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Elliott Abrams

Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies

Expertise

U.S. policy in the Middle East, Israel-Palestinian affairs, democracy promotion, human rights policy, U.S. foreign policy.

Bio

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Washington, DC. He served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush, where he supervised U.S. policy in the Middle East for the White House.

Mr. Abrams was educated at Harvard College, the London School of Economics, and Harvard Law School. After serving on the staffs of Sens. Henry M. Jackson and Daniel P. Moynihan, he was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and received the secretary of state's Distinguished Service Award from Secretary George P. Shultz. In 2012, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy gave him its Scholar-Statesman Award.

Mr. Abrams was president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC, from 1996 until joining the White House staff. He was a member of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1999 to 2001 and chairman of the commission in the latter year, and in 2012 was reappointed to membership for another term. Mr. Abrams is also a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which directs the activities of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He teaches U.S. foreign policy at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.

Mr. Abrams joined the Bush administration in June 2001 as special assistant to the president and senior director of the NSC for democracy, human rights, and international organizations. From December 2002 to February 2005, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director of the National Security Council for Near East and North African affairs. He served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for global democracy strategy from February 2005 to January 2009, and in that capacity supervised both the Near East and North African Affairs and the democracy, human rights, and international organizations directorates of the NSC.

He is the author of four books, Undue Process (1993), Security and Sacrifice (1995), Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America (1997), and Tested by Zion: the Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2013); and the editor of three more, Close Calls: Intervention, Terrorism, Missile Defense and "Just War" Today; Honor Among Nations: Intangible Interests and Foreign Policy; and The Influence of Faith: Religion and American Foreign Policy.

Languages:

French (fluent), Spanish (fluent)

Middle East Policy After the "Arab Spring"

When protests swept the Arab world in 2011, the United States hoped that the so-called Arab Spring would bring a wave of liberalization and democratization to the Middle East. Today, with much of the region still contending with instability, sectarian violence, and authoritarianism, the United States faces several foreign policy conundrums. Should Washington resign itself to "Arab exceptionalism"—the long-held belief that Arab societies are immune to global waves of democratization— and give up on its hopes for political progress in the region? Should it seek the closest possible relations with existing governments regardless of their political characteristics? Or should it back the players, in each society, who continue to struggle for liberal values, democratic institutions, and human rights? And if the latter, does the United States know how to act effectively to promote political reform while limiting the damage to its relations with those in power? My work on these issues will result in a book outlining the nature of the challenge and suggesting how U.S. foreign policy should address it. I also convene the Middle Eastern Studies Roundtable Series to discuss these questions.

The Future of the Middle East "Peace Process"

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process never ends—nor does it seem to make much progress. In blog entries, op-eds, and magazine articles (and in my most recent book, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict), I analyze the often energetic American efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement and the Israeli and Palestinian reactions to them. There were no serious negotiations during President Obama's first term. In 2013, a dogged effort by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brought the parties back to the table, but the talks collapsed acrimoniously nine months later. Are there any hopes for reviving the negotiations now, after the Gaza war? And would such talks have any real chance of achieving a two-state solution, or do the Israelis and Palestinians participate in them only to calm their publics and satisfy the insistent Americans? I look at the periodic negotiations, the domestic politics of both sides, and the facts on the ground that may be leading toward or away from realistic solutions.

How to Advance Human Rights

Over the last decade, human rights groups have documented a decline in freedom around the world. In some countries, such as Venezuela and Egypt, elected leaders used democracy to get into power and then abused that power; in others, such as Russia, autocrats have simply acted more forcefully against their opponents. The question for the United States is how to weigh the importance of promoting human rights and determine what tools are most effective in doing so. In my experience, firm presidential leadership and pressure work better than the human rights and democracy promotion programs of USAID, the State Department, and other U.S. government bodies in affecting foreign governments' behavior. The nongovernmental and civil society organizations that Washington supports abroad seem to protest more effectively than they build. Strong democratic political parties are essential for advancing political change. How should the United States help democratic activists build them? Can it help protect such people while they work for democracy in dangerous settings? These are issues I address in occasional writings.

Featured Publications

All Publications

Recent Activity from Pressure Points

Events

Middle Eastern Studies Roundtable Series

Staff: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
May 2009—Present

Conflict in the Middle East has been near the top of the American foreign policy agenda for a half century. Through discussions with academic experts and especially with current and former government officials, this roundtable series aims to inform the debate surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as other challenges facing the region. These roundtables discuss developments in the region and the goals and impact of U.S. actions, with an eye to deepening understanding of the Middle East and analyzing how to make U.S. foreign policy more effective.

CFR Events

General Meeting ⁄ New York

NY Town Hall: Middle East Update

Panelists:

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative, and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations, Steven A. Cook, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert M. Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
July 22, 2014 12:15-12:45 p.m. - Lunch
12:45-2:00 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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General Meeting ⁄ Washington

Iran: The Nuclear Challenge

Speakers:

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Robert M. Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Richard A. Falkenrath, Shelby Cullom and Kathryn W. Davis Adjunct Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Council on Foreign Relations

Presider:

Robert D. Blackwill, Henry A. Kissinger Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy, Council on Foreign Relations; Editor, Iran: The Nuclear Challenge
June 7, 2012 6:00-6:30 p.m. - Dinner Reception
6:30-7:30 p.m. - Meeting

This meeting is on the record.

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Symposium

Session One: Prospects for Democracy

Speakers:

Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, Michael Willis, Director of Middle East Centre and H.M. King Mohammed VI Fellow in Moroccan and Mediterranean Studies, St. Antony's College, University of Oxford

Presider:

James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President, Director of Studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
March 29, 2012 - March 30, 2012 10:00-10:30 a.m.

This meeting is on the record.

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