Elliott Abrams (born January 24, 1948) is an American lawyer who has served in foreign policy positions for two Republican U.S. Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He is widely labeled as a leading neoconservative.
During Bush's first term in office, he was appointed to the post of Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs. At the start of Bush's second term, Abrams was promoted to be his Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, in charge of promoting Bush's strategy of advancing democracy abroad. His appointment by Bush was controversial due to his conviction in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra Affair investigation. He has been described by former US president Jimmy Carter as "a very militant supporter of Israel".
Abrams was born into a Jewish
family in New York and he understands Hebrew
. His father was an immigration lawyer. Elliott received his B.A.
from Harvard College
in 1969, a Master's degree in international relations
from the London School of Economics
in 1970, and his J.D.
from Harvard Law School
in 1973. At Harvard, he was a roommate of Steven Kelman
, founder of the Young People's Socialist League
campus chapter. Together they penned an article on the 1969 Harvard strike for The New Leader
, "The Contented Revolutionists. He practiced in New York
-- in the summers for his father, and then briefly on Wall Street
-- but found that he preferred politics. He worked on Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson
's brief campaign for the 1976 Democratic nomination, after which he served as special counsel and ultimately as chief of staff for the then-new Senator Daniel Moynihan
Through Senator Moynihan, Abrams was introduced to Rachel Decter, the stepdaughter of Moynihan's friend, Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary Magazine and the "godfather" of neo-conservatism. They were married in 1980. The couple has three children: Jacob, Sarah and Joey.
Abrams first came to national prominence when he served as Reagan's Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the early 1980s and later as Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. His nomination to Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs was unanimously approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 17 November1981. Abrams was Reagan's second choice for the position; his first nominee, Ernest W. Lefever, had been rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 5 June1981.
During this time, Abrams clashed regularly with church groups and human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch
and Amnesty International
, over the Reagan administration's foreign policies. They accused him of covering up atrocities committed by the military forces of US-backed governments, such as those in El Salvador
, and Guatemala
, and the rebel Contras
In early 1982, when reports of the El Mozote massacre
of civilians by the military in El Salvador began appearing in U.S. media, Abrams told a Senate committee that the reports of hundreds of deaths at El Mozote "were not credible," and that "it appears to be an incident that is at least being significantly misused, at the very best, by the guerrillas. The massacre had come at a time when the Reagan administration was attempting to bolster the human rights
image of the Salvadoran military. Abrams implied that reports of a massacre were simply FMLN
propaganda and denounced US investigative reports of the massacre as misleading. He later claimed Washington's policy in El Salvador a "fabulous achievement."
In 1993, members of the Salvadoran Truth Commission testified about the El Mozote massacre in a congressional hearing of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee. Chairman Robert Torricelli
, Democratic Senator from New Jersey
, vowed to review for possible perjury "every word uttered by every Reagan administration official" in congressional testimony on El Salvador. Abrams denounced Torricelli's words as "McCarthyite
crap". Also in 1993, documentation emerged suggesting that some Reagan administration officials could have known about El Mozote and other human rights violations from the beginning. However, in July 1993, an investigation commissioned by Clinton Secretary of State Warren Christopher
into the State department's "activities and conduct" with regard to human rights in El Salvador during the Reagan years found that, despite the department's mistakes handling El Mozote, its personnel "performed creditably and occasionally with personal bravery in advancing human rights in El Salvador".
When Congress shut down funding for the Contras' efforts to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government with the 1982 Boland Amendment
, the Reagan administration began looking for other avenues for funding the group. Congress opened a couple of such avenues when it modified the Boland Amendment for fiscal year 1986 by approving $27 million in direct aid to the Contras and allowing the administration to legally solicit funds for the Contras from foreign governments. Neither the direct aid, nor any foreign contributions, could be used to purchase weapons. Guided by the new provisions of the modified Boland Amendment, Abrams flew to London
in August 1986 and met secretly with Bruneian defense minister General Ibnu to solicit a $10-million contribution from the Sultan of Brunei
. Ultimately, the Contras never received this money because a clerical error in Oliver North's office (a mistyped account number) sent the Bruneian money to the wrong Swiss bank account.
