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.

Syria This Week

by Elliott Abrams Friday, April 29, 2011
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration after Friday prayers in the Syrian port city of Banias April 29, 2011.

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration after Friday prayers in the Syrian port city of Banias April 29, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

Amidst this week’s Middle East news one startling event has escaped the attention it deserves. According to news reports such as this one in the Wall Street Journal, an American diplomat in Damascus was detained and then “hooded by Syrian security agents and ‘roughed up’ before being released.”

This is a remarkable development. For one thing, it sums up as well as any anything could what the Obama Administration has gained from two years of buttering up the Assad regime, loosening sanctions, letting them into the World Trade Organization, sending an ambassador to Damascus, and making believe Assad is a reformer. It has gained us Assad’s contempt. Read more »

The Dangerous Agreement Between Fatah and Hamas

by Elliott Abrams Friday, April 29, 2011

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas may break down, as previous agreements have. But the deal recently announced will nevertheless do grave harm to the chances for peace. It brings into doubt the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism and therefore undermines the American program of training PA security forces. Moreover, it appears to allow the entry of Hamas into the PLO, the body charged with peace negotiations with Israel. My views are explained in today’s Weekly Standard.

How to Understand Our Policy in Syria

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The last few days have produced a series of important quotations regarding Obama foreign policy.

The final line in Ryan Lizza’s New Yorker article on Obama is tops: “One of his advisers described the President’s actions in Libya as ‘leading from behind.’” A similar thought was delivered on the record by the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning, Jacob Sullivan. Discussing military activities in Libya, he said the United States “stands ready to play perhaps the central supporting role in this mission…”

One has to assume that when you play the “central supporting role” you are not out front and are “leading from behind.” This is not, to say the least, the traditional American role in NATO, and NATO’s mixed performance in Libya suggests why our leadership and deep involvement are needed. But why is the administration taking this view regarding the Middle East in general?

More quotes. In an article about Syria in “The Cable” at the Foreign Policy web site, Josh Rogin reported that “At the State Department, the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was also pressing for quicker decision making, multiple administration sources said…However, a push for aggressive action wasn’t necessarily the State Department’s position at the end of the day. Multiple sources said that, when the Syria discussions reached the deputies or principals level, State was often viewed as taking a cautious line, not wanting to give U.S. critics ammunition to claim the protests were driven by the West.”

Read more »

A Hamas-Fatah Coalition?

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Khaled Meshal, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Left: Khaled Meshal, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas (Khaled Al Hariri/Courtesy Reuters). Right: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Mohamad Torokman/Courtesy Reuters).

There are news reports of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to form an interim coalition government that would govern the Palestinian territories for about a year, after which elections would be held. No details are available. Read more »

Leading From Behind?

by Elliott Abrams Monday, April 25, 2011

For those seeking a better understanding of Obama administration foreign policy, a recent article by Ryan Lizza in the New Yorker provides a useful guide—though not always in the way Mr. Lizza intended.

Here are the more important insights that emerge from the article.

1. Developing his views as a new senator, the President consulted “a broad range of experts” that consisted of people on the Left plus Zbigniew Brzezinski. Is that a strange mix? Not in one sense: What that eclectic group agreed on was that the United States must do far less in the world, stop intervening, and be more modest in asserting American power. This is the view the president took when campaigning against Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

Read more »

Syria: Where Is President Obama?

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Friday, the Syrian regime killed another hundred peaceful protesters, and then fired at people attending their funerals on Saturday, killing yet another dozen.

What has been the Obama administration’s response? To toughen up its rhetoric a bit, but to do nothing.

On Friday, after an especially weak performance by the president’s press spokesman (who contrasted the terrible situation in Libya with what he apparently thought was a far better one in Syria), the White House issued a new statement from the president.

“The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators,”  the statement said. And, “We strongly oppose the Syrian government’s treatment of its citizens,” it concluded. What’s wrong with that?

First, where is the president? This statement carefully avoided using the word “I” and was handed out by the White House. The president’s appearance on camera, delivering such words personally so that they can be carried into Syria on al-Jazeera and YouTube, would be much more effective. With hundreds now dead in the streets of Syria, it is past time for him to speak.

Read more »

Bahrain Heads for Disaster

by Elliott Abrams Friday, April 22, 2011

Defenders of the crack-down in Bahrain have a story line. The government had to act to stop a down-hill slide into chaos and extremism fostered by Iran. The king’s goal was simply to freeze matters, and once that is done the time for compromise and concessions will have arrived.

