In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official and Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela of being complicit in war crimes.
“Yes or no,” she demanded, “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. interest, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua?”
Omar was cribbing from the left’s notes on U.S. Latin American policy, and doing it badly. She made much of the 1981 El Motoze massacre in El Salvador. The idea that Abrams is somehow directly implicated in this bloodcurdlingly awful event is completely absurd. He was assistant secretary of state for international organizations in the Reagan administration, then became assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs on December 10, 1981. The massacre occurred the next day. Unless we are to believe the El Salvadoran military unit took his change of jobs as a green light to indiscriminately kill villagers (which unfortunately was not a new practice), Abrams obviously had nothing to do with the massacre.
Nonetheless, the Omar attack is an opportunity to examine the premises of the left’s narrative on Reagan’s policy in El Salvador, which supports the persistent attacks on Abrams as a “war criminal.” To paraphrase the famous Mary McCarthy line about Lillian Hellman, every word in this narrative is a lie, including “and” and “the.”
In what follows, I rely throughout on Russell Crandall’s book "The Salvador Option: The United States in El Salvador, 1977–1992," a fair-minded, factual account that’s a marked contrast to the tendentiously left-wing material that dominates online.