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.

Mr. Gates Oversteps

by Elliott Abrams Thursday, March 31, 2011

In his Congressional testimony today, Secretary of Defense Gates overstepped his authority and undermined the president’s role as Commander in Chief.

According to the New York Times, Gates first said “What the opposition needs as much as anything right now is some training, some command and control and some organization. It’s pretty much a pick-up ballgame at this point.” But, he continued, providing training and weapons is “not a unique capability for the United States, and as far as I’m concerned, somebody else can do that.”

“As far as I am concerned” is an interesting phrase. Was the secretary speaking for himself, for the Pentagon, or for the president? What if the president determines later that the United States should in fact supply arms to the opposition? Why is Gates speaking out now to foreclose the president’s options? On March 3 he called discussions of a no-fly zone “loose talk,” but it seems that experience has made him more rather than less aggressive in ruling options in and out.

Far worse was Gates’s answer when asked if there would be American “boots on the ground.” According to the Times Mr. Gates replied “Not as long as I’m in this job.”

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The Defection of Musa Kusa

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa addresses the foreign press in Tripoli on March 7, 2011.

Libya's Foreign Minister Musa Kusa addresses the foreign press in Tripoli on March 7, 2011. (Chris Helgren/Courtesy Reuters)

On March 30, Libyan Foreign Minister Musa Kusa apparently defected. The UK Foreign Office statement on Musa Kusa is as follows:

“We can confirm that Musa Kusa arrived at Farnborough Airport on 30 March from Tunisia. He travelled here under his own free will. He has told us that he is resigning his post. We are discussing this with him and we will release further detail in due course.

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Syria, Iran, and American Interests

by Elliott Abrams Saturday, March 26, 2011

Should the United States fear the downfall of the Assad regime in Syria?

As in the cases of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, we hear voices saying “watch out–the Brotherhood is coming. You’ll regret what you wished for.” I recall the same debate inside the U.S. Government in the 2003-5 period, when some officials, led by Gen. John Abizaid of CentCom, theorized that what would come after Assad would be worse for the United States.

This was a terribly mistaken view then and remains so now. Given that at that time Syria was doing all it could to pour jihadis into Iraq to kill Americans, it was in fact an astonishing and costly error in analysis.

This is true not only because the regime is especially bloody and vicious, as generations of mourners and political prisoners can testify. It is true also because of the regime’s affinity to Iran and Hezbollah.

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What Comes Next in Bahrain?

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Saudi Arabian troops cross the causeway leading to Bahrain in this still image from video on March 14, 2011.

Saudi Arabian troops cross the causeway leading to Bahrain in this still image from video on March 14, 2011. (Bahrain State TV/Courtesy Reuters)

The current situation in Bahrain is disastrous. Efforts to find a compromise between the royal family and the leaders of the Shia community failed, and now foreign troops have come in to help the government suppress demonstrations and protests.

There is presumably some blame for both sides. It’s clear that some Shia protesters were demanding an end to the monarchy, something the king would obviously refuse, while at least some in the royal family (such as the prime minister, who is the king’s uncle) were apparently resisting all reforms and concessions. So instead of progress toward a constitutional monarchy, there is violence, economic disruption, and the presence of foreign soldiers. Both sides will lose from this face-off.

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Our Hostage Crises, Continued

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, March 13, 2011

There is news today of both our hostage crises.

A Cuban “court” has sentenced USAID contractor Alan Gross to 15 years in prison for trying to help the tiny Cuban Jewish community connect via internet with Jewish communities around the world.  Gross has been in a Cuban prison for 15 months, and has lost 90 pounds during that period. The State Department “deplored” the sentence.

But on March 8, “in this latest loosening of restrictions against Cuba,” eight additional airports were opened to “charter” flights to Cuba. As the date of Gross’s sentencing was known, it is astonishing that the Obama administration would choose to help the Castro regime’s tourist industry just as it makes this AID contractor a human sacrifice. There have been reports that Gross would soon be released on medical grounds, and one can only hope this is true. Perhaps there is even a secret deal with Cuba to this effect. But the expansion of tourism to Cuba in the very week that Alan Gross is sentenced to 15 years leaves a bitter taste.

Meanwhile in Iran, the hikers Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal–who have been in prison since July 2009 for the crime of crossing an unmarked border into Iran–have been told their next court hearing will come May 11. It will of course be a closed hearing; no nonsense about fairness is permitted in Iran’s “judiciary.”

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Libya: About that Noose….

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, March 13, 2011

On Saturday the Arab League unanimously called for a no-fly zone over Libya, adding its voice to that of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The no-fly zone will have to come soon unless it will serve mostly to protect the corpses of Libyan opposition fighters. In the last few days, Gaddafi’s forces have reversed the earlier opposition momentum and are using their superior fire power, including air power, to wipe out opposition gains. Unless stopped, in the coming weeks they will wipe out the opposition.

This situation calls for actions that display American leadership, but the president appears to believe that his words have an almost magical power. He has called for Gaddafi to leave; isn’t that enough?  “We are slowly tightening the noose,” the president said on March 11, despite all evidence to the  contrary. Actual leadership has been avoided and Secretary Clinton has in fact said we wish to avoid it.  “I think it’s very important that this not be a U.S.-led effort,” she explained on March 9th.

What explains this gap between Gaddafi gains on the ground, and the administration’s continuing inaction and claims of progress?

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Give Us the Tools….

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Rebel soldiers teach civilian volunteers at a school in Benghazi on March 2, 2011.

Rebel soldiers teach civilian volunteers at a school in Benghazi on March 2, 2011. (Suhaib Salem/Courtesy Reuters)

“Give us the tools and we will finish the job,” Winston Churchill said in a famous speech broadcast by the BBC in 1941. Yesterday, a leader of the opposition to the Qaddafi regime in Libya told the Washington Post that “providing military equipment” would help his forces.

That seems obvious. There is now a war under way in Libya, between the Qaddafi regime and most of the population. The United States has very clearly said that Qaddafi must go, as has the so-called “international community.” The problem is that Qaddafi does not agree, and he is making a fight of it. He is no doubt well aware that what awaits him if the regime falls is prosecution and perhaps execution, not some form of peaceful and wealthy exile.

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