It is not a bad story, but every action the Government of Bahrain has taken in the last month contradicts it. Instead of reaching out to the responsible Shia political leadership and middle class, the king and his government are jailing and harassing them. The Washington Post summed it up in a troubling story today: “The targeting of more educated and prosperous members of the Shiite community is particularly worrisome, say local analysts, who fear it could remove a moderating element in political life….Like their Sunni neighbors, many wealthier Shiites have enjoyed lives of relative ease in this land of high-end shopping malls, restaurants and luxury homes. But after joining in the February protests with poorer Shiites, who have generally borne the brunt of discrimination and government disfavor, even middle-class Shiites are now subject to the full force of the government’s ire, according to opposition leaders.”

This is the opposite of seeking compromise. As the Post reports, the crack-down “is reaching deep into Bahrain’s middle-class professions…potentially threatening the country’s long-term stability.” The government is now “targeting Shiites indiscriminately.”

It is difficult to understand why the king believes this path leads anywhere but exile in London for him and his family. Bahrain has a Shia majority (once estimated at 70 percent, but probably lower than that now due to a campaign of naturalization of foreign-born Sunnis, especially those who serve in the army and police). The current actions against the Shia community will embitter all its members and decapitate its moderate political, economic, religious, and moral leadership. Future compromises will be far more difficult, and are perhaps already impossible.

Read more »

Syria: No “Bind,” No “Quandary”

by Elliott Abrams Friday, April 22, 2011

“Escalating protests in Syria put Obama administration in a bind,” says a headline in the Washington Post. Why is that? “Escalating anti-government demonstrations in Syria have put the Obama administration in a quandary as it tries to protect a range of wider U.S. interests while supporting what it has called the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

This is a grave misreading of American interests in the region and in Syria. The United States has significant national-security interests in the demise of the Assad regime. As I wrote recently in National Review Online, Syria under Assad is “Iran’s only Arab ally, able and willing to trans-ship arms to Hezbollah and through Hezbollah control Lebanon and give Iran a border with Israel. The demise of Assad would mean a tremendous setback for the ayatollahs, and second only to the fall of the Islamic Republic would be a great gain for the United States in the Middle East. The sense throughout the Middle East that Iran has been growing in influence in the last decade, and that the “Arab Spring” brought it more opportunities, would be erased by the fall of Iran’s allies in Damascus.”

Assad’s Syria also remains the headquarters of Hamas and several other Palestinian terrorist groups. For those in the administration still focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it should be clear that the demise of the regime would weaken these violent and extremist Palestinian elements.

Read more »

The Amir’s TV Station

by Elliott Abrams Thursday, April 14, 2011

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on December 2, 2010.

Qatar's Amir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on December 2, 2010. (Louafi Larbi/Courtesy Reuters)

The president’s meeting today with the Amir of Qatar offers a timely opportunity to take stock of the amir’s TV station, Al Jazeera.

Despite its success in reaching mass audiences and its undoubted influence, we should never forget that it is not an independent news source. Its coverage reflects the foreign policy of Qatar.

A recent Reuters story sets out the facts:

Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the leading Arabic language network, was pivotal in keeping up momentum during protests that toppled Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both entrenched rulers who were no friends of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani dynasty.

Read more »

Russia + Syria + Hezbollah = Hamas

by Elliott Abrams Monday, April 11, 2011

On April 6, Hamas terrorists fired a Russian Kornet laser-guided missile at a school bus in southern Israel. How did Hamas get such a missile?

It turns out that Russia does not license others to produce this missile; every single Kornet is manufactured in Russia at the KBP factory. The KBP web site helpfully touts all the wonderful qualities of this weapon.

So how did Hamas get its hands on the Kornet it used to try to kill dozens of Israeli schoolchildren? Syria is the obvious guess, as Russia sells Kornets to Syria and Syria maintains close relations with Hamas and Hezbollah. The United States has previously sanctioned the KBP plant for providing missiles to Syria that then reached Hezbollah, as this Israeli news item notes. The only thing we don’t know is whether it was Hezbollah or Syria who turned Kornets over to Hamas.

The ultimate culprit remains Russia, which is selling Syria missiles that it has every reason to know will be given to terrorist groups. Russia is of course a member of the Middle East Quartet, whose goal is supposed to be peace—not arms supplies to terrorists. If the scheduled Quartet meeting takes place this Friday, April 15, Sec. Clinton should lead off by telling Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov that this must stop. A discussion of how Russian arms get to terrorists who murder Israelis would be a great deal more useful than hours of debate over what tactics to use in the United Nations.

Read more »