The Amazing Grace of Elliot Abrams, Part 2

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at
Thu Sep 4 18:40:18 MDT 2003


The new military approach of Bush, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz was originally
inspired by hardliner Wohlstetter and friends at the Rand Institute in the
1970s, and the neo-conservatives waited in the wings ever since, biding
their time, waiting for their chance. The two Gulf wars, Venezuela and
Afghanistan should be seen as tests of the 'new' strategy. The UN, NATO,
strategic alliances and military assets must all be reshaped to advance US

This occurs against a background of two decades of deregulation and
privatisation, which dismantled social democratic, communist and nationalist
institutions, created gigantic social inequalities and poverty, which sparks
outrage, resistance and chaos. At the same time,  it also also provides
great fortunes and lucrative business opportunities for financial capital.
Neoconservatives capitalise politically on the disorder, opposition, risks
and dangers of casino capitalism. Private enterprise, free markets and more
money for rich people is seen as progressive and civilising.
Multiculturalism is hated and feared. Multilateral policy-making,
compromises and tolerance of disorder and dysfunction are regarded as
weakness and a disease. The USA must take control, and opponents or rivals
smashed. The collapse of the USSR,  EU disorganisation and incipient Chinese
capitalism provide an opportunity to assert American power and American
values, 'before it is too late'. Thus, strength of purpose, economic primacy
and military strength is essential and can be used to secure the good, while
containing or smashing evil.

PNAC manipulates a political climate in which Americans are worried and
scared, and look for a strong, secure leadership from the rich. They are
scared about the export of good jobs,  immigrant hordes, reduced wages and
political instability. The US middle class is being squeezed. Real incomes
for ordinary people are falling, debts are rising, and many people feel
insecure personally, professionally and financially. New technology and
the stock market did not provide great wealth people hoped for. The economy
stays sluggish, and the 2000 presidential election was an absurdity.
Corporate corruption and scandals are endemic, and give big business a bad
image.  9/11 and subsequent arrests, rumours and threats terrify people. The
wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel, and rising unemployment keep the fear
levels high. Many Americans are also worried by increased police power and
the removal of civil liberties. PNAC jumps into the breach here, and wants
assure and remake the world with strong, tough policies based on confidence.


Newt Gingrich furthered Abrams public rehabilitation by appointing him to
the new U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 1999 for which
he also served as chairman until 2001. Muslim groups complained
about his refusal to criticise Israeli practices in the occupied territories
and Jerusalem, such as sealing off Muslim holy sites, as violations of
religious freedom. He became President of the Ethics and Public Policy
Center (EPPC) in 1996-2001 where he wrote widely on foreign policy issues,
including the Middle East, and the threats posed by U.S. secular society to
Jewish identity. The EPPC was established in 1976 to "clarify and reinforce
the bond between the Judeo-Christian moral tradition and the public debate
over domestic and foreign policy issues". Abrams remained an integral part
of the tight-knit neoconservative foreign policy community in Washington
that revolved around one of his early mentors, Richard Perle, and former UN
Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).
This makes it abundantly clear that he is, in his own words, a
'neo-conservative and neo-Reaganite' with strong ties to Zionists and
evangelical Christians, who combines ideological zeal and bureaucratic

In fact, he is a fundamentalist christian fanatic who believes in
creationism, objects to intermarriage, and relentlessly pursues his
political objectives. This is why he is called a Likudite by liberals. His
view, as stated in mid-1998, is that "Judaism must be put back at the center
of American Jewish life, in place of the "civil" elements such as fighting
anti-Semitism or pushing political agendas" and he claims to know "how to
get from here to there". Before joining the Bush administration, Abrams was
skeptical about past U.S. peacemaking efforts in the Middle East and has
praised Sharon for his 'strength' and 'firmness' toward the Palestinians in
contrast to the 'weakness' displayed by Ehud Barak. Khalil Jahshan, director
of government affairs for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee
says Abrams's appointment raised a 'red flag for me and my community'.
William Kristol said 'Much of the criticism of Elliott misses the fact that
he is an extremely intelligent, competent guy - Bush is more committed to
seeing whether he can push ahead with the Middle East peace process than
most people believe, and that is true of Elliott as well.'


