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Elliott Abrams Doesn't Deserve Attacks From the Right

Ronald Radosh

A few days ago, Andrea Mitchell broke the news that Rex Tillerson intends to choose Elliott Abrams to be deputy secretary of State. Politico now reports that Abrams is meeting President Trump and Rex Tillerson to discuss the pending appointment.

Almost immediately, the left decided to wage a no-holds-barred campaign against his appointment. First was Eric Alterman, in the pages of The Nation. Known as the moderate among their columnists, he had conniptions about the Trump administration considering Abrams, whom the left has condemned for decades as a hated “neocon.”

Not known for subtlety, Alterman wrote that Abrams was:

... an actual American War Criminal ... a neo-con golden boy [who] has behaved so badly in so many different arenas, it actually works in his favor.

Then Alterman repeated the left’s favorite attack against Abrams during the Reagan administration, when he had served as assistant secretary of State for Human Rights, and later as assistant secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs:

Abrams was forced to plead guilty to deliberately misleading Congress regarding his nefarious role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Next, Alterman claimed Abrams, while serving in the Bush 43 administration on the National Security Council, encouraged a “military coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela.” Then he charged that Abrams worked to “subvert the results of the 2006 elections in the Palestinian territories,” thereby strengthening Hamas. In Alterman’s eyes, it is therefore Abrams’ fault, not the fault of the Palestinians, who have seen to it that there is not a “possibility of a democratic peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

It certainly seems that Abrams wielded a huge amount of power.

Anyone who actually wants to know what Abrams did during his time on Bush’s NSC, where he served as the point man on Middle East issues, has only to read his superb book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Readers will find that Abrams is a serious, careful analyst of Mideast affairs, a man who knows well that Israel is America’s most important ally in the region. Abrams has worked with dedication to develop policy that would guarantee its security and that would assure that the United States would not waver in its support.

Sen. Joe Lieberman called the book “the definitive insider account of the Bush administration’s policies and actions with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” and Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis described it as follows: “Meticulous and yet gripping, Tested by Zion weighs the opportunities for diplomacy against its limitations more convincingly than any other account I’ve seen of the recent Israeli-Palestinian relationship.”

The heart of Alterman’s attack, however, is the reiteration of old charges that during the Reagan years, Abrams opposed human rights, supported “genocide” in Guatemala, and, of course, was guilty of lying to Congress and convicted for his “Iran-Contra lies.” Alterman also takes pride in his various attempts to get Abrams fired from his post at the Council on Foreign Relations, letting readers know how many people he tried to reach with his recommendation.

For those interested in the political witch-hunt against Abrams during the Reagan years, one can turn to Abrams’ 1992 book Undue Process: A Story of How Political Differences are Turned Into Crimes. Or one can read a long review of it from the left-leaning journal Dissent written by Aryeh Neier, then the head of Human Rights Watch.

Neier was Abrams’s arch-enemy then, taking him on directly about their different views of the events unfolding in Central America. Neier expressed satisfaction when Abrams was convicted of misdemeanors by withholding information from Congress. He wrote a column in The Nation, where Alterman now writes, “expressing satisfaction over his conviction because it seemed the appropriate denouement to a career in public office in which deceit had been a hallmark.”

After reading Abrams’ book, however, Neier had second thoughts, and wrote that he “found its central points persuasive.”

He concluded that political differences with policy “should be dealt with through the political process and not by means of criminal law.” The way the special prosecutor worked to indict him, Neier argues, “suggest a political prosecution rather than the fair administration of justice.” Neier writes that “Abrams’s argument that he was chosen as a target because the special prosecutor needed a recognizable scalp following [Oliver] North’s victory on appeal … is buttressed by the evidence of timing.” His conclusion is that Abrams’ book “should persuade fair-minded readers that the prosecution wronged him.”

For Alterman to not let Nation readers know that a major critic of Abrams at that time reconsidered his original belief, and concluded that Abrams’s trial and conviction was nothing but a witch-hunt, is journalistic malpractice.

It is disappointing to find that, at a time when the left is working hard to prevent Abrams from getting the job he is up for, David P. Goldman has joined the left in smearing Abrams and urging his appointment to be nixed. Goldman goes even further, accusing those who hold Abrams’ views of “insanity,” and saying that he belongs to a “cult that eroded the common sense of its victims and instilled a messianic, fanatical commitment to nation-building and democracy projection.” With these over-the-top words Goldman is clearly setting up a straw man. I wonder what he thinks of all those writers who accuse the Trump administration of equally terrible things, using the same sort of vitriolic arguments and language.

As for Abrams being a “fanatical…ideologue,” Goldman again shows he uses smears to discredit a political opponent rather than serious argument. He cites Abrams’ opposition to Trump during the campaign, but ignores that he praised Trump’s appointment of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel, calling him “one of the top lawyers” in his field, a “self-made man,” and a “smart cookie” whose “involvement with Israeli affairs for decades have given him a far better insight than the average diplomat.”

Clearly, even before being considered, Abrams was supportive of Trump’s choice in the area he has worked on over the past decade at the Council on Foreign Relations.

It is true that during the campaign, Abrams claimed that Trump “does not have a coherent foreign policy.” It says a lot about Tillerson and the administration that they are willing to seriously consider a well-qualified man who voiced criticism when he believed it was necessary, and clearly would be willing to call out the administration if he felt it was turning in the wrong direction on foreign policy.

Abrams will be a good fit for deputy secretary of State. Having served under Ronald Regan and George W. Bush, he can help Tillerson understand and navigate the State Department. He knows foreign policy, and understands the dangers that might ensue when Trump’s more ideological advisers support tendentious policies that would set our country backwards.

Elliott Abrams will be an asset to the Trump administration.

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