By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
The appointment of Elliot Abrams as special envoy for Venezuela has led to an avalanche of reactions on social media. Many of them see it as an indication of a more robust policy by the White House on Venezuela, and others have pointed out his past role in US meddling abroad. I interviewed Abrams in 2013 about his book and attended a lecture he gave in 2016. He was then a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served in the George W. Bush administration as deputy National Security Adviser and was an assistant secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan.
In February 2017 CNN reported “Elliott Abrams, who served Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, will not get the No. 2 job at the State Department, three Republican sources told CNN.” Apparently it was due to past criticism of Trump from Abrams. This was brought up again today.
John Hudson wrote “Mike Pompeo just named Eliot Abrams his new special envoy for Venezuela. Abrams plead guilty to withholding information from Congress about the Iran-Contra affair. Pompeo says Abrams will be in charge of “all things related to our efforts to restore Democracy in Venezuela.”
“The road ahead will be driven by the demands of the Venezuelan people” Pompeo said. Gramer notes “Abrams will join Pompeo in New York at UN meeting on Venezuela meeting tomorrow, may travel to the region at some point soon.” He continues, “In brief remarks at the podium alongside Pompeo, Abrams says the crisis in Venezuela is deep and difficult and he looks forward to getting to work.”
The following are the first reactions to the announcement, many of them critical
Senator Marco Rubio: “The naming of Elliot Abrams as Special Envoy on Venezuela is great news. He is an tough & experienced foreign policy expert with a long history of supporting democracy, liberty & the national interest of the United States.”
Chris Hayes was nonplussed. “Effing Abrams.”
Ankit Panda. “The INF Treaty is ending, space-based missile defense is hot again, and Elliott Abrams is being brought in to manage regime change in Latin America—we’re doing the 1980s in reverse!”
Mehdi Hasan condemned Abrams for “backing genocide.” He tweeted “Under Reagan, Eliot Abrams backed genocide in Guatemala and death squads in El Salvador – that he’s in charge of the Trump administration’s ‘democracy’ efforts in Venezuela tells you everything you need to know about those efforts.”
Others see the former role as a “signal” from the Trump admin.
Wesley Morgan notes: “Abrams also was one of the voices pushing to use military strikes against Damascus International Airport to convince Assad not to let foreign fighters fly in there en route to Iraq in 2005, as described in
@mgordonwsj’s THE ENDGAME.”
“For those who don’t know that name, this is not his first adventure in Latin American politics. Abrams was convicted of withholding information from Congress about the Iran–Contra affair while working for the Reagan Administration, but was pardoned by George H. W. Bush,” Kevin Knodell notes. Conor Finnegan didn’t think it was a surprise.
AP’s Joshua Goodman reminds us: “Abrams was one of the architects of the U.S. invasion of Panama to remove Manuel Noriega in 1989. Maduro frequently cites “Operation Just Cause” as the mold the US is following to oust him. US denies it is coup-mongering.”
The Independent: “Trump appoints man who backed death squads in Latin America to ‘oversee democracy efforts’ in Venezuela.”
Jon Schwarz at The Intercept was nonplussed also.
Alex Ward reminds us of another claim about Abrams.
“How these Iran-Contra assholes can ever show their faces in the political arena again is beyond me. They shattered the law, played a stupid, dangerous game with the lives of my father and his fellow hostages and set a terrible precedent for our country,” writes Sulome Anderson.
Matthew Brodsky: “This is good news. Elliott Abrams is very good and very capable. | Former diplomat Abrams to lead US efforts on Venezuela.”
“As a member of George W. Bush’s NSC, Abrams encouraged…a (briefly successful) military coup against the democratically elected government of Venezuela in 2002, poisoning the US relationship with that government once it returned to power.”
His job will be to restore democracy.
Others mentioned the former George W aspect.
Shaun Tandon of AFP “Elliot Abrams, who worked on Reagan anti-communist campaigns in Central America and pleaded guilty to withholding info from Congress on Iran-Contra. Taking a role despite criticizing Trump in 2016.”
Martin Hodgson at The Guardian “In 1993, after a UN truth commission found that 85 percent of abuses in the Salvadoran civl war were committed by the US military and its death-squad allies, Abrams declared, ‘The Administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement.'”
Some have said this is a “neocon” issue.
Democracy Now says “Mike Pompeo names hawkish Iran-Contra figure Elliot Abrams to be special envoy to Venezuela.”
Hudson continues to note “Abrams was pardoned by George W. Bush. He went on to become a major critic of Trump saying in 2016 that Republicans have ‘nominated someone who cannot win and should not be the president of the United States.'”