I should be grateful to Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for making my point for me. On Wednesday, I posted a column warning Democrats to be wary of the “uber-progressive wing” of their party. That very day, Omar demonstrated the dangers I was warning of by badgering and berating Elliott Abrams, the new Trump administration envoy for Venezuela.
She had been forced just two days earlier to apologize for an anti-Semitic outburst — she had insinuated that Congress was controlled by wealthy Jewish supporters of Israel — but her sense of moral superiority emerged unshaken.
Her tendentious “questioning” of Abrams, a colleague of mine at the Council on Foreign Relations, has to be heard to be believed.
Reading haltingly from a sheet of paper, Omar seemed confused initially by the identity of the witness, referring to him as “Mr. Adams.” She accurately noted that, in 1991, Abrams had pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of deceiving Congress about the Iran-Contra affair.
“I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful,” she said. When Abrams tried to defend himself, she cut him off, saying with a smirk, “That’s not a question.”
You can think Abrams was wrong to do what he did — and I do — but her bullying was nevertheless unsavory. As Abrams said, “It is not right that members of this committee can attack a witness who is not permitted to reply.”
Omar then proceeded to raise the El Mozote massacre committed by the El Salvadoran army in 1981, while Abrams was serving as assistant secretary of state for labor, democracy and human rights. In common with other Reagan administration officials, Abrams had wrongly cast doubt on the reporting about the massacre.
But Omar disingenuously made it sound as though Abrams had characterized the El Mozote massacre as a “fabulous achievement.”
“Yes or no,” she demanded. “Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?”
“That is a ridiculous question, and — no!,” Abrams replied.
“I will take that as a yes,” Omar said.
Omar plowed ahead: “Yes or no. Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if you believe they were serving U.S. interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?”
That is another ridiculous question. Abrams is working with U.S. allies to restore democracy in Venezuela and to overthrow a dictator with the worst human-rights record in the Western Hemisphere. By opposing international intervention — which she wrongly describes as a “U.S.-backed coup” — Omar is the one enabling human-rights abuses.
Abrams became one of the foremost advocates of abandoning pro-American dictators when democratic alternatives were available. The Reagan administration helped to topple Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Chun Doo-hwan in South Korea.
This did not go far enough for leftists, who argued that President Ronald Reagan should simply cut off right-wing regimes in places such as El Salvador and Guatemala — while they advocated outreach to China and the Soviet Union despite those countries’ dismal records on human rights. Reagan officials refused to follow this advice, because they did not want to repeat the mistakes made by President Jimmy Carter: By abandoning pro-U.S. dictators in Iran and Nicaragua, he had helped bring to power anti-U.S. dictators.
These attacks are unjust. Abrams badly erred during the Iran-Contra affair, but he went on to serve honorably for eight years on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council. He is, as former undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns wrote, “a devoted public servant who has contributed much of his professional life to our country.” He is not the advocate for genocide that Omar and others on the far left are making him out to be.
Max Boot is a columnist with The Washington Post.