This just in: Colin Powell is out. Throughout much of 2002 and 2003, I urged Powell to resign. It was clear he did not believe in George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. And then he ended up the White House’s top con man when he presented a thoroughly false report to the UN Security Council on WMDs in Iraq six weeks before the invasion. Other reasonable foreign policy advocates told me that they were comforted by Powell’s presence in the administration. He was the grown-up. Yet it seemed that Powell was providing cover for the out-of-control kindergartners and that once Bush was reelected he would bail and leave the reckless youngsters in charge. If he truly believed the war in Iraq was misguided, I argued, he had a duty to the public (his true boss) to speak out when it mattered. But Powell played the good soldier. He never expressed much public outrage over being duped by the CIA on the UN presentation. He served the president (more than the public), waited for him to be reelected, and then bugged out. His punishment for having enabled Bush should have been four more years.
A fellow who has long worked with Powell told me only ten days ago that Powell would likely stay on. Powell, he said, wanted to keep working on key projects–Darfur, the Middle East, North Korea–and did not want to resign when the most prominent item on his State Department resume would be that falsehoods-filled UN presentation. And I was considering writing–even today–a piece calling on Powell to stay. (Hmmm, did Powell receive a polite push from the White House?) Obviously, this source was wrong, and Powell will soon have plenty of time to tinker with the Volvos he likes to rebuild. Will he consider a presidential run in 2008? My source–who was wrong on the resignation–said Powell has shown no interest in such an endeavor.
So now it’s time for Washington’s favorite game: guessing who will get the job. Previously, the short list has included National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (gasp!) and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (omigod!). The White House says there will be no announcement today. But a new name has been added to the media’s list of possibilities: National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams. (Abrams was first handed the democracy and human rights brief when he joined the NSC in 2001; more recently, he has been in charge of Middle East policy at the NSC.) Is this a trial balloon launched by the White House so Wolfowitz will seem like a reasonable alternative? Abrams would be one of the most controversial choices Bush could make. (Think Ashcroft-plus in foreign policy terms.) Putting aside any concern that I might be overreacting to a mere mention of Abrams–who has to be considered a long shot–let me post here an article I wrote after Bush first appointed Abrams to an NSC job, which did not require Senate approval. Consider this a public service announcement.
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: IT’S BACK!by DAVID CORNThe NationJuly 2, 2001 issue
“How would you feel if your wife and children were brutally raped before being hacked to death by soldiers during a military massacre of 800 civilians, and then two governments tried to cover up the killings?” It’s a question that won’t be asked of Elliott Abrams at a Senate confirmation hearing–because George W. Bush, according to press reports, may appoint Abrams to a National Security Council staff position that (conveniently!) does not require Senate approval. Moreover, this query is one of a host of rude, but warranted, questions that could be lobbed at Abrams, the Iran/contra player who was an assistant secretary of state during the Reagan years and a shaper of that Administration’s controversial–and deadly–policies on Latin America and human rights. His designated spot in the new regime: NSC’s senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations. (At press time, the White House and Abrams were neither confirming nor denying his return to government.)
When you’re done reading this article,visit David Corn’s WEBLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent entries cover Bush and Bob Jones University, the bloodbath at the CIA, and the so-called “stolen election.”
Bush the Second has tapped a number of Reagan/Bush alums who were involved in Iran/contra business for plum jobs: Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Otto Reich and John Negroponte. But Abrams’s appointment–should it come to pass–would mark the most generous of rehabilitations. Not only did Abrams plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of lying to Congress about the Reagan Administration’s contra program, he was also one of the fiercest ideological pugilists of the 1980s, a bad-boy diplomat wildly out of sync with Bush’s gonna-change-the-tone rhetoric. Abrams, a Democrat turned Republican who married into the cranky Podhoretz neocon clan, billed himself as a “gladiator” for the Reagan Doctrine in Central America–which entailed assisting thuggish regimes and militaries in order to thwart leftist movements and dismissing the human rights violations of Washington’s cold war partners.
One Abrams specialty was massacre denial. During a Nightline appearance in 1985, he was asked about reports that the US-funded Salvadoran military had slaughtered civilians at two sites the previous summer. Abrams maintained that no such events had occurred. And had the US Embassy and the State Department conducted an investigation? “My memory,” he said, “is that we did, but I don’t want to swear to it, because I’d have to go back and look at the cables.” But there had been no State Department inquiry; Abrams, in his lawyerly fashion, was being disingenuous. Three years earlier, when two American journalists reported that an elite, US-trained military unit had massacred hundreds of villagers in El Mozote, Abrams told Congress that the story was commie propaganda, as he fought for more US aid to El Salvador’s military. The massacre, as has since been confirmed, was real. And in 1993 after a UN truth commission, which examined 22,000 atrocities that occurred during the twelve-year civil war in El Salvador, attributed 85 percent of the abuses to the Reagan-assisted right-wing military and its death-squad allies, Abrams declared, “The Administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.” Tell that to the survivors of El Mozote.
But it wasn’t his lies about mass murder that got Abrams into trouble. After a contra resupply plane was shot down in 1986, Abrams, one of the coordinators of Reagan’s pro-contra policy (along with the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers), appeared several times before Congressional committees and withheld information on the Administration’s connection to the secret and private contra-support network. He also hid from Congress the fact that he had flown to London (using the name “Mr. Kenilworth”) to solicit a $10 million contribution for the contras from the Sultan of Brunei. At a subsequent closed-door hearing, Democratic Senator Thomas Eagleton blasted Abrams for having misled legislators, noting that Abrams’s misrepresentations could lead to “slammer time.” Abrams disagreed, saying, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton cut in: “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” On another occasion, Republican Senator Dave Durenberger complained, “I wouldn’t trust Elliott any further than I could throw Ollie North.” Even after Abrams copped a plea with Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh, he refused to concede that he’d done anything untoward. Abrams’s Foggy Bottom services were not retained by the First Bush, but he did include Abrams in his lame-duck pardons of several Iran/contra wrongdoers.
Abrams was as nasty a policy warrior as Washington had seen in decades. He called foes “vipers.” He said that lawmakers who blocked contra aid would have “blood on their hands”–while he defended US support for a human-rights-abusing government in Guatemala. When Oliver North was campaigning for the Senate in 1994 and was accused of having ignored contra ties to drug dealers, Abrams backed North and claimed “all of us who ran that program…were absolutely dedicated to keeping it completely clean and free of any involvement by drug traffickers.” Yet in 1998 the CIA’s own inspector general issued a thick report noting that the Reagan Administration had collaborated with suspected drug traffickers while managing the secret contra war.
So Bush the Compassionate may hand the White House portfolio on human rights to the guy who lied and wheedled to aid and protect human-rights abusers. As Adm. William Crowe Jr. said of Abrams in 1989, “This snake’s hard to kill.”
IT REMAINS RELEVANT. DON’T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN’S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is NOW AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, “This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research….[I]t does present a serious case for the president’s partisans to answer….Readers can hardly avoid drawing…troubling conclusions from Corn’s painstaking indictment.” The Los Angeles Times says, “David Corn’s The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case.” The Library Journal says, “Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations….Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough.” And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, “I’d like to tell you I’ve read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that’d be a lie.”
For more information and a sample, go to www.davidcorn.com. And see his WEBLOG there.