Reviewing "A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights" by Mary Ann Glendon
in June 2001, Elliot Abrams wrote:  "The larger problem is the Declaration
itself. Mrs. Roosevelt may indeed have been central to its adoption, but is
this a claim of which anyone should be proud? There have been two main
criticisms of the Declaration, one from the left or Third World, and the
other from the right, especially the American right. The criticism from the
Third World has most often described the UDHR as a Western product, a form
of intellectual and political colonialism imposed just after the Second
World War by Western delegates at a UN composed of the United States, the
USSR, and a few declining colonial powers. Glendon disposes of this fantasy.
(...) More attention is correctly dedicated in Glendon's book to the
conservative critique: that the Declaration equates economic and social with
civil and political rights, and has thereby given generations of dictators a
weapon. Equating the right to housing or to employment with the right to
free speech or freedom of religion, goes the argument, allowed the Soviets
and now allows the Chinese to say, "Well, you have your favorites and we
have ours." Worse yet, by using rights language for such social goals as
good housing and good medical care, goals that are simply incapable of
achievement in many places right now, the Declaration undercuts our ability
to insist that rights are things that must be granted immediately and
everywhere, independently of a nation's wealth or stage of development.
(...) [Glendon] explains the Declaration's main achievement: removing the
individual from the total control of the state. (...) Second, she argues
that the Declaration has been invaluable as a set of goals. A specific
example: "The last sentence of Article 25-on children born outside
marriage-was . . . one of the earliest acknowledgments of a principle that
would eventually transform national legislation nearly everywhere" regarding
the rights of illegitimate children. More broadly, Mrs. Roosevelt saw and
Prof. Glendon sees the UDHR as an educational effort and a "moral beacon"
rather than a "vague proclamation." (...)  Glendon argues that the
Declaration's insistence on economic and social as well as political rights
is in fact correct. (...) The mere recitation of political and civil rights
without reference to how they exist in their cultural setting would, to
Glendon, be no improvement on the Declaration. This is the best defense the
Declaration has ever had or is likely to get. I would emphasize somewhat
more than Prof Glendon does the price paid for that error of using the
single term "rights" to cover all the goals of the Declaration. And I cannot
fully share her sense of its achievements. To take a prime example, she
discusses in some detail the debate on religious freedom in the Human Rights
Commission when the Declaration was being drafted. Was there a right to
change one's religion? Could Islam tolerate this supposition? Not according
to the Saudis, who abstained on the final vote for adoption due to their
disagreement here. (...)  The world's most populous nation, China, accepts
the Declaration in principle-but the Chinese signer in 1948 represented a
country striving for freedom, not the Communist dictatorship that has for
fifty years striven to prevent Chinese from building freedom on the moral,
religious, and political traditions of Confucianism.


Abrams's years in the political wilderness ended in June 2001 when Rice
surprised many people by chosing him to lead the National Security Council
office for democracy, human rights and international operations. Abrams was
previously regarded as 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. At the same time, however, Rice formally
announced the appointment of Flynt Leverett as Senior Director for Middle
East Initiatives at the NSC. Leverett would deal with Arab-Israeli issues
for Near East and North African Affairs, working under Abrams. Leverett
holds a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University, and was senior Middle
East analyst with the CIA. He joined the NSC in February, after serving on
the State Department's Policy Planning staff, and had been acting Senior
Director for Middle East Affairs since July. On December 2, 2002,  Rice
however announced the appointment of Abrams as Special Assistant to the
President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs,
including Arab/Israel relations and U.S. efforts to promote peace and
security in the region. This meant he became President Bush's senior adviser
on the Middle East. For the first time, somebody who has publicly attacked
the "land-for-peace" formula that has guided U.S. policy in the Arab-Israeli
conflict since the 1967 war, was appointed to a top spot in Middle East


