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.

Bahrain: Bad to Worse

by Elliott Abrams Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not so long ago Bahrain was considered one of the more liberal Arab states. No longer.

The situation in Bahrain is deteriorating further, despite occasional government claims that things are stable and even improving. The most recent proof is the Bahraini treatment of the human rights officer at the U.S. Embassy, Ludovic Hood, who is being forced to leave the country after a vicious campaign against him. The story is told in a recent Miami Herald item entitled “U.S. Yanks Diplomat From Bahrain After He’s Threatened.”  The U.S. diplomat was the target of anti-Semitic slurs and his address was published in a web site tied to the Bahraini government, a sure effort to intimidate. Read more »

Do the Saudis Have a Brezhnev Doctrine?

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Saudi Arabia has reacted to the Arab Spring by pledging $4 billion in aid to Egypt, and it is expected to help Tunisia as well. Has it become enamored of youthful protests for democracy? The fact that Saudi troops remain in Bahrain, helping crush the movement for greater democracy there, suggests something else is going on. And the invitation from the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC to Morocco and Jordan to join the group points in the same direction.

My theory is this: for the Saudis, it’s fine if citizens of a fake republic like Tunisia or Egypt demand a real republic with real elections and democracy. But they draw the line at monarchies: kings have to stay in charge. So they lecture the kings of Morocco and Jordan to be careful about too many reforms (if the rumors are correct), and invite them to join the Club of Kings that is the GCC. Presumably financial benefits will follow, so long as the kings don’t play around with any experiments that might give Saudi subjects ideas of their own. And in Bahrain, they put down a revolt that might have brought constitutional monarchy—though admittedly that situation appears far more complex in the eyes of  Saudi royals, as the Bahrainis who would be empowered are Shia whose success might give Saudi Shia unacceptable ideas about their own fate.

Brezhnev explained himself in 1968 as follows in answering claims that after the “Prague Spring,” Czechoslovakia should be allowed to determine its own fate: “the implementation of such ‘self-­determination,’ in other words Czechoslovakia’s detachment from the socialist community, would have come into conflict with its own vital interests and would have been detrimental to the other socialist states.”

Read more »

Obama at AIPAC: Correcting Some Errors, Compounding Others

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, May 22, 2011

President Obama spoke to AIPAC today and addressed the controversy his Thursday speech had caused.

He met two criticisms by backing down. On Thursday he had not mentioned the “Quartet Principles.” Today he did, saying that Hamas must “accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements.” Read more »

Where Is the Knesset?

by Elliott Abrams Sunday, May 22, 2011

In what country is the Knesset? And in what country is the Western Wall of the ancient Temple?

These questions arise when the State Department announces that the Deputy Secretary is visiting “Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank.” As James Steinberg, the Deputy Secretary, presumably visited Israeli officials in their offices in West Jerusalem, which was part of Israel before the 1967 war, one wonders what is meant by saying he went  to Israel and Jerusalem. Read more »

The Resignation of George Mitchell

by Elliott Abrams Friday, May 13, 2011
U.S. Mideast Envoy George Mitchell in Cairo December 15, 2010.

U.S. Mideast Envoy George Mitchell in Cairo December 15, 2010. (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters)

George Mitchell resigned today as the president’s special envoy for the Middle East. Mitchell was appointed the second day President Obama was in office, January 22, 2009, and his role was given great importance. He was a symbol of the new administration’s determination to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. He made innumerable trips to the region, gave many press conferences, and assembled a substantial staff. So what happened?

I am told that the final straw for Mitchell was a failure to convince the White House that the president’s speech next week must include a American detailed plan for Middle East peace. That would be a very bad idea, rightly rejected (if my sources are right) by the White House. Mitchell was said to believe that such a plan could bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table now for a serious negotiation.

Read more »

The GCC: “Carefully Considered Reform” or Reactionary Politics?

by Elliott Abrams Thursday, May 12, 2011
Leaders of the Gulf Arab States pose for a photo before the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh May 10, 2011.

Leaders of the Gulf Arab States pose for a photo before the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh May 10, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

Little-noticed news from the Gulf: the Gulf Cooperation Council may now expand to include Jordan and Morocco. The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar. Expansion to include Jordan and Morocco would transform its role from that of a regional group to a more ambitious association of monarchs who have several common interests.

Read more »

Can Anyone Explain Our Syria Policy?

by Elliott Abrams Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Protesters gather during a demonstration after Friday Prayer in the Syrian port city of Banias May 6, 2011.

Protesters gather during a demonstration after Friday Prayer in the Syrian port city of Banias May 6, 2011. (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters)

As the days go by and the Assad regime kills more peaceful demonstrators, U.S. policy becomes less and less possible to comprehend, much less defend.

The latest news makes the situation there even clearer and more horrifying: “At least 10,000 protesters have been detained in the past several days in a mass arrest campaign aimed at quelling a seven-week uprising in Syria against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, activists said, as fresh shelling of a residential neighborhood was reported on Wednesday from Homs, the country’s third largest city. The shelling, most intense between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., appeared to signal a further escalation in the crackdown.”

U.S. policy in the face of these horrors has been weak. Last Friday Secretary Clinton was still saying Assad might be a reformer. The president has yet to say one word about Syria himself. A statement was issued a couple of weeks ago, but he has not yet said anything on camera to denounce the regime’s violence or support the demonstrators. Our new sanctions do not name Assad. The Syrian ambassador remains here in Washington and ours remains in Damascus—even after a member of the embassy staff was detained by Syrian police, hooded, and beaten. The net effect is to make Syrians and Lebanese who are struggling for freedom wonder why the United States is still supporting Assad.

Good question. Here are some possibilities.

Read more »