Elliott Abrams, the rightwing Israel supporter who did everything he could to thwart peace negotiations as an aide to President George W. Bush, is meeting with Donald Trump today and reportedly is close to being named number two at the State Department, serving former oil man Rex Tillerson.
Here’s the political puzzle that deserves an answer: Why is Abrams, a neoconservative ideologue who was outspoken against Trump in the last election and who promoted the Iraq war that Trump routinely denounces, even being considered for such a high appointment? Trump would be plucking Abrams out of recent obscurity and disgrace, and it’s not as if Abrams and Tillerson, a Texan late of Exxon Mobil, share the same outlook on the world.
So who asked Trump to meet with Abrams? Why? And why the likely appointment?
The obvious answer is Trump wants to appease a segment of opinion. If Abrams is installed, it will be as an Israel lobby apparatchik. The pro-Israel community is so powerful that even Trump must defer to it. Whether it’s campaign donations (Sheldon Adelson) or the neoconservative bloc inside the Republican Party (John McCain), or the neoconservative media/thinktank echo chamber (Bill Kristol/Washington Post editorial page) — Trump must come to terms with this power, even as he defies other powerful forces that are resisting him. After all, Trump is ignoring, even going out of his way to antagonize, other critical precincts.
And right on time, Bill Kristol, leader of the Never Trump movement, has tweeted approvingly of the Abrams feeler.
Who said that pro-Israel neoconservativism is dead! This political power can also be seen in the fact that Adam Szubin, a man with his own neoconservative credentials, was asked by Trump to stay on from the Obama administration as under secretary of Treasury for terrorism and counter-intelligence– the Iran job.
Elliott Abrams describes himself as a “neocon” in his last book, Tested by Zion.
“I was. . . a strong proponent of the closest possible relations between the United States and Israel. . . I had strong personal ties with most of the major American Jewish organizations.”
Those close ties are Abrams’s political bona fides. He is an ardent Jewish nationalist, just as Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon is an American nationalist. Abrams has said that all Jews must “stand apart” from the country that they live in except Israel:
Outside the land of Israel, there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart – except in Israel – from the rest of the population
As a White House official under George W. Bush, Abrams served as Israel’s lawyer, undercutting any American pressure on Israel to freeze settlements: “more than I thought the traffic in Israel could bear… a disaster for Israel.” He met regularly with Jewish leaders and invoked the Holocaust as justification for Israel’s punitive actions (Jews are “a people who had learned from history what happens to Jews without security”); he repeatedly mocked Condoleezza Rice’s peace efforts when she was secretary of state as “untethered to reality” — and made snide observations about Rice’s belief that Palestine was very much like the Jim Crow Alabama she grew up in.
The New York Times does its best to obfuscate what is going on in today’s report, titled “Elliott Abrams, Neoconservative Who Rejected Trump, May Serve Him.” The story offers comforting words about the “genial” Abrams– and of course never mentions Israel:
The advantage of picking Mr. Abrams is clear: He knows the inner workings of the department. . .
[H]is selection would calm many at the State Department who worry that Mr. Tillerson, who has never served in government, [etc.]. . . Mr. Abrams knows the building well and, with a genial style and sharp views, knows how to navigate the national security bureaucracy.
Writes David Bromwich, in an email:
This story has the effect of promoting Abrams even as it disavows him. A familiar face at State and things would feel closer to normal — also Abrams’s hostility to Palestinians is almost equaled by his hatred of Russia: another cause dear to the Times.
The Times reporters describe Abrams as “a neoconservative who has long argued for an activist foreign policy that spreads American values around the world.” That too is a form of clemency. Abrams is responsible for murders in Central America, and for promoting a war that killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq.
And the article cites another pro-Israel “expert” who applauds Abrams as potentially putting Trump on a “more predictable path.”
“For the most part, I think he would be welcomed in the State Department,” said Dennis Ross, the senior Middle East adviser under President Barack Obama. “He’s seen as serious, responsible and knowledgeable.”
Ross is Abrams’s Democratic counterpart: a White House perennial who served as Israel’s lawyer in Democratic administrations. Ross also says that Jews must stand by Israel; he told a synagogue audience last year, “We don’t need to be advocates for Palestinians. We need to be advocates for Israel.” Ah, the honest broker.
The sad lesson of the Abrams job interview is that rightwing American nationalism and Jewish nationalism are completely copacetic under Trump. Trump’s top strategist, rightwing nationalist Steve Bannon, long ago made peace with Zionism. The website Breitbart that he led had its roots in pro-Israel advocacy and Islamophobia.
That alliance is a reflection of the power of the Israel lobby in our political culture. It’s little wonder that of all the revolutionary policies Trump has affirmed, the only one he’s abandoned is his vow of neutrality re Israel Palestine.
No; pro Israel neoconservatism is not dead by any means.