Abrams barely knew Rice when he was hired. But he knew Wolfowitz
 (PNAC) and Rice's deputy Steve Hadley. Wolfowitz also helped Abrams
 get his job. WH Spokesman Fleischer said of Abrams' past transgressions
President Bush "thinks that's a matter of the past and was dealt with at the
time." More importantly, Rice and Bush did not want to cede control of
East policy to Colin Powell. In the past, a foreign service bureaucrat had
held the NSC post and more or less followed the State Department. Until late
2001, a holdover from the Clinton White House, Bruce Reidel, had the post. A
fight broke out over who would replace Reidel. One candidate after another
was blocked. Rice was urged to name someone from inside the system, either
from State or the CIA. But she insisted on Abrams, who comes from outside
the system and whose pro-democracy, pro-Israel, and anti-peace process views
on the Middle East are anathema to the State Department and the CIA
establishment. The Washington Post headlined Abrams appointment,
"Iran-Contra Figure Named To Senior Post In White House." The Newsday
headline said, "Iran-contra figure Elliott Abrams, who received a pardon
from the first President Bush for his role in the scandal . . . has been
promoted to a key post among the current President Bush's national security
aides." Neither newspaper mentioned the precise policy significance of
Abrams's appointment. Meanwhile  EPPC chair Ambassador Kirkpatrick said:
"During his years as [EPPC] president, Elliott has enhanced the
institutional strength and public influence of the Ethics and Public Policy
Center in advancing the goal of a free and just society as informed by the
Judeo-Christian moral tradition. We are grateful for his leadership, and
confident that the National Security Council will benefit from his
commitment and wisdom in seeking to secure human rights and democracy in the
international arena."


Some also argue that any other job for Abrams would have required official
Senate confirmation, and that Abrams has good management skills. Possibly
there is some truth in this. Abrams would never have survived a Senate
confirmation hearing for a deputy or assistant secretary position at either
the Department of Defense or State Department. At the time of Abrams's
appointment, Middle East policymaking at the White House was a shambles.
Responsibility for shaping policy now lay with three 'senior
directors.' The original National Security Council department chief, Zalmay
Khalilzad, focused mainly on dealings with the Iraqi opposition and was
reputed to be a poor administrator and more moderate about the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Khalilzad had succeeded Reidel, but was
quickly consumed with his native-born Afghanistan, after being named special
envoy to the interim president, Hamid Karzai. Khalilzad became
"ambassador-at-large for free Iraqis" concerned with sorting out conflicts
among the Iraqi opposition. Khalilzad was actually a co-founder of PNAC in
1997. But Abrams clashed with Leverett and Assistant Secretary of State
William J. Burns, the State Department's top Middle East expert, over the
final shape of the final Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, seeking more
limited Israeli concessions. Abrams was frustrated by the lack of a clear
chain of command on Middle East issues. Leverett then left the NSC staff,
after refusing an offer by national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice to work on the "road map" under Abrams. Two other officials also left
the NSC staff as part of a shake-up in the Near East office related to
Abrams's arrival.

Abrams worked secretly to rewrite the road map, based on
the basis of critiques drawn up by the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee. He fired off frequent e-mails to Condoleeza Rice and Stephen
Hadley, aiming to reduce the role of any international mediators in the
peace process. Elliott had strong reservations about any input from the UN
and the EU. In general, Abrams's appointment must reflect Bush's preference
to use the "Reagan style of government" and assemble a team of
philosophically like-minded individuals regardless of background or public
perception,  which ensures consensus, which allows for quick and decisive
action, right or wrong.


