Since the mid-1990s, the State Department has kept an official list of states that sponsor terror—a list that included, back then, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, and Iraq. No new states have been added in some time; in fact, several have been taken off the list: Iraq, after the regime was changed; Libya, after Qaddafi cut a deal with the U.S. that included restitution for the victims of the terror attack over Lockerbie, Scotland; and most recently North Korea has been dropped, for no apparent reason. The list has teeth: in addition to various sanctions, states appearing on the list lose their sovereign immunity in American courts in terror cases, because a state engaging in terrorism, the reasoning goes, is no longer acting in its capacity as a state and should therefore be subject to the same criminal and civil proceedings as anyone else engaging in wanton violence.
One wonders whether it’s time for Venezuela to be added to the list. For many years, its neighbor and close American ally, Colombia, has suspected Venezuela of actively supporting the FARC rebels, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization. But according to at least one high-ranking Israeli military official, FARC is not the only such group enjoying the Venezuelan regime’s support: Hezbollah, it turns out, has established a major presence there as well, supported by the regime in “investing significant efforts to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets and Jewish institutions in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Peru,” according to today’s YNet.
Obviously, the State Department should not take the Israelis’ or the Colombians’ word for it and must conduct a thorough inquiry before making any moves. Yet the failure to dig deeper suggests a dramatic shift in U.S. policy on international terror when compared with not only the Bush administration but the will of Congress as well. Since 9/11, U.S. policy and law have aimed at showing zero tolerance for terrorism, the centerpiece of which strategy has been to make sovereign states accountable for the terrorism they support—not just through the occasional military replacement of their regimes, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also through a wide range of legal and diplomatic sanctions.
So here’s a question someone should ask at Secretary of State Clinton’s next press conference: By ignoring the increasing accusations against Venezuela of actively helping multiple terrorist organizations, is the Obama administration signaling a change in policy toward terror-sponsoring states in general?