Sanctions have not stopped Hezbollah at all. The DEA has strong evidence that the group has only gotten richer from drug sales, but no agency inside the DC Beltway wants to admit how wrong they have all been and how badly they all treated the DEA for the crime of being right.
The chattering classes of the mainstream media have been pouring buckets of snarky self-congratulation into one another’s pressrooms. For two years the media had been giving the Trump administration patronizing lectures about patience.
Starting another war in the Middle East would never be the answer to Hezbollah’s terrorism or Iran’s adventurism. So sayeth The Washington Post!
Just be patient and the Shiite fortresses will all magically crumble under our feet, without the need to set another American boot on the ground. So sayeth The New York Times!
In time, the true Beltway believers believed, the weight of our nonviolent economic sanctions against Iran would somehow be enough to crush the Islamist hordes and send them scurrying back to Lebanon to live lives of repentance among the bombed-out rubble that stretches from Beirut to the Bekaa Valley.
The Amen Chorus on Capitol Hill echoed what it had been fed by the CIA and the FBI:
We were winning!
The sanctions were working!
Hezbollah and Iran were going broke!
“Terrorist groups like Hezbollah are withering on the vine as Iran sanctions take effect,” Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted last week, voicing what has become a consensus in Washington. In this age of polarization, the unanimity of this take is all the more remarkable since it is shared by the Trump administration, Middle Eastern analysts, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even the Israeli government.
But this conventional wisdom is wrong. Hezbollah is nowhere close to being broke.”
Tony Badran of Tablet Magazine published that little gem of contrarian analysis this week. (Thanks to Yossi Krausz for bringing it to my attention.) Badran accused US officials of cherry-picking financial evidence to paint a very deceptive and dire portrait of Hezbollah’s suffering under sanctions.
Badran reminded us, “Such a result would indeed be remarkable if true, considering that many of the administration’s new sanctions meant to hurt Hezbollah’s patron, Iran, have only been in effect for a few months, and not all have been fully applied. Without question, the maximum pressure campaign is the right policy. And there is no doubt that the administration’s economic squeeze is inflicting serious pain on Tehran, though more pressure can and should be applied. But none of this means that Hezbollah is ‘withering’ or close to it.”
So Badran is clearly not some simpering lefty; he supports the goals of the Trump administration in general. He just does not see the utility of the White House shouting, “Mission accomplished” whenever a runner reaches first base.
“A cynic might dismiss all this very public messaging as a PR product of administration officials, highlighting newspaper stories about their successes,” Badran continues. “An even more cynical mind might imagine that stories about the impending financial collapse of Hezbollah are a way for the Trump administration to declare victory prematurely before pivoting to a new round of negotiations with Iran.”
Badran exposes this entire fortress of fake news as based upon a few ambiguous statements in a March 2019 speech given by Hezbollah leader Nasrallah:
“Nasrallah explained that the US was waging a financial war against the group and against Iran, and that more American sanctions were to be expected. After recalling the association’s past work, Nasrallah went on to say that ‘today, the “resistance” needs this popular support and embrace.’”
That’s it. That’s all he said. Most in the audience probably interpreted Nasrallah’s call for “popular support and embrace” as a request to go out and hug a returning Hezbollah fighter and thank him for his service in the recent Syrian war.