In addition to regular responsibilities, Abrams drafted a tough new policy
toward Cuba and "brainstormed" with Rice and other NSC officials to consider
new approaches to Middle East peace. For the first time ever, the Bush
administration voted against a U.N. General Assembly resolution that called
on Israel to repeal the Jerusalem law that declares that "Jerusalem,
complete and united, is the capital of Israel." In the past, Washington has
abstained on the issue, insisting that the the status of Jerusalem must be
determined by negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Abrams has in
the past attacked that vote, as well as Washington's refusal to recogize
Jerusalem as Israel's capital, on the grounds that that such a position
"tantalizes the Palestinians with the prospect of forcing the Jews to
abandon Jerusalem."

'Elliott could always be relied upon to give clear expression of the Israeli
line, and whether or not it would fly with the Jewish community,' another
participant in the brainstorming sessions recalled. Abrams  made a secret
visit to Israel with Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, to meet
Sharon. The prime minister took his guests up in a helicopter for a
bird's-eye view of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank which Israel
could be forced to abandon under a peace deal with the Palestinians. The
helicopter tour has become a standard feature on the itinerary of U.S.
officials visiting Sharon, said Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to
Israel, in May 2003. 'You look down at all these settlements in the hills
below you, and you get the distinct impression that they will not be moving
anywhere in the lifetime of your administration,' he said. 'If anyone in the
Bush administration is going to push Israel on the settlements, it would be
Abrams, because he has credibility with the Israeli government,' said Aluf
Benn, diplomatic reporter for Ha'aretz. 'But so far we have not seen the
political will on the part of the White House to seriously press the issue.'

"Yet another American Likudnik is moving to a position where they control
Washington's agenda in the Mideast," commented Rashid Khalidi, a Mideast
historian at the University of Chicago. "This is a tragedy for the Israeli
and American people." As the NSC staff chief, Abrams is Special Assistant to
the President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs.
As such, he is in charge of presenting policy papers and options for
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, whose own opinions are decisive
in cases where the president receives conflicting views from Rumsfeld,
Cheney, and Powell, who has support from the CIA and the soldiers. Rice has
no experience with Mideast issues prior to her current job. Khalidi
recognised Abrams fundamentalism and believes Abrams "will be yet another
filter blocking reality from reaching the president".


Abrams is not an expert on Arab-Israeli relations, anymore than Rice, but he
is pro-Likud and attacked Netanyahu for caving in to U.S. pressure to
respect the Oslo peace process. Shortly after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa
intifida at the end of September 2000, he criticized mainstream Jewish
groups for calling for a resumption of peace talks between the Palestinian
Authority and Israel, as well as a halt to the violence. Writing during the
2000 presidential campaign, Abrams said that the coming decade "will present
enormous opportunities to advance American interests in the Middle East."
But these opportunities will be realized "not for the most part through
painstaking negotiations of documents." Abram's policy is one of "boldly
asserting our support of our friends and opposing with equal boldness our

Like Perle, as well as Rumsfeld's civilian advisers like Undersecretary of
Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and Cheney's top deputy, I. Lewis Libby,
Abrams favours the PNAC Mideast strategy based on the overwhelming military
superiority of both the USA and Israel, and on a military alliance between
Israel and Turkey against hostile Arab states, particularly Syria and Iraq,
in order to create a "broader strategic context" that would ensure whatever
state might emerge on Palestinian territory would be friendly to U.S. and
Israeli interests, and that could force Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.  He
is hostile to Arafat as an untrustworthy partner under the Oslo process, and
used his NSC position to push out Arafat out of power as part of a thorough
reform process. That view, supported by Rumsfeld and Cheney, was accepted by
Bush, despite strenuous objections by the State Department and senior aides
for Bush's father, including former national security adviser, Brent


