Younger folks aren’t too familiar with Elliott Abrams, the architect of some of the most horrifying acts committed under the guise of U.S. foreign policy over the last four decades. Even some older folks are surprised to find out about his previous scandals in Latin America. While others are well aware of his stance on where Latin America should be, what they should be doing, and forcing their allegiance to U.S. Corporate interests.
Following his appointment as Special Representative to Venezuela in January 2019 by the Trump administration, Elliott Abrams was regularly mentioned in news cycles for a short period of time. He has since retreated back to the shadows as he conducts clandestine operations to usurp governments in Latin America and the Middle East.
Through his many appointments since Ronald Reagan, Abrams has been advocating for war in Latin America and the Middle East for over 40 years. As a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank, he has influenced the foreign policy decisions of the United States for much of his career. Whether as a presidential appointee or through extensive lobbying efforts, Abrams has been behind many of the most recent wars in our lifetime.
The Council on Foreign Relations was created in 1919 during the Paris Peace Conference where many scholars had met to outline Woodrow Wilson’s strategy for peace after the end of World War I. During discussions of Wilson’s Fourteen Points strategy for peace, a group of British and American diplomats and scholars created an Anglo-American organization titled “The Institute of International Affairs” which had offices in London and New York. Due to the isolationist mentality that was prevalent in the United States at the time, the group had difficulty finding support for their interventionist plans and instead turned their focus to secret meetings taking place in New York City under the name “Council on Foreign Relations” (CFR).
While the name may have changed, their policy agenda has not. Members contribute to the foreign policy debate by making recommendations to presidential administrations, testifying before Congress, serving as a resource to the diplomatic community, interacting with the media, authoring books, reports, articles, and op-eds on foreign policy issues. Abrams helps to influence much of the media and content that comes out of the CFR.
Abrams is best known for his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration which led to his convictions on two misdemeanor counts for withholding information from Congress in 1991. Initially, Independent Counsel Lawrence Welsh, who was tasked with investigating the Iran-Contra scandal, prepared multiple felony counts against Abrams who later entered into a plea agreement in which he cooperated with the investigation and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors. He was later pardoned by George H.W. Bush.
In 1982, Abrams backed a coup in Guatemala and advocated for aid to the nation under then-dictator Efrain Rios Montt who came to power in 1982, with the backing of the U.S. government. Thirty years later, Rios Montt was found guilty of a campaign of mass murder and torture of indigenous people in Guatemala. He was later convicted of genocide against the Maya-Ixil population. Despite the U.S. role, it would never be brought up in court hearings and has since rarely been discussed.
In early 1982, Abrams relentlessly defended the human rights record of the El Salvador government and attacked human rights groups calling them communist sympathizers for criticizing the El Salvador government. When reports of El Mosote massacre by the military in El Salvador started showing up in U.S. media, Abrams testified at a Senate committee that the reported number of deaths was not credible. He also stated that “it appears that the incident is being misused, at the very best, by the guerillas.” Then, in 1993, the Salvadoran Truth Commission found that over 800 civilians were “deliberately and systematically” executed in El Mozote by force of the Salvadoran government.
“While it was important to us to promote the cause of human rights in Central America it was more important to prevent a communist takeover in El Salvador.” – Elliott Abrams, 1998
Abrams was a key figure in the campaign to push for war in Iraq before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He would finally get his chance after George W. Bush appointed him to the post of Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations at the National Security Council. While serving as an advisor to the National Security Council he was an aggressive advocate for the “war on terror” after 9/11. A war that would inevitably lead to the invasion of Iraq despite not having any connections to the 9/11 attacks.
One of the most notable traits of Elliott Abrams is one that is shared with John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and others, in that they are schooled in the art of manufacturing false narratives to convince elected officials and the American people at large that we must go to war. Throughout his career, Abrams touted his love for democracy and his advocacy for human rights. But he has mostly destroyed democracies while installing dictators who instinctively violate human rights, but are friendly to U.S. corporate interests.
The most telling of those are the Latin American interventions Abrams is responsible for. Not only willing to look away from the atrocities of U.S. backed dictators but also going to great lengths to defend them. Abrams is arguably one of the biggest warmongers of the last four decades. As someone who considers himself an advocate for human rights, no one has fought harder against groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and various others.
Abrams, like Bolton, is a tool of the war machine; the military-industrial complex. As the primary architect of the Iraq war, he was behind much of the false information regarding Iraq’s WMDs. Including the notion that Iraq possessed a nuclear weapon. At about the same time, he and Bolton accused Cuba of manufacturing and delivering chemical weapons to rogue nations. A lie that was proven untrue by intelligence officials who refused to allow Bolton to declare Cuba an enemy with a capacity to manufacture any weapons of the type.
After being cornered about covering up atrocities committed by military forces of U.S.-backed governments, including those in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and the rebel Contras in Nicaragua, Abrams accused his critics of being Un-American and unpatriotic. Still, Abrams argued that “human rights is at the core of our foreign policy.”
Critics, however, say that Abrams misappropriated the term “human rights” as Tamar Jacoby wrote in 1986, “in a period that more or less coincided with Abrams’ tenure as assistant secretary of state for human rights, the White House endeavored to appropriate the banner of human rights for itself to use it in battle not only against communist regimes but also, in a more defensive way, against domestic opponents of its human rights policy.” The Lawyers Committee, Americas Watch, and Helsinki Watch wrote a report in 1985, charging that Abrams had “developed and articulated a human rights ideology which complements and justifies Administration policies” and undermined the purpose of the human rights bureau in the State Department.
“Communist governments were the worst human rights violators in the world, Abrams believed, so virtually anything done to prevent Communists from coming to power (or to overthrow them) was justifiable on human rights grounds. This theory fit neatly into the Cold War presumptions that framed Reagan’s foreign policy and allowed the administration to rationalize supporting murderous regimes so long as they were anti-Communists. In practice, it was little different from Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik that discounted human rights issues entirely.” – William M. LeoGrande, Political Scientist, American University
While citing human rights as his main motivator, Abrams continues to promote war anywhere sovereign nations don’t fully acquiesce to U.S. corporate interests. Still touting a fight against communism, his language has changed somewhat and is now more focused on the fight against socialism. It’s not a coincidence that soon after Mike Pompeo brought him in to help promote a war in Venezuela, the Trump administration started throwing the word “socialism” out there as much as possible.
Many who know Abrams and what he’s capable of (particularly Latin Americans), are well aware of what his propaganda machine looks like. Those in the current administration know it and it’s precisely why Abrams, Bolton, Pompeo, and others were brought in. To stoke fears among the American people and to promote war against our perceived enemies with complete disregard for the innocent people of the nations selected for U.S. intervention.
In all of his positions of power, whether through lobbying efforts or presidential appointments, Abrams was the architect of the most horrifying acts of U.S. foreign policy over the past 40 years, while proclaiming how deeply he cares about foreigners he and his friends murdered. In fact, looking back throughout our more recent history, it’s uncanny to see how Abrams has been involved in the most sordid U.S. military actions.
He’s not done yet.
This is the second article in a series focusing on the agenda of the people behind the American war machine, with a particular focus on Latin America.
Up next: Mike Pompeo.