FM: John Whitbeck
Transmitted below is an article on my Harvard Law School classmate
Elliott Abrams, who has in recent years been the Bush regime
official with primary responsibilty for America's policy toward
**Rice Faces Formidable White House Foe
**Analysis by Jim Lobe*
*_Inter Press Service, Washington Bureau_**
*WASHINGTON, Feb 21 (IPS) - *If, as she insists, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice is determined to make concrete progress toward
achieving George W. Bush's vision of a two-state solution, one in which
Israel would be required to make major territorial concessions, it
appears that she faces a major foe in the White House.
No, not only Dick Cheney and the surviving members of the
neo-conservative clique that surrounded him and former Pentagon chief
Donald Rumsfeld during Bush's first term -- although the vice
president's office remains a formidable force against any concessions to
a Palestinian government of national unity that includes Hamas, despite
Saudi Arabia's role in midwifing its birth at Mecca last week.
Rather, it appears that Rice's own chief Middle East aide when she
served as Bush's national security adviser, Elliott Abrams, has become
the principal foil in frustrating her efforts to resume a peace process.
Until her meeting in Jerusalem last weekend with Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the process had
been frozen since the last days of Bill Clinton's administration.
Abrams' personal influence over Bush could not possibly match Rice's,
but his bureaucratic skills and political connections -- notably to the
so-called "Israel Lobby" of pro-Likud Jewish organisations and the
Christian Right -- give him considerable clout. According to various
sources, Abrams has been working systematically to undermine any
prospect for serious negotiations designed to give substance to Rice's
hopes -- and increasingly impatient demands by Saudi King Abdullah -- of
offering the Palestinians a "political horizon" for a final settlement.
"The Bush administration has done nothing to press Israel to deliver on
its commitments, beyond Washington's empty rhetoric about a two-state
'political horizon'," Henry Siegman, the long-time director of the
U.S./Middle East Project at the influential Council on Foreign
Relations, wrote in the International Herald Tribune just last week.
"Every time there emerged the slightest hint that the United States may
finally engage seriously in a political process, Elliott Abrams would
meet secretly with Olmert's envoys in Europe or elsewhere to reassure
them that there exists no such danger," he complained.
After the resignation of Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby,
and the departure from the Pentagon nearly two years ago of Paul
Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, Abrams became the administration's most
influential neo-conservative, particularly regarding Middle East policy
which he oversees as Deputy National Security Adviser for Global
Abrams was an early protégé of Richard Perle, whom he first met, along
with other prominent pro-Likud hard-liners, such as Feith, former U.N.
Amb. Jeane Kirpatrick, and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, while
working in the offices of Washington State Sen. Henry "Scoop" Jackson.
Abrams rose swiftly through the neo-conservative ranks, even becoming a
member of one of its most influential families as the son-in-law of the
legendary editor of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, and his activist wife,
Midge Decter, who herself published a hagiography of Rumsfeld just after
the Iraq invasion.
Like his fellow-neo-cons, Abrams has never trusted "peace processes",
and not just between Israel and its Arab neighbours. During the
mid-1980s, when he served as the top Latin America policy-maker in
Ronald Reagan's State Department, he worked doggedly to scuttle all
regional diplomatic efforts to stop not only Washington's "contra war"
against Nicaragua's Sandinista government (which, among other things, he
charged with anti-Semitism) and the civil war in El Salvador, but even
in southern Africa, where Cuban troops helped defend Angola against
attacks by South Africa and its proxies.
"He opposed regional peace talks, he opposed bilateral talks between the
United States and Nicaragua, and he opposed talks with Cuba," according
to William LeoGrande, dean of American University's School of Public
Affairs and author of "In Our Backyard", a magisterial work on U.S.
Central America policy.
"He wouldn't negotiate with adversaries, even when negotiations promised
to safeguard U.S. interests," LeoGrande told IPS, citing the eventual
deal that resulted in Cuba's withdrawal from Africa in exchange for
Namibian independence. "He insisted on total victory, as if foreign
policy were a moral crusade in which compromise was anathema."
Badly damaged by his felony conviction for lying to Congress about his
role in the Iran-Contra affair, Abrams, like many neo-cons, left
government service under the decidedly "realist" administration of
President George H.W. Bush and spent the 1990s at various think tanks.
There, he helped forge the coalition -- epitomised by Kristol's Project
for the New American Century (PNAC) of which he was a charter member --
of mainly Jewish neo-conservatives, the Christian and Catholic Right,
and aggressive nationalists that would seize control of U.S. policy
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abrams has long been identified
with his hard-line patrons, such as Perle and Podhoretz, who have
strongly opposed the "land-for-peace" formula that, until the younger
Bush, had been official U.S. policy since 1967.
When the elder Bush pressed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to
participate in the Madrid peace conference after the first Gulf War,
Abrams and dozens of other neo-conservatives organised the Committee on
U.S. Interests in the Middle East to lobby against such an effort.
Throughout the 1990s, Abrams denounced the Oslo peace process in the
strongest terms -- a Likud government was engaged in it. When
Palestinians launched the second intifada in September 2000, he
lambasted mainstream U.S. Jewish groups for their continued support for
peace talks between Israel and the PA as "self-delusion". "The
Palestinian leadership," he wrote, "does not want peace with Israel, and
there will be no peace..."
Politically unable, due to his Iran-Contra conviction, to gain Senate
confirmation to a State Department or Pentagon post, Abrams entered the
younger Bush administration as a National Security Council (NSC) staffer
under Rice in 2001 with responsibility for democracy promotion. But in a
major coup that set off celebrations in Rumsfeld's and Cheney's offices,
he was given the Middle East portfolio in December 2002.
