of the Afghan Taliban and, of course, leaders of Al Qaeda, the list of terrorists sponsored by Iran vis-à-vis the Quds Force is a "Who’s Who" of Islamic terrorism.
And during the past decade, it is the Quds Force’s support of Sunni groups — a trend long ignored by US government analysts — along with Shiite groups in Iraq, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds, maybe even thousands of US servicemen.
By the time the US invaded Afghanistan and then went to war with Iraq, Iran had been using terrorist proxies to kill Americans on a regular basis for two decades.
When Usama bin Laden’s organization pulled off the most deadly terrorist attacks on America to date, bin Laden surpassed Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyah’s record to become the Islamist terrorist with the most American blood on his hands. Not unlike Mughniyah, who began his career murdering Americans as a top Iranian terrorist proxy by managing attacks like Hezbollah’s 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 US servicemen, bin Laden had some help. And just as with Mughniyah, much of that help came from the blood-thirsty leaders of Iran.
Comprehensive analysis of Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks — the first ones — highlights another all too often overlooked coincidence: Just as in 1993, when the so-called "Blind Sheikh" organized the first attack on the World Trade Center, Iran’s hand was evident in the second major terrorist attack in New York.
According to information leaked by investigators of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, substantial sums of money were transferred to US-based co-conspirators both from inside Iran and from Iranian entities beyond the Islamic Republic’s borders. Of course, according to a federal judge, the government of Iran later filled a crucial support role in Al Qaeda’s September 2001 attack on the same site.
And just as with many leaders of the Blind Sheikh’s Al Qaeda-aligned group, many Al Qaeda leaders have also found safe haven in Iran when pursued by “apostate” governments — notably following Al Qaeda’s first 9/11 attacks. Indeed, it was not the cunning of such groups’ leaders that enabled them to overcome international efforts to swiftly dismantle their organizations; it was instead the hospitality extended to them by Iran that hampered such costly counterterrorism initiatives.
As noted in the 9/11 Commission Report, it was around the time of the first World Trade Center attack that Al Qaeda’s ties to Iran became noticeable as Al Qaeda members traveled from Sudan to Lebanon to undergo highly-specialized terror training provided by Hezbollah at camps funded by Iran.
During the early stages of his and bin Laden’s stay in Sudan, Al Qaeda’s original fatwa committee leader, Abu Hajer al-Iraqi (a colonel in Saddam’s army who defected and fled to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War), made Al Qaeda’s cooperation with radical Iran-backed Shiites an official policy. And it’s hardly a coincidence that in 1993 Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadis poured into Somalia from Sudan, by this time a key ally of Iran, to deliver another major blow to US forces (i.e. “Black Hawk down”). This, a decade after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing managed by Imad Mughniyah that prompted America’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
During the early 1990s, as Sudanese strongman Hasan al-Turabi began welcoming prominent Islamist terror groups and terrorism financiers like bin Laden to Sudan, Iranian president Rafsanjani seized the opportunity to assert influence over the cash-strapped country. Late in 1991, on a trip to Sudan to announce the new alliance between Tehran and Khartoum, Rafsanjani proclaimed the Sunni-led government of Sudan was the “vanguard of the Islamic Revolution in the African continent.”
Regular meetings between Al Qaeda leaders and Iranian officials like the Quds Force and Iranian intelligence officers deployed to Sudan following Rafsanjani’s 1991 visit ensued. Such liaisons continued once bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in 1996, with the frequency of their meetings growing in the months prior to the 9/11 attacks on America’s homeland. And it was the Quds Force that coordinated the travels of Al Qaeda leaders like Saif al-Adl and their relatives into Iran following those attacks.
Certainly, the story of Iran’s ties to the terrorists who, according to President Obama, pose the most immediate threat to American interests is rather long and sordid. In fact, it seems to have begun some 15 years before Al Qaeda institutionalized a policy of cooperation with Shiite radicals, when Al Qaeda’s present day leader was distributing pro-Iranian Revolution propaganda to radical Islamists in Egypt.
Yet, despite a federal judge’s recent affirmation of evidence that Iran played a key role in the worst terrorist attacks on US soil, despite Iran providing safe haven for Al Qaeda’s “shadow shura” following 9/11, despite Iran’s proliferation of sophisticated weaponry into the hands of insurgents responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the US Treasury Department’s 2011 announcement that it was conducting investigations pursuant to its discovery of a “secret deal” between the government of Iran and Al Qaeda, and despite Treasury’s October 2012 announcement that it had identified more Al Qaeda operatives based in Iran, the Obama administration’s policy regarding Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists who kill Americans has been anything but “clear.”
If anything, it’s as though the president wishes to avoid this issue on the whole — to distract Americans by focusing on an issue that has yet to cost American lives: Iran’s nuclear program.
Indeed, in 2009, ostensibly with input from the president — who seemed to think that with a wink and a nod he could “unclench” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s fist — the CIA shuttered a program focused on monitoring and even targeting Al Qaeda leaders hiding in Iran.
Two years later, the word "Iran" appeared once in President Obama’s most recent national counterterrorism strategy, and quite obviously as an afterthought.
Clearly, if the Obama administration were serious about killing terrorist masterminds with American blood on their hands, Iran’s Supreme Leader and his minions in the Revolutionary Guards Corps wouldn’t have time to tinker with their nuclear program or the massacre they’re fueling in Syria. They would be too busy with concerns about their own personal safety. And they would have little time to tend to the survival of a preeminent threat to US and allied interests, Al Qaeda and Affiliated Movements.
Michael S. Smith II is a principal and co-founder of Kronos Advisory, counter-terrorism adviser to members of the United States Congress, and a senior analyst with Wikistrat Ltd. Follow him on Twitter@MichaelSSmithII.