Venezuela Special Envoy Elliot Abrams Gets a Protest, and a Grilling in Congress

Posted: 2:45 am EST

 

After thirty or so years, Elliot Abrams is back at the State Department. This time as the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy for Venezuela (see @SecPompeo Appoints Elliott Abrams, Iran-Contra Figure to “Help” Restore Democracy in Venezuela).

On February 13, together with Sandra Oudkirk, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Energy Resources at the State Department and USAID’s Steve Olive, the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, Mr. Abrams appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) to talk about Venezuela at a Crossroads.

Note that the State Department’s WHA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of Venezuela did not testify at this hearing.

Protesters interrupted Mr. Abrams testimony, and the grilling he received from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) received much commentary. For those too young to remember the old times, see Brown University’s Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,  a project developed from its applied ethics and public policy course on Good Government.

It is likely that this is not an isolated incident; that every time Mr. Abrams appear before a committee in Congress, or before the media that his past will never be too far away; he may have been pardoned but he has not been forgotten. Even when he is there to talk about Venezuela, people will ask him questions about Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, human rights, El Mozoteetc. etc. etc.

Which makes one wonder why he was appointed to this job in the first place. Whatever message there is will pale in the presence of the messenger.

On February 14, Cuba accused the U.S. of moving special forces in preparation for a Venezuelan intervention under the pretext of a humanitarian crisis. Reuters reported that that Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, and he said “it is a new lie.”

A side note, with the Senate’s confirmation of William Barr as the next attorney general of the United States — it’s like we’re back to the 80’s.  On December 25, 1992, this was the NYT headline: Bush Pardons 6 in Iran Affair, Aborting a Weinberger Trial; Prosecutor Assails ‘Cover-Up’:

[…]

Besides Mr. Weinberger, the President pardoned Robert C. McFarlane, the former national security adviser, and Elliott Abrams, the former assistant Secretary of State for Central America. Both officials had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of withholding information from Congress about support for the contras.
[…]
But not since President Gerald R. Ford granted clemency to former President Richard M. Nixon for possible crimes in Watergate has a Presidential pardon so pointedly raised the issue of whether the President was trying to shield officials for political purposes. Mr. Walsh invoked Watergate tonight in an interview on the ABC News program “Nightline,” likening today’s pardons to President Richard M. Nixon’s dismissal of the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, in 1973. Mr. Walsh said Mr. Bush had “succeeded in a sort of Saturday Night Massacre.”

Democratic lawmakers assailed the decision. Senator George J. Mitchell of Maine, the Democratic leader, called the action a mistake. “It is not as the President stated today a matter of criminalizing policy differences,” he said. “If members of the executive branch lie to the Congress, obstruct justice and otherwise break the law, how can policy differences be fairly and legally resolved in a democracy.”

The main supporters of the pardon were Vice President Quayle, the Senate Republican leader, Bob Dole, and Mr. Gray, one senior Administration official said today. The decision, discussed in private, seemed to coalesce in the last three weeks although Mr. Bush was said to believe that Mr. Weinberger had been unfairly charged ever since the former Reagan Cabinet officer was first indicted in June.

Throughout the deliberations, Mr. Bush consulted with Attorney General William P. Barr and Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, who had sat on a Presidential review panel that examined the affair in early 1987.

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Trump Threat: Cutoff Aid to Central America’s Northern Triangle

In October 2018, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes the following about the “northern triangle”:

“Instability in Central America is one of the most pressing
challenges for U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere.
Several nations—particularly El Salvador, Guatemala, and
Honduras in the “northern triangle” of Central America—
are struggling with widespread insecurity, fragile political
and judicial systems, and high levels of poverty and
unemployment.
[…]
On October 22, 2018, President Trump said he intends to
cut off, or substantially reduce, aid to the northern triangle
countries. He has significant discretion to do so with funds
appropriated in FY2018, since Congress designated “up to”
$615 million for the Central America strategy, effectively
placing a ceiling on aid but no floor. The Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141), also empowers
the Secretary of State to suspend and reprogram some aid if
he determines the northern triangle governments have made
“insufficient progress” in addressing various legislative
conditions.
[…]
Congress has placed strict conditions on assistance to the
northern triangle in an attempt to bolster political will in the
region and ensure foreign aid is used as effectively as
possible. According to the Consolidated Appropriations
Act, 2018 (P.L. 115-141),

 25% of assistance for the central governments of El
Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras must be withheld
until the Secretary of State certifies that the
governments are informing their citizens of the dangers
of irregular migration, combating human smuggling and
trafficking, improving border security, and cooperating
with the United States to receive and reintegrate
repatriated citizens who do not qualify for asylum.

