The Rehabilitation of Elliott Abrams

The Rehabilitation of Elliott Abrams


Click on the Elliott Abrams page on the website of the Harry Walker speakers’ agency, and you’ll learn a great deal about its subject. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, recently published by Cambridge University Press. An ex–congressional staffer, former national security official in the Reagan and Bush II administrations, and a member of more boards and organizations than one can easily count, Abrams is also, according to the “accolades” provided by the agency, a big hit with the Jewish federations, temples and synagogues to which the Walker pitch is unmistakably directed. 

Here’s what you won’t learn: in the Reagan State Department, Abrams (who also teaches foreign policy at Georgetown) repeatedly and purposely misled Congress about the government’s involvement with the death-squad-riddled Salvadoran military, the Nicaraguan Contra counter-revolutionaries and other Central American mass murderers. He whitewashed their massacres as well as the abuses of the Argentinean junta (who were kidnapping babies at the time and selling them) and the genocidal Guatemalan regime of Gen. Efrían Ríos Montt (currently on trial for crimes against humanity). Abrams did all this while casting aspersions on the motives of journalists and human rights workers who sought to tell the truth about these crimes. As a result of these offenses, among others, Abrams was forced to plead guilty to unlawfully withholding material information from Congress and to apologize to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was also disbarred in the District of Columbia. 

After biding his time during the Bush I and Clinton administrations, Abrams resumed his previous patterns. According to a report in the London Observer, as a staff member of President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, Abrams enjoyed advance knowledge of, and “gave a nod to,” the (briefly successful) military coup against the democratically elected Hugo Chávez in 2002. Later, when he was promoted by Condoleezza Rice to run the NSC’s Israel/Palestine desk, Abrams apparently sought to subvert the 2006 Palestinian elections. As The New Republic’s John Judis explains (adding to earlier reporting by David Rose in Vanity Fair), when Hamas did much better in that election than Abrams and Rice had expected, Abrams apparently “sought to nullify the results and to block a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, even though such a government might actually have become a credible partner in peace negotiations. And the Bush administration helped arm Fatah’s security forces against Hamas, which stoked the civil war and led to Hamas taking over Gaza. According to this narrative, Hamas was basically right about American intentions,” and it was Abrams’s now familiar combination of arrogance, incompetence and contempt for democracy that helped lead to the collapse of any possible unified Palestinian mandate for peace negotiations as well as Hamas’s subsequent strategic turn toward Iran.

It was during Abrams’s tenure in the NSC that the United States lost all credibility as an honest broker among Palestinians, something that both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had worked extremely hard to achieve (albeit with decidedly mixed results). Since Barack Obama’s presidency began, Abrams has been largely critical of the president’s attempts to undo the damage that he and his colleagues caused; though, to be fair, he’s been a model of restraint compared with his better half, Rachel Decter Abrams (the daughter of Midge Decter, stepdaughter of Norman Podhoretz and stepsister of John Podhoretz), who is a board member, with William Kristol, of the so-called Emergency Committee for Israel. In a message famously tweeted by Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, Rachel Abrams called on Israel to “round up…the slaughtering, death-worshiping, innocent-butchering, child-sacrificing savages who dip their hands in blood and use women—those who aren’t strapping bombs to their own devils’ spawn and sending them out to meet their seventy-two virgins by taking the lives of the school-bus-riding, heart-drawing, Transformer-doodling, homework-losing children of Others—and their offspring—those who haven’t already been pimped out by their mothers to the murder god—as shields, hiding behind their burkas and cradles like the unmanned animals they are, and throw them…into the sea, to float there [as] food for sharks.” (At no point did Rachel’s husband seek to disassociate himself from these hateful sentiments.)

Elliott Abrams’s most recent contribution to the cause came when he baselessly attacked now–Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as an “anti-Semite” who “seems to have some kind of problem with Jews.” It was at this point that Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass felt compelled to distance his organization from Abrams and termed his statements not only false but “over the line.” It’s interesting that this is what, at long last, offended the council’s leadership. But judging by Abrams’s inarguable success as he has made his way through the American establishment, one has to wonder just what it takes to finally get its attention. As in the case of Charles Murray, whose racist arguments were later revealed to be based on neo-Nazi sources, Abrams’s career of lying to Congress, undermining democracies, helping to rationalize and cover up mass murder, and impugning the reputations of those who sought to tell the truth about these horrific acts has failed to dissuade respectable institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, Georgetown University, and any number of temples and synagogues from treating him as if he had been a perfectly decent and honorable public servant. What does it say about our most influential and important institutions that this lifelong embarrassment to American democracy can be embraced as one of their own?

In “Elliott Abrams: It's Back!” (July 14, 2001) David Corn observed: “One Abrams specialty was massacre denial.” 

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