Honor of Elliott Abrams
February 14, 2019
Like many others he was caught up in the Iran-Contra
affair, and he pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress. (Two
misdemeanor counts.) He was pardoned by the first President Bush. There is a
story to be told about all this, which we will not get into here. Abrams told it
in a book, Undue
Process: A Story of How Political Differences Are Turned into Crimes.
The second President Bush made Abrams part of his
national-security team, first in the area of democracy and human rights. Then he
gave Abrams a Middle East portfolio. Later, Abrams wrote a memoir, Tested
by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. In
recent years, he has been a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
In short, Elliott Abrams is one of the wisest, most
experienced foreign-policy heads in this country. He is also a steadfast
advocate of freedom, democracy, and human rights, or American values, if you
Yesterday he appeared on Capitol Hill and encountered Ilhan
Omar. She is a freshman House member — a Democrat from Minnesota — who has
had a lively first month. We editorialized about her and anti-Semitism on Monday
She called Mr. Abrams “Mr. Adams.” (Congratulations,
Elliott, you’re a Gentile!) She got a lot else wrong too. She swiped at Abrams
for the Iran-Contra affair — and refused to let him defend himself. She went
on to accuse him of being complicit in the rape, murder, and mayhem of Central
America — El Salvador, in particular.
To see this performance on C-SPAN, go here.
A great many hailed this performance, certainly on the old
anti-Reagan left. It was as though the Christic
Institute and CISPES had
come back to life. Social media rang out with the old charges, the old smears,
the old libels. Not all of Abrams’s enemies are on the left, of course. David
Duke, of Klan fame, or infamy, chimed in with “Rep. Omar clashes with Zionist
Look: When Reagan and his people took office in 1981,
dictatorship was the rule in Latin America (as in the world at large). A rare
exception was . . . Venezuela. Funny to think of at present,
in a dark way. El Salvador was in the grip of its civil war. In 1980, Archbishop
Romero had been murdered as he was celebrating mass. Groups on left and right,
throughout Latin America, murdered with abandon. These were “dirty wars,” in
the phrase of the day.
Remember, too, that the 1980s were Cold War times. The
Soviets and their Cuban proxy were doing everything they could to Castroize the
Reagan, with Vice President Bush, George Shultz, Jeane
Kirkpatrick, Elliott Abrams, and stalwart others, worked energetically for
democratic transitions — in Latin America, yes, but in other parts of the
world too (e.g., South Korea). In El Salvador, the administration backed José
Napoleón Duarte, the Christian Democrat. He was opposed by the FMLN on the left
and ARENA on the right. Reagan’s policy was controversial on our own right.
Many conservatives backed ARENA, chief among them Jesse Helms.
In 1984, Salvadorans went to the polls, braving terrorism,
and, in a free election, chose Duarte. El Salvador, for all its problems, has
been democratic ever since. This is a “fabulous achievement,” as Abrams
tried to explain to the congresswoman.
Duarte made a state visit to Washington in 1987. Reagan
said, “President Duarte, having fought the brutality and repression of Left
and Right, has come to symbolize the struggle for democracy in this
hemisphere.” He also said, “If peace is to prevail, so must democracy.”
The Salvadoran president, for his part, did something
startling and memorable. He said, “I’ve seen through my life many times when
people with hate in their heart put fire to the American flag. This time, permit
me to go to your flag and, in the name of my people, give it a kiss.” And so
Before the Reaganites left office, the countries of Latin
America had democratized or were well on their way. Speaking at Moscow State
University in 1988, Reagan said, “The growth of democracy has become one of
the most powerful political movements of our age. In Latin America in the 1970s,
only a third of the population lived under democratic government; today over 90
In 2012, there was a Chilean film, No, about the 1988
plebiscite. This was the vote that saw the dictator Pinochet out of office.
Elliott Abrams wrote about the movie, here.
He describes a scene: Two men are talking about the upcoming plebiscite. They
are on either side of the question. The Pinochet man says that America is
supporting his guy, the “incumbent,” the dictator. The other man
says no: “Los gringos están con nosotros” (“The gringos are with us”).
Yes, they were. Yes, we were. There were some rotten
choices to be made in Latin America, from the point of view of the U.S.
government, and there were often not many democrats on offer. But the Reaganites’
record is honorable, even laudatory, and this silly, ignorant House freshman,
though she did not intend so, has given us the happy opportunity of lauding them