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Neo-con warrior Elliott Abrams returns to conflict – in Lebanon

Equating Lebanon with Hezbollah is a merely a way to pre-emptively excuse Israel for the impending mass slaughter

In a recent dispatch for Politico Magazine, Elliott Abrams - neocon extraordinaire, former component of the Ronald Reagan and George W Bush administrations, and current senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC - warns that “Lebanon is boiling” and that “thousands of Americans could get stuck in the middle of a war”.

The gist of the article, co-written by Abrams’ colleague Zachary Shapiro, is that the United States must formulate a comprehensive evacuation plan for its citizens in Lebanon, in preparation for the next seemingly inevitable showdown with Israel.

Israeli officials have spent the better part of the last 12 years threatening that they will no longer hold back in Lebanon - as if they ever did

During the 2006 war, in which Israel killed an estimated 1,200 people in Lebanese territory - the majority of them civilians - the US deigned to evacuate some 15,000 citizens, after initially attempting to bill them for the privilege.

The US undersecretary of state for political affairs defended the attempted billing on the grounds that the government had had to “go out on an emergency basis and rent [evacuation] vessels”.

By contrast, rush-shipping bombs to the Israeli military was apparently neither too much of a hassle nor too much of an expense. 

Demonising Hezbollah

Evacuation will be even trickier in the next war, Abrams and Shapiro argue, as “every indication is that it will be a fiercer conflict than in 2006”. This is presumably true, since Israeli officials have spent the better part of the last 12 years threatening that they will no longer hold back in Lebanon - as if they ever did.

A more straightforward method for ensuring the safety of US citizens in the country would be to cease flinging billions of dollars in annual ‘military aid’ at the state of Israel

In various appearances during recent months before US congressional subcommittees, Abrams has dutifully marketed the Israeli line that the “distinction between Hezbollah and ‘Lebanon’ can no longer be maintained” and that “Hezbollah is quite simply running the country”.

Hezbollah, of course, must be demonised at all costs, given its track record of thwarting Israel’s predatory regional designs.

And while the reality on the ground is obviously quite a bit more complex than “Lebanon = Hezbollah”, this sort of reductionist hysteria serves as a means of preemptively exonerating Israel for impending mass slaughter.

Elliott Abrams speaks at the 2012 CPAC conference in Washington, DC (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)
This approach has also been taken up by an array of US media outlets and politicians, who are literally helping to set the stage for more Israeli attacks on Lebanese schools, hospitals, and civilian society in general.

In a November 2017 testimony before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, Abrams advanced the myth of Israeli restraint in 2006, saying that the Israeli military had “made a special effort to avoid major damage to the Lebanese national infrastructure” despite having immediately bombed the Beirut airport out of commission.

He recalled his own wartime visit to Beirut - in his capacity as deputy national security advisor and deputy assistant to Bush - when he was able to marvel at Israel’s magical surgical precision vis-a-vis the Beirut lighthouse.

“An Israeli missile had gone right through the lighthouse’s top and taken out its searchlight," he said. "There was no damage to the structure, so that all that was needed was a new searchlight and the lighthouse would instantly be operational again.”

Never mind the multitude of bridges, thoroughfares, and entire apartment blocks which were also taken out by Israeli projectiles during the conflict and proved rather more difficult to piece back together. Or the fact that Lebanese children slaughtered at close range by Israeli helicopters can’t ever be made “operational again”.

Israeli soldiers are pictured in south Lebanon in August 2006 (AFP)
When I visited south Lebanon shortly after the conclusion of the 2006 assault, I spoke to a family with three children - all of them US citizens - who had remained in the country for the duration of the war, as their non-citizen grandparents were ineligible for evacuation.

After surviving 10 days of Israeli bombardment of their town, the family had fled north in a convoy of vehicles waving white flags, the final vehicle of which was eliminated by an Israeli missile.

A history of warmongering

In short, Abrams can talk all he wants about the need for an evacuation plan in Lebanon, but a more straightforward method for ensuring the safety of US citizens in the country would be to cease flinging billions of dollars in annual “military aid” at the state of Israel.

Meanwhile, no analysis of Abrams’ present warmongering would be complete without a glance at his CV, which includes fervent agitation on behalf of that spectacular bloodbath known as the US invasion of Iraq, as well as involvement in a “covert initiative … to provoke a Palestinian civil war”, according to a 2008 Vanity Fair exposé.

Abrams’ bio at the Council on Foreign Relations lists numerous details of his professional trajectory, among them a book titled Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America.

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Conveniently excised from the bio, however, is Abrams’ service under Ronald Reagan as a leading player in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, during which the US illegally sold weapons to Iran and diverted the proceeds to right-wing Contra forces bent on terrorising Nicaragua.

As scholar Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz writes in Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, the war in question “cost 50,000 Nicaraguan deaths out of a population of 3.5 million, with whole communities wiped out, leaving 100,000 homeless and wrecking the country’s infrastructure”.

As for Abrams’ upbeat opinion that “when history is written the Contras will be folk heroes”, Dunbar-Ortiz remarks: “No one remembers the Contras as anything but mercenaries of the United States, except perhaps for Abrams and his small circle of neoconservatives.”

Lawlessness knows no borders

Abrams was later convicted, in 1991, for withholding information from Congress about the Iran-Contra affair, prompting the New York Times to editorialise that “few members of the Iran-contra crew more symbolized the lawlessness of the Reagan administration than Mr Abrams”. 

He was swiftly pardoned by President George W Bush in 1992 - further proof, perhaps, that lawlessness knows no borders in US politics.

A poster of Hassan Nasrallah during a rally marking Lebanese President Aoun's election in November 2016 (AFP)

In addition to the Contra project, Abrams made various other contributions to US Cold War efforts to help save people from communism by killing them. As Reagan’s assistant secretary for human rights and humanitarian affairs in 1983, for example, he applauded US-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for having allegedly “brought considerable progress” in the field of human rights - the same Ríos Montt who was once convicted of genocide for his role in a lengthy war that ultimately eliminated more than 200,000 lives.

In El Salvador, where the US also had a habit of encouraging right-wing slaughter, Abrams denied the December 1981 massacre of more than 800 people in the town of El Mozote by Salvadoran soldiers trained and equipped by the US.

His subsequent claim that “the administration’s record on El Salvador is one of fabulous achievement” should meanwhile be compared to observations such as this one at The Atlantic: “The success of US policy in El Salvador … was based on 40,000 political murders.”

False pleas for Lebanese sovereignty

Flash forward to Abrams’ current warmongering mission in Lebanon, and one can’t but marvel at the ease with which convicted criminals are able to recycle themselves back into positions of influence in the US.

A truly sovereign Lebanon is the last thing the US-Israeli-Saudi trio wants

In his November congressional testimony, Abrams spoke approvingly of Saudi Arabia’s “new and tougher … approach” to Lebanon, which he said was “unsurprisingly in line with the new Israeli approach”. Both approaches, he insisted, were “reactions to the reality that Hezbollah is in fact in charge of Lebanon”.

But while Abrams may bleat continuously in support of Lebanese “sovereignty”, a truly sovereign Lebanon is the last thing that the US-Israeli-Saudi trio wants. In other words, there’s a whole lot of lawlessness to come.

- Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: An Israeli soldier services his weapon atop a tank at a position outside the northen border settlement of Avivim, 17 August 2006 (AFP).

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