Elliott Abrams, a figure from the Ronald Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal who describes himself as a “neoconservative and neo-Reaganite,” is moving to center stage in U.S. foreign policy as head of President George W. Bush’s Global Democracy Strategy.
In his new position, Abrams will oversee the administration’s promotion of democracy and human rights while continuing to provide oversight to the National Security Council’s directorate of Near East and North African affairs including involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Although not known as a regional specialist, Abrams has frequently voiced his strong support for Israel’s Likud party positions on the Oslo peace process and “land for peace” negotiations.
After the launch of the al-Aqsa Intifada in late September 2000, Abrams lambasted mainstream Jewish groups for their continued support of peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and for their call to Israel to halt its attacks.
During the first George H.W. Bush administration, the White House kept Abrams out of the public limelight. When he was appointed to the National Security Council (NSC), first as chief human rights officer and then as the NSC’s senior director of Near East and North Africa Affairs, the White House told the media that Abrams was unavailable for interviews.
There is less reticence this time around. Even before just-departed Secretary of State Colin Powell started clearing his desk in Foggy Bottom, Abrams was hitting the road last November in Europe to promote the Sharon-Bush plan to resolve what he calls the “Israel-Arab” conflict.
Also in November, Abrams participated in an hour-plus meeting in the Oval Office with the president and Natan Sharansky, Israel’s minister for Jerusalem and diaspora affairs.
Sharansky’s book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, has found favor with both Bush and new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who have repeatedly referred it in their pronouncements about the U.S. government’s new commitment to ending tyranny and spreading democracy.
The Israeli minister’s connection to Abrams and other neoconservatives dates back to the mid-1970s when Sharansky worked closely with Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a Washington State Democrat and the Senate’s most vocal supporter of Israel and Soviet Jewry.
Abrams has long rejected the peace process in the Middle East as a policy of appeasement. His Likudnik positions on Israeli-Palestinian tensions and Middle East restructuring are well established in his writings in the neocon magazine Commentary and his books.
Abrams authored the chapter on the Middle East in the 2000 blueprint for U.S. foreign policy by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Edited by PNAC founders William Kristol and Robert Kagan, Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy is a chapter-by-chapter playbook on how to deal with America’s current and future adversaries.
In his chapter on the Middle East, Abrams laid out the “peace through strength” credo that has become the operating principle of the Bush administration. “Our military strength and willingness to use it will remain a key factor in our ability to promote peace,” wrote Abrams.
“Strengthening Israel, our major ally in the region, should be the central core of U.S. Middle East policy, and we should not permit the establishment of a Palestinian state that does not explicitly uphold U.S. policy in the region,” Abrams asserted.
Following the February 2001 election of the Likud party’s Ariel Sharon as Israel’s new prime minister, Abrams wrote that Sharon embodied a new approach “of firmness and resistance to violence or the threat of violence.” He likened the return of Sharon to head the Israel government as similar to the return of Winston Churchill to government when Great Britain’s survival was threatened.
Abrams has moved back and forth between government and the right’s web of think tanks and policy institutes, holding positions as a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), advisory council member of the American Jewish Committee, and charter member of PNAC.
He has also maintained close ties with the Social Democrats/USA, the network of right-wing social democrats and former Trotskyites who became the most vocal of the self-described “democratic globalists” within the neocon camp in the 1990s.
By the end of the 1970s, he abandoned the Democrats and in 1981 became the director of State Department’s Office of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs.
During the Reagan years, the executive branch’s human rights program was a velvet glove tailored for the iron fist side of foreign and military policy. In his position as human rights director and later as chief of Latin America policy, Abrams was at once a human rights advocate, a manager of clandestine operations, and a bagman for the Nicaraguan contras calling himself “a gladiator” in the cause of freedom.
Although he entered the Reagan administration scandal-free, he left as a convicted criminal. Abrams, who in 1985 became the administration’s assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, was indicted by the Iran-Contra special prosecutor for intentionally deceiving Congress about the administration’s role in supporting the Contras, including his own central role in the Iran-Contra arms deal.
Abrams pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses (including withholding information from Congress) to avoid a trial and a possible jail term. He and five other Iran-Contra figures were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Christmas Eve 1992, shortly before the senior Bush left office.
Central to Abrams’ neoconservative philosophy and his perspective on the objectives of U.S. foreign policy are his own religious and Zionist convictions.
In his private writing and nongovernmental policy advocacy work, Abrams has described radical separatist and segregationist leanings. He believes, for example, that Jews shouldn’t date or attend school with non-Jews.
“Outside the land of Israel,” says Abrams, “there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart except in Israel from the rest of the population.”
Judaism, according to Abrams, demands “apartness” not in the sense of confining oneself to a physical ghetto, but in that all necessary measures should be taken to prevent “prolonged and intimate exposure to non-Jewish culture.”
Abrams takes care to note that his positions imply no “disloyalty” to the United States, but at the same time he insists that Jews must be loyal to Israel because they “are in a permanent covenant with God and with the land of Israel and its people. Their commitment will not weaken if the Israeli government pursues unpopular policies.”
Abrams describes himself as a “somewhat observant Conservative Jew” in his controversial book, Faith and Fear: How Jews Can Survive in Christian America.
Unlike Condoleezza Rice, Abrams is not commonly regarded as being a Bush or Republican Party loyalist. Rather, over the past three decades he has established his credentials as an influential right-wing ideologue one who has effectively put his own ideas about religion, human rights, democracy, and U.S. power to work both as a leading figure the world of neoconservative policy institutes and as a skilled foreign policy operative.
Abrams is equally comfortable in using military intervention, human rights advocacy, democratization programs, and backdoor illegal channels as instruments to advance a neoconservative foreign policy agenda.
(Inter Press Service)