In that capacity, he forged close ties to Dov Weisglass and Shalom
Turgeman, two of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's top aides. Together, the
three men established a direct channel between Sharon's office and
Rice's NSC that effectively excluded Secretary of State Colin Powell,
the administration's strongest advocate for resuming an
Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The same channel was used to line up Bush's support for Sharon's
unilateral disengagement from Gaza, a scheme designed in part to
pre-empt growing pressure from Washington's European and Arab allies to
get a credible peace process underway -- this time in the form of the
long-delayed "Road Map" sponsored by the Quartet (the U.S., the European
Union, the U.N., and Russia) -- as Washington's position in Iraq
deteriorated in 2004 and 2005.
Sharon's disengagement plan, as well as his departure from Likud to form
the more centrist Kadima Party, was opposed by U.S. Christian Right
leaders and most hard-line neo-conservatives, including Perle, who had
long been among Abrams' closest associates. But Abrams himself,
apparently persuaded by Weisglass' argument that such a pre-emptive move
would gain Israel time to consolidate its position on the West Bank and
create a precedent for imposing a final border unilaterally, strongly
defended the move.
Rice thought so highly of Abrams' effectiveness that she considered
appointing him deputy secretary of state when she moved over to the
State Department in early 2005. But Bush's political advisers said his
appointment would set off a major and costly confirmation battle and
instead suggested that he be promoted to deputy national security adviser.
Signs of a serious breach between the two, however, surfaced during the
first days of last summer's Israel-Hezbollah conflict.
Rice reportedly favoured a request by Olmert for Washington to
discreetly contact Syrian President Bashar Assad about securing the
release of two Israeli soldiers captured by the Lebanese group. Abrams
not only strongly opposed such a move, but in a meeting with a "very
senior Israeli official" in Jerusalem within 48 hours of the outbreak of
hostilities, also suggested that Washington would have no objection if
Israel extended its military offensive from Lebanon to Syria, a
well-informed source who received an account of the meeting from one of
its participants told IPS.
Abrams' advice echoed similar appeals by neo-conservatives, including
Kristol, Perle and his colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI), such as David Frum, Newt Gingrich, and Danielle Pletka, who
repeatedly attacked Olmert for timidity in the conduct of the war and
urged the administration to reject growing pressure from Washington's
European and Arab allies to bring the war to an end. Rice herself became
a target of neo-conservative attacks as it became clear that she was
relaying that pressure to Bush directly.
According to the New York Times, Abrams, who accompanied Rice on all of
her trips to the region throughout the crisis, "...kept in direct
contact with Mr. Cheney's office", the last stronghold of
neo-conservatives, notably the vice president's national security
adviser, John Hannah and his Middle East adviser, David Wurmser.
That breach has, by most accounts, only become wider since the war's
end, as Rice has become increasingly sensitised to the depth of anger in
the Arab world directed against both the U.S. and Israel. She is acutely
aware of the impatience of Washington's Quartet partners to leapfrog the
Road Map and move toward "final status" negotiations, as well as the
difficulty in rallying the pro-U.S. Arab states against Iran in the
absence of a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
It is in that context that Rice has been pushing for resuming a peace
process that could, at the very least, offer the Palestinians a
"political horizon" for a final settlement involving large territorial
concessions by Israel. She has reportedly even reviewed the hypothetical
peace settlement negotiated informally in 2003 by Israeli and
Palestinian politicians and retired military and intelligence officials,
known as the Geneva Initiative.
She has reportedly been encouraged by some in the Israeli government,
notably Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, perhaps Olmert's most serious
political rival within the Kadima party.
But, as in the Israel-Hezbollah war, Rice is up against a formidable
adversary in Abrams and his confederates in the vice president's office
who appear once again to have established their own direct line to
Olmert, this time through Turgeman and another top adviser, Yoram
It was that channel that was in play last Friday, on the eve of the
Jerusalem talks, when Olmert held a personal telephone conversation with
Bush and emerged claiming that the U.S. president had promised to
boycott any new Palestinian government of national unity that includes
Hamas so long as the Islamist party does not explicitly recognise
Israel, renounce violence, and pledge to abide by existing agreements
between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
"The American and Israeli positions are totally identical," Olmert
declared, essentially rejecting what had been worked out in Mecca just a
few days before and dooming whatever hopes Rice had for a productive
summit Sunday that could provide the effort with some positive momentum
that she could report to the Quartet meeting in Berlin Wednesday.
"For the first time in six years, the secretary of state seems to be
committed to moving this process forward," said Martin Indyk, director
of the Brookings Institution's Saban Centre for Middle East Policy and a
former top policymaker under Clinton, last week before the meetings.
"But there are others in the administration who want to 'Powellize'
her," he added in a thinly veiled reference to Abrams and his allies.
Indeed, Abrams and his friends in recent days have appeared to be
broadening their attack on Rice. In an email he fired off to his East
Asia colleagues and that was subsequently leaked to the Washington Post,
he complained about last week's agreement with North Korea in the
"Six-Party Talks" in Beijing, a complaint that has been quickly picked
up by other neo-conservatives.
Abrams had been "frustrated because so many key decisions had been made
at the highest levels without much vetting by officials scattered across
the government," according to the Post's sources -- a charge echoed with
some vehemence by other allies, including Frum and former U.N. Amb. John
"The deal reveals a breakdown of the administration's decision-making
process," Frum wrote this week, citing a Times report that Rice had
"bypassed layers of government policy review that had derailed past
efforts to negotiate an agreement."
The complaint was a particularly ironic one in light of Abrams' role
with the Iran-Contra scandal, his own use of back channels, and his
efforts, along with Cheney's and Rumsfeld's offices, to exclude the
State Department and Central Intelligence Agency, during Bush's first