Contragate to Irangate? Trump Taps Elliot Abrams to Harrass Iran

August 13th, 2020 - by Bill Berkowitz / BuzzFlash

War Hawks ‘R Us. Trump Names Elliott Abrams Iran Envoy.

Bill Berkowitz / BuzzFlash

(August 12, 2020) — It is more than ironic that nearly forty years after he was intimately involved in the Iran-Contra affair, Elliott Abrams has been tapped by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as the replacement for Iran special envoy Brian Hook, who recently resigned his position.

Abrams will also continue in his role as special representative to Venezuela, where his duties over the past year have been to undermine and isolate Venezuela’s President Maduro. Abrams has been a persistent critic of the Obama administration’s relations with Iran, including the 2015 sanctions relief for the nuclear rollback deal. 

When Abrams was appointed special representative to Venezuela, WNYC’s On The Media co-host Bob Garfield pointed out: “The Trump administration has brought in Ronald Reagan’s old conquistador Elliott Abrams, because, I suppose, Hernán Cortés was unavailable.” Stephen Kinzer, author of numerous books, including Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq told Garfield that “The appointment of Elliott Abrams is truly mindboggling, especially for us old fogies that remember the 1980s. … [Back then] Elliott Abrams was a principal perpetrator of US policy in Central America.”

Abrams is one of those career government characters that never seem to go away, despite serial mishaps and failures. Several mainline Jewish organizations applauded the appointment. Zionist Organization of America president Mort Klein said that Abrams “is a very knowledgeable, highly intelligent, and a committed Zionist and American patriot whom I’m pleased was chosen.” 

Describing Abrams as a war hawk is an insult to hawks. 

As Common Dreams’ Jake Johnson recently reported, Abrams, “a notorious warmonger and supporter of Latin American death squads, … was convicted in 1991 of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal.”

“From El Salvador to Guatemala, Nicaragua to Panama, Elliott Abrams’ life’s work has been defined by the worst impulses of US foreign policy: embracing war, ignoring gross human rights abuses, and supporting horrific authoritarian regimes,” Stephen Miles, executive director of Win Without War, told Johnson

In 2019, when he was appointed special representative to Venezuela, I wrote: “Abrams, a hawkish foreign policy veteran who supported right-wing dictatorships throughout Central America in the 1980s and 1990s, was a key figure in the Iran-Contra Scandal. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information – some call it lying — from Congress about secret efforts to aid the Nicaraguan rebels in 1991. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush the following year. Abrams, The Guardian reported in 2002, ‘gave a nod to the attempted Venezuelan coup’; the failed attempt to remove then-president Hugo Chavez from office.” 

According to The New York Times, special Iran envoy Brian Hook was “one of the few national security officials to survive the turmoil in the foreign policy team through most of President Trump’s term.” 

The Times reported that Hook’s departure pretty much ruled out any possibility “of a diplomatic initiative with Iran before the end of Trump’s term.” While Hook has been “the face of United States sanctions against Tehran, Hook also held out the possibility of resuming direct talks, the way the Obama administration had.” 

Codepink recently issued a statement reviewing Abrams’ record, which includes: 

  • In the 1980s, he defended the infamous Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt, whose violent crackdown on the indigenous Ixil Mayan people of Guatemala was so brutal that it was classified as genocide by the United Nations.
  • “He denied that the Salvadoran military was responsible for the devastating El Mozote massacre where, in 1981, a US-trained battalion murdered more than 500 civilians, slitting the throats of children along the way. Not only did Abrams deny the massacre and push for continued US support for the notoriously brutal Salvadoran government, but he even claimed in a 1994 interview that ‘the US administration’s record in El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.’
  • “He is vehemently anti-Palestinian and shamelessly supports Israel. As George Bush’s aide on the National Security Council, Abrams did everything he could to thwart peace negotiations. He repeatedly undercut any US pressure on Israel to stop the building of settlements and cited the Holocaust as justification for Israel’s killings of Palestinians (Jews are ‘a people who had learned from history what happens to Jews without security’). In 2015, he applauded then-Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite Netanyahu to address Congress without the approval of President Obama. He lauds Evangelical descriptions of Israel such as the belief that ‘Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects Americans.’
  • “In 1991, Abrams pled guilty to withholding information from Congress related to his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, the secret and illegal scam in the 1980s to siphon profits from Iranian weapons sales to support the right-wing Contra rebels trying to overthrow the Sandinista government.
  • “Abrams was a key supporter of the disastrous invasion of Iraq. In 1998, he submitted a letter to President Clinton encouraging him to depose Saddam Hussein. As Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy during George W. Bush’s second term, Abrams was in charge of promoting Bush’s strategy of ‘advancing democracy abroad.’ 
  • “Abrams’ opposition to the Iran Nuclear Deal is epitomized by his attempts to encourage Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites before negotiations became too serious. He Israel’s capacity to impede the deal was ‘already being narrowed considerably by the diplomatic thaw, because it is one thing to bomb Iran when it appears hopelessly recalcitrant and isolated and quite another to bomb it when much of the world — especially the United States — is optimistic about the prospect of talks.’”

When Abrams was appointed special representative to Venezuela, I wondered if that post might be his last hurrah. But I stand corrected. After all, who are you gonna call when an administration is looking for longtime war hawks, liars, and coddlers of anti-democratic leaders? Elliott Abrams. 

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