Shadow Government

The Iran plot: How should the U.S. retaliate?

Yesterday's news of the Iranian plot to assassinate Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel Al-Jubeir is stunning. Among other things, following on the recent case of the Iranian pastor facing execution only for his Christian faith, this plot provides further evidence of the multifaceted malevolence of the Iranian regime. The details of the plot also display the Iranian strategic game in its brazenness and morbid sophistication. In this case the plan involved an unprecedented targeting of American soil, a simultaneous blow against two of Iran's enemies, the United States and Saudi Arabia, and further heightening of tensions with our troubled southern neighbor, Mexico.

The Obama administration has announced retaliatory sanctions, and is weighing options for a further U.S. measures. America's response should have at least two dimensions: an effective tactical retaliation and a strategic countermove.

What kind of retaliation? As Ken Pollack points out, Iran considers itself to be at war with the United States, and in as it calculates its offensive moves, Tehran "may no longer be concerned about a massive American conventional military retaliation." In this case, the Obama administration's response thus far of announcing additional sanctions is necessary but insufficient. Depending on what the investigation reveals, a military response should at least be considered among the options. One possibility could be targeted strikes against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) training camps inside Iran. This would also have the advantage of punishing the same entities responsible for killing American troops in Iraq, and supplying munitions to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

It is not the case that the assassination attack would have to have actually been carried out to justify a kinetic response. For example, in 1993 the United States uncovered a plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush, and the Clinton Administration appropriately retaliated with cruise missile strikes against Iraqi Intelligence headquarters.

There remains some question about whether this Quds Force operation was authorized at the highest levels of the Iranian Government, specifically by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini. It is very likely that Khameini did know. But even if he did not -- even if this was overseen by "rogue elements" of the Quds Force -- a strong response is warranted for the simple reason that Tehran is responsible for creating, equipping, and supporting the IRGC, and must be held accountable for its actions.

To be sure, there are also ample reasons to argue against a military response at this time, and the United States must be equally careful about gratuitous escalation and unforeseen consequences. But the severity of this threat is significant enough, particularly in what it reveals about Tehran's new strategic calculations about its latitude to target the United States, that we at least consider a kinetic retaliation among the options.

Perhaps more important will be the strategic dimension of the American response, and here the priority should be using this incident to shift the strategic momentum against Iran. As if any more evidence was needed why this regime cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capability, this is it. The American strategic countermove should include repairing the frayed U.S.-Saudi relationship, bringing Turkey back in alignment with the United States and against Iran, stepping up multilateral pressure on Iran's ally the Assad regime in Damascus, reinforcing our support for the embattled Calderon government in Mexico, and making a renewed effort to enlist Chinese and Russian pressure against Iran on multiple fronts.

While the Russia "re-set" has thus far been oversold, here is a chance to get the Russians to deliver some results. China and Russia's double-veto of the U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria last week was as beneficial to Iran as it was to Syria. With this latest plot so brazenly targeted at our capital city, Iran has now overreached so far that Russia and China's hedging policy of playing both sides is no longer viable. Beijing and Moscow must now realize that any further support or cover they provide to Tehran amounts to a direct alignment against the core interests and security of the United States.

/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Zambians send a 20-year government packing and warn the Chinese they could be next

We don't often have reason to celebrate political developments in Africa, but Michael "King Cobra" Sata's Sept. 23 victory in the recent Zambian presidential elections is a reason, indeed. The 74-year-old tough-talking opposition leader has managed to score a victory for democracy in Zambia and against Chinese neocolonialism.

Credit is due to the recent incumbent, Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy, who gave up power peacefully after a clear defeat to Sata and the Patriotic Front Party. In the aftermath of the election, both men appear determined that the peaceful change of power be accepted as normal with both retribution and sour grapes being set aside.

But a larger and more interesting issue is the fulfillment in Zambia, and in the person of the new president, of the idea that Africa should not become prey to a new colonial power, that of the Chinese. China-watchers have been observing for about a decade now the growing influence of China as it buys friends in the developing world among the producers of raw materials to feed the growing Chinese economy. A combination of Chinese party, government, military and preferred businesses have been extracting and importing raw materials -- in the case of Zambia, copper -- by means of cheap labor and sometimes abusive labor practices and with the complicity of the host country's government.

Sata was transparent about his plans and tough in his talk regarding the Chinese during his campaign for office. He called the Chinese investors "infestors" and vowed that if elected he would put an end to the flouting of labor and tax laws and other abuses, abuses that cannot happen if the government is determined to stop them. In other words, through corruption and neglect, many African governments allow foreign interests to treat their countries as easily commandeered cheap resource pools. Sata was so insistent that the Chinese threatened, in an obvious attempt to sway the election, to divest in Zambia should the people elect Sata. The people were undaunted, Sata is now elected, and there is no sign that the Chinese will make good on their threat. They can hardly afford to do so given that Zambia is the continent's largest copper exporter.

Sata has no intention of closing Zambia for business; rather, he simply is requiring that his country's labor laws and safety regulations be respected by both foreign firms as well as the government itself. He has embarked without delay on his promised 90 days of reform, sacking people and reforming the government. He sounds like he'd perform well in the current GOP debates: not only is he announcing plans to battle corruption -- that is a given for a newly elected leader in a developing country -- but he is also announcing his intention to slash the size of government. Further, he intends to review all mining contracts with the Chinese to ensure they are in the interests of Zambians and to make sure that the wealth of Zambia is shared with the nation as a whole through fair contracts, fair wages, and a distribution of wealth not encumbered with corruption, cronyism, and bloated government.

We should wish him luck and our government should support him, because he will need it, but we should be encouraged given that few African leaders have been so bold to have staked their election in part on such a program of reform. Importantly, Sata's election represents the working out of the predictions of some observers that if the Chinese, in collusion with dictators and de facto presidents for life, continued to unfairly exploit developing countries, there would be a backlash redounding to the harm of both the incumbent governments as well as the foreign interests. Those of us who have worked in foreign assistance often heard how unwise we were to let the Chinese provide visible support such as the building of infrastructure and schools while we supported the intangibles of democracy, the rule of law, fair labor practices and economic freedom. We averred that if we did the right thing, the best thing, in time the fruit of our labor would be the movement of developing states from the category of failed and dependent to stable and flourishing. I trust that we are being proven right in Zambia and that this example will spread. It is too soon to predict that a backlash is building generally across the globe against the Chinese exploiters and against aid practices that only further dependency, but the ripples of the Zambian election -- and what it could mean for development policy -- are likely to be felt beyond its borders. 

THOMAS NSAMA/AFP/Getty Images