Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

The Invisible Hostage Crises

by Elliott Abrams Monday, January 31, 2011

Laura Fattal kisses her son Josh after a news conference in Tehran.

It is now a year and a half since Iran jailed three American hikers on trumped-up spying charges. The three, Shane Bauer, his fiancée Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal were detained on July 31, 2009; Shourd was released on September 14 of last year. Recalling the hostage crisis that helped bring down Jimmy Carter in 1980 and that ended on the twentieth of January thirty years ago, it is striking that the administration appears only mildly disturbed that they continue to sit in jail—as does Congress.

Nor are Bauer and Fattal the only American hostages. The USAID contractor Alan Gross has been imprisoned in Cuba for 13 months now. He was there to help the tiny Cuba Jewish community connect with Jewish communities around the world, and for this “crime” he is accused of espionage. If that verdict of administration indifference seems too harsh, it is striking that the administration just two weeks ago announced a loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba whose goals include to “enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel, including religious, cultural, and educational travel” and especially to “Allow religious organizations to sponsor religious travel to Cuba.”  To encourage contact with religious communities in Cuba while the last guy who tried remains in jail does not suggest that Mr. Gross’s release is at the top of the Administration’s agenda.

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Lessons of January

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Anti-government protesters take part in a demonstration at Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo on January 25, 2011 (Stringer Egypt/Courtesy Reuters)

Here are two quick lessons to be drawn from the events of January in the Middle East.

1. Gamal is gone: Gamal Mubarak, once almost universally regarded as Egypt’s next president, will not attain that position. The continuing demonstrations against the Mubarak regime, the complaints about thirty years of Mubarak rule, make it impossible that the son should succeed the father. Efforts to cram him into that position would give rise to public discontent far greater than we are seeing already. The succession in Egypt is wide open now.

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The “Resistance” in Lebanon

by Elliott Abrams Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Nasrallah speaks in Beirut suburbs (Jamal Saidi/Courtesy Reuters)

The influence of the United States in the Middle East is declining while that of Iran is rising. That’s the meaning of events in Lebanon, where Hezbollah has in essence thrown Prime Minister Saad Hariri from office and is about to choose his successor. Under Lebanon’s constitution, the prime minister must be a Sunni. But Najib Mikati, the Hezbollah designee, is a Sunni who will owe his office not to support in the Sunni community but to Hezbollah’s decision to make him PM. Hezbollah now has the votes in parliament to put him in, and of course to throw him out should he cross them.

Mikati will be a competent official; he’s a talented man and a hugely successful businessman. That’s not the point. He has close ties to Syria and Hezbollah, and it is clear which side is in power in Lebanon.

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The Palestine Papers–First Look

by Elliott Abrams Monday, January 24, 2011

Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert arrive at the Elysee Palace in Paris to meet with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy on July 13, 2008 (Philippe Wojazer/Courtesy Reuters)

Al Jazeera and The Guardian newspaper are publishing what they claim are hundreds of previously secret Palestinian documents about Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in the latter Bush and Olmert years, especially 2007-2008. My first look at these documents, which cover a period when I was much involved in those negotiations, leads to three preliminary conclusions.

First, some of the papers seem inaccurate to me, going solely by memory. They put into people’s mouths words I do not recall them saying in meetings I attended. This is not shocking: written records of meetings can be inaccurate even when there’s a serious effort at accuracy. Moreover, Palestinian officials reviewing the documents after the meetings may have “improved” them, putting words in their own mouths (rather in the way our own members of Congress can “revise and extend” their remarks to improve them) or with less friendly objectives putting words in the mouths of others. Or, I may have missed parts of meetings or simply not be recalling accurately. But I would not take every one of these documents as necessarily 100 percent accurate.

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CFR Interview: “Will Tunisia Inspire More Popular Uprisings?”

by Elliott Abrams Friday, January 21, 2011

The CFR web site contains an interview of me yesterday by CFR’s Bernard Gwertzman on the impact on the broader Middle East and North Africa of the political changes that continue to unfold in Tunisia. Topics include whether other Arab regimes will face a similar uprising, and Obama Administration attitudes toward promoting human rights in the region.

Obama at Half Time: Two Years in the Middle East

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, January 19, 2011

©2010 Google - Imagery ©2010 TerraMetrics

There will be many assessments of what President Obama has achieved in the Middle East during his two years as president, and few will be positive.

Twenty years of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians were scuttled by the obsession with a construction freeze in settlements and in Jerusalem. The one ray of light, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s reforms and constructive programs on the ground in the West Bank, continues to get more American lip service than real dedicated effort. George Mitchell’s uninterest in the actual progress on the ground in the West Bank has been glaringly obvious, all the focus instead on imaginary negotiating tables.

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Who’s Next After Tunisia?

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tunisia's President Ben Ali talks with Qatar emir Sheikh Hamad, Algeria's President Bouteflika and Syria's President Al-Assad as they pose for a family photograph at the Arab League summit in Sirte on March 27, 2010. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters)

Wide discussion of whether the revolt in Tunisia will now spread to other Arab lands seems to me to ignore two key factors: what is unique in the Tunisian case, and the issue of monarchy.

Tunisia was unique in combining a reasonably advanced society (80 percent literacy, $8,000 per capita GDP) with an extremely repressive personal dictatorship. Algeria, right next door, is different: It is a dictatorship, but one ruled by what is known as “Le Pouvoir,” the power—a shadowy combination of military officials. President Bouteflika has been in power for twelve years, but his is more institutional than personal or familial rule, and it is characterized less by the rapacious corruption of the Ben Ali family in Tunis than by immobility and boredom. Riots might convince the military leaders to dump Bouteflika, but it will be harder in Algeria than in Tunisia to remove the regime.

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Freedom in the World 2011

by Elliott Abrams Friday, January 14, 2011

Tunisians shout slogans as they demonstrate against Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis on January 14, 2011 (STR New/Courtesy Reuters)

Freedom in the world is declining. Given Hillary Clinton’s remarks yesterday about change in the Arab world and with the Obama Administration’s half-time in office coming next Friday, it’s a good moment for an assessment of Obama human rights policy.

That freedom is declining is the stark conclusion of Freedom in the World 2011, the annual survey published by Freedom House. Their assessment: Read more »

Can Lebanon Escape?

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A supporter waves a Lebanese flag over thousands of anti-Syrian protesters during a rally in Beirut March 14, 2005. (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy Reuters)

Newspapers today are reporting that Hezbollah-backed members of parliament have withdrawn from the Lebanese government, effectively bringing down  the coalition led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

In 2005 the leading citizen of Lebanon, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was murdered by a gigantic car bomb that killed 22 other people as well. An international commission was established to investigate the murder, and is soon to report its findings. By all accounts it will accuse Hezbollah of being at least partly responsible. Hezbollah is demanding that the Government of Lebanon reject the findings, a particularly poignant demand for the current Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, as it was his father who was assassinated in 2005.

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