U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) recently returned from a fact-finding mission to Syria and Lebanon "to see and hear directly from the Syrian people." That is Gabbard's account of her trip. However, partisans in both parties as well as some members of the media don't like that Gabbard took this "secret trip."
"I traveled throughout Damascus and Aleppo, listening to Syrians from different parts of the country," Gabbard writes in a guest column submitted to the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. "I met with displaced families from the eastern part of Aleppo, Raqqah, Zabadani, Latakia, and the outskirts of Damascus. I met Syrian opposition leaders who led protests in 2011, widows and children of men fighting for the government and widows of those fighting against the government. I met Lebanon’s newly-elected President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, Syrian President Assad, Grand Mufti Hassoun, Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda of Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo, Muslim and Christian religious leaders, humanitarian workers, academics, college students, small business owners, and more."
"Their (the Syrians) message to the American people was powerful and consistent: There is no difference between “moderate” rebels and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) or ISIS — they are all the same. This is a war between terrorists under the command of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and the Syrian government. They cry out for the U.S. and other countries to stop supporting those who are destroying Syria and her people," she added.
The "secrecy" of the trip has irked members of the press, Congress, and top Democrats. The congresswoman from Hawaii did not announce she was going to Syria and Lebanon via press release nor did she inform many of her colleagues on Capitol Hill. She released a press release when she returned.
One report says the Defense Department was aware of the trip, but did not take part in organizing it, and Gabbard's office claims her trip was approved by the House Ethics Committee. This has yet to be verified.
Gabbard's meeting with Assad specifically has been heavily rebuked by lawmakers in both major parties.
Headline from The Hill.
“There's a pretty unanimous feeling of shock and disgust,” a Democratic aide was quoted in The Hill. “Everybody I've talked to on both sides of the aisle, I think people are just stunned.”
“An elected official, a representative of the United States, went on a secret trip to meet with the brutal dictator who had murdered nearly half a million of his own people — it's reprehensible and cannot be justified.” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.)
In response to her criticism of the US's policy approach to Syria, which Gabbard calls an "illegal war," and her meeting with Assad, some media outlets have published columns that go so far as to call her a "stooge" for the Assad regime.
Headline from the Daily Kos.
Headline from The Wall Street Journal.
In a January 25 press release, Gabbard claims that her meeting with Assad was not pre-planned.
“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it. I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering," Gabbard states.
“From Iraq to Libya and now in Syria, the U.S. has waged wars of regime change, each resulting in unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life, and the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS." - U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)
Gabbard's position on Syria runs counter to the policy of the political elite in Washington, who strongly believe that Assad should be removed.
However, Gabbard has defined her relatively young political career by going against the partisan grain. She criticized the DNC for its treatment of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential election. She even resigned her post as vice chair of the DNC to endorse Sanders for president.
The congresswoman maintains that not arming terrorists and ending wars of regime change should not be partisan issues. Gabbard, a progressive Democrat, published a column on a libertarian Republican's website. She shares this position with Republican President Donald Trump and independent Bernie Sanders.
Now, Gabbard wants Congress to act.
"I call upon Congress and the new Administration to answer the pleas of the Syrian people immediately and support the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. We must stop directly and indirectly supporting terrorists ... We must end our war to overthrow the Syrian government and focus our attention on defeating al-Qaeda and ISIS," she said in her column for the Ron Paul Institute of Peace and Prosperity.
What do you think? Do you agree with U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard?