Did Obama Ignore Hezbollah to Secure the Iran Deal?

Hezbollah fighters put Lebanese and Hezbollah flags at Juroud Arsal, Syria-Lebanon border

Old ideological foes are lining up on opposite sides of the emerging debate.

“The debate you’re seeing is political,” Emanuele Ottolenghi of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies tells me on a call Wednesday afternoon. “The Obama administration made a pivot in the Middle East towards Iran, which involved relinquishing a number of well-established policies that the United States had pursued in previous decades-- taking the United States in unchartered territories.”

I spoke to Ottolenghi to discuss the continuing fallout over an article by Politico’s Josh Meyer that charged that “in its determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran” that “the Obama administration derailed an ambitious law enforcement campaign targeting drug trafficking by the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, even as it was funneling cocaine into the United States.” That ambitious law enforcement campaign was called Project Cassandra, and it was headed by a DEA Agent named Jack Kelly, along with Derek Maltz, who headed the much larger DEA Special Operations Division that oversaw the project.

A slew of Obama alumni, namely Ben Rhodes, the former national deputy advisor and influential confidante of the former president, Tommy Vietor (now of “Pod Save America” fame), and Ned Price (a prominent fixture on the liberal cable news circuit in the Trump age), have led the effort to attack the story’s veracity. Meyer has pushed hard against it, engaging with many of the criticisms on Twitter himself, and writing to me: “the Obama formers haven’t come up with a single factual issue to contest. … I responded in detail on Twitter to them, asking them to offer any specifics to back up their attacks, and to date, they have not offered any.”

The Obama allies’ effort -- and the story itself -- have not gone unnoticed in the conservative press. And during a time of an acutely media-sensitive administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already called for an investigation into the allegations raised in the report, though Justice has been circumspect on the exact details. Sessions Spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told me Thursday she had “nothing to add” to the statement DOJ released last week-- no new details to reveal.  

“Obama Officials Manufactured Media Narrative Ahead Of Investigations Into Hezbollah Scandal,” blares right-wing stalwart The Daily Caller. The Washington Times castigates the alleged media culture around Rhodes. Breitbart News touts “evidence Obama admin protected Hezbollah to score Iran deal.” They’ve highlighted Meyer’s work before (full disclosure: mine too), unleashing evocative retrospectives on the Iran Deal such as “Obama Lied, Americans Died.” Fox News has also been on the warpath, with commentators lauding the “bombshell” report and lamenting that its not getting enough attention.

Keynote Fox host Tucker Carlson has also tackled it, much to the chagrin of some of Carlson’s fans who view him as a restrainer in foreign policy. But the nation’s drug crisis is also deeply important to Carlson and many in his orbit, and the story appears to have struck a nerve. The Meyer reporting, along with research done by FDD and others, alleges a vast narcoterrorist operation commanded and controlled by Hezbollah in Latin America, and also involving shady dealings in West Africa. Ottolenghi charges that Lebanon, Hezbollah’s home base, is on the verge of becoming a “narcostate.”

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