Security Sensationalism: Hezbollah in Latin America
In November of last year, the Republican presidential candidates were asked to speak about a national security issue that had not been receiving enough attention. In response, three of the candidates reported that radical Islamist groups, namely Hamas and Hezbollah, were operating in Latin America across the Mexican border, presenting an “imminent threat to the United States of America.” Many of these claims were drawn from a report published by the American Enterprise Institute released in October 2011. This report states that “Hezbollah is using the Western Hemisphere as a staging ground, fundraising center, and operational base to wage asymmetric warfare against the United States.”
The fact checking website, Politifact.com tested the statements made by the Republican candidates, and by extension, the American Enterprise Institute, and rated them “Mostly False” because the there is no evidence to suggest that Hezbollah or other radical Islamist groups are operating in large numbers or transporting personnel or weapons across the border. One thing that the report does mention, however, is that Hezbollah has been documented to fundraise in the region. In the United States Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2010, Hezbollah is mentioned in one sentence : “We remain concerned about Hezballah’s fundraising activities in Venezuela.”
Sensationalizing the scale of the presence of radical Islamists does not increase U.S. security regarding the matter. According to the available intelligence, this presence is likely extremely small and, as noted above, limited to fundraising activities. This does not represent an imminent threat to the United States, despite the way some politicians may portray it. However, the question about the United States’ course of action to respond to the situation remains legitimate. The response to Hezbollah’s fundraising should not be treated as if the organization is amassing an occupation force meant to storm across the U.S. border and place the Southwest region under Sharia law.
Unfortunately, the American public and politicians are paranoid about illegitimate threats of Hezbollah in America’s backyard. Many Americans perceive the evil, subverting enemy as radical Islamists, intent on imposing Sharia law on the U.S. and the world much as the U.S.S.R. attempted to spread communism. Giving heed to sensational security claims places the United States on a course to repeat many of the questionable policies used during the Cold War. There is not much to stop the U.S. from following historical precedent. Especially in Latin America, the U.S. was prone to interfere and intervene in the political affairs during the Cold War in an effort to battle communism. While communism presented a significant threat to the U.S., and in certain cases radical Islam certainly does as well, the U.S. created more enemies and generated more animosity by seeking out a sometimes nonexistent threat.
Should the U.S. treat Hezbollah’s presence as it is described in the American Enterprise Institute and other similar reports, eventually voices in power would call for committing American troops to regions believed to be most at risk. These areas would include Venezuela and the Mexican border. Such a commitment would result in the loss of American lives and would place further animosity between the United States and its neighbors to the south. Thus, sensationalizing security situations, such as exaggerating the presence of Hezbollah in Latin America, has the potential to actually decrease U.S. security and endanger American lives.