Cliff May

Last week, Manssor Arbabsiar pleaded guilty to plotting what U.S. officials have termed “a significant attack in the United States.” Attorney General Eric Holder called the Iranian-born American’s admission “a reminder of the exceptional efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies in protecting America against terrorist attacks.” Yes, that’s quite right. Holder added that this outcome demonstrates that the U.S. will hold “accountable those who plan such actions.” No, that’s patently false.

Arbabsiar has admitted that he was working at the direction of the Quds Force — the most elite branch of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Is there anyone who seriously believes that Khamenei, the IRGC, or the Quds Force will be held accountable? Is there anyone who seriously believes the U.S. government will even try?

Fecklessness in response to attacks on Americans is a bipartisan tradition going back well over a quarter century. For example, in 1973, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Black September faction assassinated the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission George Curtis Moore. As my colleague Lee Smith writes:

The State Department knew from the very outset of the attack that Yasser Arafat was personally directing the operation, but neither Nixon nor any other American president ever punished the PLO chairman, who lived to become a favored guest in the Clinton White House.

Ten years later, after the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut was bombed, killing 241 Marines, President Reagan vowed: “Those who directed this atrocity must be dealt justice, and they will be.” But justice was never dealt to Hezbollah — now the best-armed, deadliest, and most powerful faction in Lebanon — or to Iran’s rulers, on whose instructions Hezbollah carried out the slaughter.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.