Coming to a hemisphere near you — Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is embarking on a visit to four countries in Latin America: Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador. Asked about this excursion at a Friday press briefing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Ahmadinejad’s trip is a sign that Iran’s regime is “desperate for friends and flailing around in interesting places to find new friends.”
This inspired a rash of news stories playing up the desperation and isolation of Ahmadinejad & Co., and downplaying any real dangers Tehran’s Latin American hob-nobbing might pose to the U.S. The Associated Press reports, “Ahmadinejad Trip to Latin America a Sign of Desperation.” The New York Times, under a headline calling Ahmadinejad “Increasingly Isolated,” notes that on this trip Ahmadinejad is not visiting such hefty Latin American countries as Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Mexico.
OK, thanks to a growing roster of sanctions pressed chiefly by the U.S. and EU, Ahmadinejad and his fellow thugs of the Iranian regime may be more isolated than they were a few years ago. But this trip hardly represents isolation and it certainly does not represent, as the State Department put it, “flailing around…to find new friends.” In Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Venezuela, Ahmadinejad is visiting old friends. As the New York Times notes, this is his sixth swing through Latin America. He has been making these visits about once a year since he became president of Iran in 2005. Add in the various visits that officials of his Latin hosts have made to Iran, and that’s a lot of hob-nobbing.
Lest anyone is tempted to dismiss Ahmadinejad’s trip as chiefly an exercise in grandstanding and nose-thumbing — which is the tenor of much of the news coverage — let’s recall that almost two years ago, on the eve of retirement, former New York District Attorney Robert Morgenthau went out of his way (literally — he stepped off his Manhattan home turf to deliver his message in Washington) to warn that Iran’s growing ties with Venezuela had the makings of the next Cuban missile crisis : “The Iranian nuclear and long-range missile threats and creeping Iranian influence in the Western hemisphere cannot be overlooked,” said Morgenthau.
True, Venezuela’s despotic Hugo Chavez may be ill, and Iran is facing tougher sanctions than a few years ago. But Iran is also closer to producing nuclear weapons, has continued developing missiles to deliver them, and continues to pursue its collision course with the interests and security of the free world — threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz; arming and training terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon and beyond; meddling amid the turmoil in Egypt and Libya; supporting al-Qaeda; and caught last fall allegedly plotting the terrorist act of bombing a Washington restaurant to assassinate the Saudi ambassador.
Whatever difficulties Ahmadinejad might be running into, his brazen trip to Latin America means he is not nearly isolated enough.