On 30 June 1987
, the United States State Department
demanded the ouster of Panamanian
dictator Manuel Noriega
. Abrams, then the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, made the announcement. Abrams took note of a resolution passed on 23 June
by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee demanding the creation of a "democratic government" in Panama, and officially concurred, thus making the toppling of Noriega the official U.S. policy. Abrams also demanded that the Panamanian military be freed of "political corruption."
During investigation of the Iran-Contra Affair
, the special prosecutor handling the case prepared multiple felony counts against Abrams but never indicted him. Instead, Abrams entered into a plea agreement that ultimately led to a conviction without imprisonment on two misdemeanors of withholding information from Congress. He was fined $50, placed on probation for two years, and assigned 100 hours of community service. Abrams was pardoned by President George H. W. Bush
as he was leaving office following his loss in the 1992 U.S. presidential election.
Involvement with Project For the New American Century
Abrams was one of the signatories of the 26 January 1998 Project for the New American Century
letter sent to President Bill Clinton
which called for regime-change in Iraq
Special Assistant to President Bush
President George W. Bush
appointed Abrams to the post of Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations at the National Security Council
on 25 June 2001
. Abrams was appointed Special Assistant to the President and the NSC's Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs on 2 December 2002
. Some human rights groups and commentators considered his White House
appointment controversial due to his conviction in the Iran-Contra Affair investigation and his role in overseeing the Reagan administration's foreign policy in Latin America.
2002 Venezuelan coup
has alleged that Abrams had advance knowledge of, and "gave a nod to", the Venezuelan coup attempt of 2002
against Hugo Chávez
. Other sources have alleged that Abrams and Otto Reich
played an active role in planning the coup. However, a review by the State Department's Inspector General made the following conclusion: "Our government’s opposition to the use of undemocratic or unconstitutional means to remove President Chávez was repeated over and over again during the relevant period by key policymakers and spokespersons in Washington and by our representatives in Caracas in both public and private forums. And, far from working to foment his overthrow, the United States alerted President Chávez to coup plots and warned him of an assassination threat that was deemed to be credible.
Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy
On 2 February 2005, President George W. Bush appointed Abrams Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy. In his new position, Abrams became responsible for overseeing the National Security Council's directorate of Democracy, Human Rights, and International Organization Affairs and its directorate of Near East and North African Affairs.
Abrams accompanied Condoleezza Rice as a primary advisor on her visits to the Middle East in late July 2006 in the course of discussions relating to the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict.
- National Security Council: Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, 2005 to present
- National Security Council: Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Near East and North African Affairs, 2002–05
- National Security Council: Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations, 2001–02
- U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: Chairman, 2000-2001; Commissioner, 1999–2001
- Inter-American Foundation: nominated as member of Board of Directors for the 1985–90 term
- Department of State: Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, 1985-89
- Department of State: Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, 1981–85
- Department of State: Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, 1981
- Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan: Chief of Staff, Special Counsel, 1977–79
- Sen. Henry M. Jackson: Staffer/Special Counsel, 1975–76
- Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations: Assistant Counsel, 1975
Corporate connections/business interests
- Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard and McPherson: Associate, 1979–81
- Breed, Abbott and Morgan: Attorney, 1973–75
- Democracy How Direct?: Views from the Founding Era and the Polling Era 2002 ISBN 0-7425-2318-7
- The Influence of Faith 2001 ISBN 0-7425-0762-9
- International Religious Freedom (2001): Annual Report: Submitted by the U.S. Department of State editor 2001 ISBN 0-7567-1338-2
- Secularism, Spirituality, and the Future of American Jewry 1999 ISBN 0-89633-190-3, editor with David Dalin
- Close Calls: Intervention, Terrorism, Missile Defense, and 'Just War' Today 1998 ISBN 0-89633-187-3
- Honor Among Nations: Intangible Interests and Foreign Policy 1998 ISBN 0-89633-188-1
- Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America 1997 ISBN 0-684-82511-2
- Security and Sacrifice: Isolation, Intervention, and American Foreign Policy 1995 ISBN 1-55813-049-7
- Shield and Sword 1995 ISBN 0-02-900165-X
- Undue Process A Story of How Political Differences are Turned into Crimes 1993 ISBN 0-02-900167-6