America loves a feel-good story. How else to explain our government’s appetite for redemption arcs? Elliott Abrams was once convicted of lying to Congress and on Wednesday, he got to testify before Congress again, this time in his capacity as our special envoy to Venezuela. But not everyone was happy to see him. Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, questioned the former assistant secretary of State about his old misdeeds. “In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush,” Omar began, before asking Abrams why the committee should believe anything he had to say.
A spluttering Abrams complained that Omar did not give him a chance to respond, but the congresswoman continued. “You dismissed as ‘communist propaganda’ reports about the massacre of El Mozote in which more than 800 civilians, including children as young as 2 years old, were brutally murdered by U.S.-trained troops,” she said. “You later said the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement.’ … Do you think that massacre was a ‘fabulous achievement?”
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election, to this day,” Abrams responded, “El Salvador has been a democracy. That’s a fabulous achievement.” But Omar, as the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday, was not moved by Abrams’s answer. “Yes or no, do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement? That happened under our watch.” Abrams told the congresswoman that her question was “ridiculous” and he “would not respond to it.”
Omar is right, of course. In 1993, a lengthy New York Times report detailed the dedication with which members of the Reagan administration defended their material support for El Salvador’s military, even though they knew some atrocity had occurred. The U.S. government’s role in the steady destabilization of El Salvador is not only directly pertinent to the question of Abrams’s suitability for his role, it is the subtext to a familiar piece of agitprop. Trump loves to stoke fear about immigrants, including many Salvadorans, who cross the southern border. Not only are the vast majority peaceful, they’re fleeing a violent political climate that we helped create.
If Abrams is an expert on anything, in fact, it’s destabilization. He later became a national security adviser to George W. Bush, and is considered by many to be one of the principal architects of the invasion of Iraq. His appointment as envoy to Venezuela has been interpreted by commentators, especially on the left, as a sign that the Trump administration intends regime change in the country — a conclusion borne out by the administration’s decision to christen Juan Guaidó the rightful president, even though Venezuelan voters did not elect him to that position.
In short, Abrams is a convicted liar with blood on his hands, and Omar’s questions are a light penalty for his obscenities. Nevertheless, she has her detractors:
But if commentators like Boot appear unusually cynical in their defense of Abrams, consider that Henry Kissinger will probably die without ever visiting the Hague. The Trump administration did not introduce impunity to Washington. Washington is saturated with impunity right down to the bedrock underneath its swamp and its nature has long benefited Abrams, a free man who, until he went to work for Trump, enjoyed a role as a senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. Omar’s questions were not disproportionately hostile, they’re simply unusual. Abrams is the only kind of convict that Washington tends to tolerate.