 Another 50% must be withheld until the Secretary of
State certifies that the governments are addressing 12
other concerns, including combating corruption;
countering gangs and organized crime; increasing
government revenues; supporting programs to reduce
poverty and promote equitable growth; and protecting
the rights of journalists, political opposition parties, and
human rights defenders to operate without interference.

The State Department certified that all three countries met
both sets of conditions in FY2016 and FY2017. For
FY2018, it has issued certifications for all three countries
regarding the first set of conditions but not the second set.

Read more: U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: An Overview, October 2018 (PDF)

CRS R44812: U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress 2017 (PDF)

Trump Exits From Syria, Cites “Historic Victories Against ISIS”

The President of the United States minus the “Mission Accomplished” banner, announcing the “historic victories against ISIS” and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria:

The happy, thumbs-up people:

U.S. Senate votes to end U.S. support for #SaudiWar in #Yemen, condemns #KhashoggiMurder

USAID Prepares to Shrink #WestBank/Gaza Presence, Pompeo Visits @USAID HQ

 

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Reviews For Pompeo’s WSJ Op-Ed: “God-Awful”, “Risible”, “Mendacious”, “Bananas”, and More #PAPressClips

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | September, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

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Pompeo Talks Up Saudi “Investment” in Yemen, and USG’s “Additional” $131M Assistance #ExcludingArms

 

On November 28, the Secretary of State told the world that “Saudi Arabia has invested billions to relive suffering in Yemen.” Pretty soon,  Saudi Arabia’s spokesman would not have a job anymore.

The Guardian reported that in 2017, the Yemen appeal for $2.5bn was only 73% funded, but that the needs have intensified in a country battered since 2015 by a Saudi-led military offensive aimed at repelling Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital. In April this year, during a UN donor conference for people affected by war in Yemen – labelled as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” – has received pledges of more than $2bn, close to half of which is promised by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two key protagonists in the conflict, according to the same report. Click here for the OCHA page for pledges and paid contributions for Yemen.

On October 24, 2017, U.S. Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller re-issued a disaster declaration for the ongoing complex emergency in Yemen for FY 2018 due to “continued humanitarian needs resulting from the complex emergency and the impact of the country’s political and economic crises on vulnerable populations.”  USAID’s November 9, 2018 Factsheet on Yemen Disaster Assistance indicates that the United States humanitarian funding for the Yemen response in FY2018 is $566,273,269 (includes funding through the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), the Office of Food for Peace (USAID/FFP), and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (State/PRM)).  Secretary Pompeo’s tweet on November 28 says that the United States is providing an “additional” $131 million in food assistance to Yemen.

According to the CRS, since March 2015, the U.S.-trained Saudi military has used U.S.-origin weaponry, U.S. logistical assistance, and shared intelligence in support of military operations in Yemen. Excerpt:

In May 2017, President Trump signaled a continuation and deepening of bilateral defense cooperation, announcing completed and proposed defense sales during his visit to Riyadh with a potential value of more than $110 billion. The sales include cases that the Obama Administration had proposed and notified to Congress, cases developed under the Obama Administration on which Congress had been preliminarily consulted, and new sales that remain under development.
[…]
The United States’ role in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s military operations in Yemen has evolved over time. 65 At present, it consists of some intelligence sharing, aerial refueling, and the deployment of advisers to Saudi Arabia for border security and anti-ballistic missile purposes.66 In his latest biannual War Powers letters to Congress on the deployment of U.S. forces abroad in combat operations (P.L. 93-148), President Trump informed Congress about ongoing U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen and stated that U.S. forces in noncombat roles were providing “military advice and limited information, logistics, and other support to regional forces combatting the Houthi insurgency.”

