America loves a feel-good story. How else to explain our government’s appetite for redemption arcs?
Elliott Abrams was once convicted of lying to Congress and on Wednesday, he got to testify before Congress again, this time in his capacity as our special envoy to Venezuela. But not everyone was happy to see him. Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, questioned the former Assistant Secretary of State about his old misdeeds. “In 1991, you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush,” Omar began, before asking Abrams why the committee should believe anything he had to say.
A spluttering Abrams complained that Omar did not give him a chance to respond, but the congresswoman continued. “You dismissed as ‘communist propaganda’ reports about the massacre of El Mozote in which more than 800 civilians, including children as young as 2 years old, were brutally murdered by U.S.-trained troops,” she said. “You later said the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement.’ … Do you think that massacre was a ‘fabulous achievement?”
“From the day that President Duarte was elected in a free election, to this day,” Abrams responded, “El Salvador has been a democracy. That’s a fabulous achievement.” But Omar, as the Daily Beast reported on Wednesday, was not moved by Abrams’ answer. “Yes or no, do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement? That happened under your watch.” Abrams told the congresswoman that her question was “ridiculous” and he “would not respond to it.”
Omar is right, of course. In 1993, a lengthy New York Times report detailed the dedication with which members of the Reagan administration defended their material support for El Salvador’s military, even though they knew some atrocity had occurred. The U.S. government’s role in the steady destabilization of El Salvador is not only directly pertinent to the question of Abrams’ suitability for his role, it is the subtext to a familiar piece of agitprop. Trump loves to stoke fear about immigrants, including many Salvadorans, who cross the southern border. Not only are the vast majority peaceful, they’re fleeing a violent political climate that we helped create.