On Friday 12th of April, when Venezuelan army generals had seized elected
President Hugo Chavez and closed down parliament, White House's official
spokesman Ari Fleischer, said "Now the situation will be one of tranquillity
and democracy". For several months, the coup plotters had made secret trips
to the White House to meet with Elliot Abrams at the NSC, and Otto Reich,
the key policy maker for Latin America. OAS sources told the Observer (21
April 2002) that, "the coup was discussed in some detail, right down to its
timing and chances of success, which were deemed to be excellent." White
House visitors included coup leader Pedro Carmona, who was installed as head
of the junta, and General Lucas Romero Rincon, head of the Venezuelan
military, who met with Pentagon official Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, a former
close associate of the US sponsored Contra forces in Nicaragua. Opposition
legislators were also brought to Washington in recent months, including at
least one delegation sponsored by the International Republican Institute, an
integral part of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is used by the
CIA for covert operations abroad. By the time of the Senate hearing in
February, the decision to sponsor the coup had almost certainly already been
taken. In early November 2001, the National Security Agency, the Pentagon
and the U.S. State Department held a two-day meeting on U.S. policy toward
Venezuela. Similar such meetings took place in 1953, 1963, and 1973, as well
as before coups in Guatemala, Brazil and Argentina. On his release from
captivity, Hugo Chavez said a plane with US registration numbers was at an
army airstrip on Venezuela's Orchila Island, one of five places he was held
during the coup. When asked about this, Ari Fleicher's bizarre response was
that he "did not know" whether Washington had provided a plane to fly the
Venezuelan President into exile. After the coup failed, US National Security
Adviser Condoleezza Rice warned Chavez in the most patronising way: "We do
hope that Chavez recognises that the whole world is watching and that he
takes advantage of this opportunity to right his own ship, which has been
moving, frankly, in the wrong direction for quite a long time."


Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, an appointed member of the nine-person US Commission
on International Religious Freedom 1999-2001 has stated: "although President
Bush repeatedly says that the US is not biased against Islam, the recent
appointment of Elliot Abrams to head the National Security Council's Near
East and North African office delivers exactly the opposite message to the
regions 250 million plus Muslims. Putting Abrams in charge of the office
that oversees Arab-Israeli relations and peace promoting efforts in the
region all but eliminates any possibility for Bush to portray himself as an
advocate for peace, justice and reconciliation between Israelis,
Palestinians and the neighboring countries. Like several of the other
neo-conservatives populating Bush's staff, he is a strong supporter of the
ultra-right wing in Israel. For two years, I worked with Abrams on the US
Commission on International Religious Freedom. From the vantage point of the
Commission, as an American and as a Muslim, I had the unfortunate
opportunity of witnessing -- clearly and unequivocally -- the deep bias that
Abrams brings to his new position. Perhaps the most telling experience was a
disastrous trip to the Middle East, where Abrams provoked a diplomatic flap
and alienated the kind of people whose support we now need if we are to be
effective in fighting terrorism. (...)  As Chairman of the Commission at the
time, Abrams led the delegation to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but did not go to
Jerusalem with three of us as he was of the opinion that there are no
problems with religious freedom in Israel that would warrant the attention
of the Commission. (..) By failing to adjust his schedule, Abrams managed to
snub the leading Islamic cleric in Egypt, Sheikh Tantawi of al-Azhar, which
nearly created a diplomatic nightmare that was only narrowly averted by the
intervention of the US Ambassador. Ultimately, under the leadership of
Abrams, the Commission published reports on over a dozen countries,
including those visited throughout the year, except for Israel. (...) As
such, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to understand why hostility towards
the US is increasing in the Middle East as Palestinians suffer more each
day. Since this Administration is willing to sacrifice human rights for
other strategic interests, it must be prepared to pay the price in decreased
popularity around the world. The only problem is that average Americans who
are affected by our foreign policy (...) By appointing Abrams to this post,
the President has failed to show to the world's one billion Muslims that he
is sincerely interested in peace, ending terrorism, and promoting peaceful
cooperation with our country. Instead, while the United States says that its
actions are directed against terrorists and not Islam, Abrams' appointment
makes those words appear as hollow as a Trent Lott apology".



Reference: Karl Marx, "Herr Vogt". London, 1860.

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