So, on one hand, we’re supporting the side that’s indiscriminately bombing hospitals, school buses and children, and on the other hand, we’re spending millions of dollars for food and humanitarian assistance to help those who are bombed and starved.  Also, our Secretary of Swagger did not just announced the additional millions in food assistance but also cited “our generous example” in “galvanizing humanitarian assistance.” When is this going up on Instagram, people?

By the way, the most recent USAID/OFDA official said “no amount of aid money can prevent this famine” and that absent massive political pressure on the Saudi, this is just “window dressing.” 

Related item: Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations (PDF) | Updated September 21, 2018 (Congressional Research Service).

ALSO THIS:

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Pakistan PM Khan Issues Angry Response After Trump’s Swipe Over OBL, Aid, WoT

Trump on Pakistan (full transcript of interview here). Bull. China Shop. Every Damn Place and Time.

WALLACE: Bill McRaven, Retired Admiral, Navy Seal, 37 years, former head of U.S. Special Operations —

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Special Operations —

TRUMP: Excuse me, Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led the operations, commanded the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama bin Laden says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime.

TRUMP: OK, he’s a Hilary Clinton, uh, backer and an Obama-backer and frankly —

WALLACE: He was a Navy Seal 37 years —

TRUMP: Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice? You know, living – think of this – living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there. And we give Pakistan $1.3 billion a year and they don’t tell him, they don’t tell him —

WALLACE: You’re not even going to give them credit —

TRUMP: For years —

WALLACE: for taking down Bin Laden?

TRUMP: They took him down but – look, look, there’s news right there, he lived in Pakistan, we’re supporting Pakistan, we’re giving them $1.3 billion a year, which we don’t give them anymore, by the way, I ended it because they don’t do anything for us, they don’t do a damn thing for us.

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Halloween 2018: A Great Day For Scaring Kids, Also a Frightful Time For All Else

 

ALSO IN FRIGHTFUL NEWS: The United States could deploy 7,000 armed troops to the US-Mexican border a week before Election Day. It could go up to 15,000, roughly what we have in Afghanistan and three times what the United States deployed to Iraq. Since Mexico refused to fund that wall, the President of the United States now says “”We have to have a wall of people”. Presumably, our friends to the south are not going to pay for this “wall of people” either, so U.S. taxpayers are already saddled with this tab. And since the deployment to the border number will likely kept growing the next few days, the Pentagon probably should ask how deep is this “wall of people” the Commander-in-Chief is talking about.

Meanwhile in Yemen, people have been dying the last three years. Now 14 million people face starvation as the U.S. government continue its military support of Saudi Arabia’s war (see Secretary Pompeo Saves $2Billion Weapons Sales From Jeopardy). USG is now seeking a cease-fire over there. Why now? Is it because half of Yemen’s population is on the brink of famine? Or is it because the world is finally paying attention to US-support of the war in Yemen after the Khashoggi murder?  Former USNATO Ambassador Robert Hunter writes that “blanket U.S. support for the Saudi air campaign means that it cannot escape its own share of responsibility.”

Also back in 2010, a State/OIG report estimated that the Yemeni-American community in that country was about 55,000. There were no USG-organized evacuations when war broke out. For those covering Yemen, please ask the Secretary of State his department’s estimate on how many Yemeni-Americans were killed in this war.

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@StateDept to Saudi Suspects Arrested in #KhashoggiMurder: No More New York Shopping For Y’All

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the Khashoggi murder during his remarks to the press on October 23 (via state.gov):

… the State Department will continue to seek all relevant facts, consult with Congress, and work with other nations, and work to hold accountable those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The administration is also taking appropriate actions now, given the information currently available to the United States.

We have identified at least some of the individuals responsible, including those in the intelligence services, the Royal Court, the foreign ministry, and other Saudi ministries who we suspect to have been involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s death. We are taking appropriate actions, which include revoking visas, entering visa lookouts, and other measures. We are also working with the Treasury Department to review the applicability of Global Magnitsky sanctions to those individuals.

These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those responsible accountable. We’re making very clear that the United States does not tolerate this kind of ruthless action to silence Mr. Khashoggi, a journalist, through violence. We continue to maintain a strong partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Neither the President nor I am happy with this situation.

Our shared strategic interests with Saudi Arabia remain. We continue to view as achievable the twin imperatives of protecting America and holding accountable those responsible for the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.

 

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