Just Back From
Syria, Rep. Gabbard Brings Message: 'There Are No
By Susan Jones
- - Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, says she made
a secret, four-day trip to Syria -- meeting with
ordinary people and even President Bashar al-Assad --
because the suffering of the Syrian people "has been
weighing heavily on my heart."
"I wanted to
see if there was in some small way, a way that I could
express the love and the aloha and the care that the
American people have for the people of Syria, and to see
firsthand what was happening there, to see that
situation there," Gabbard told CNN's "The Lead" with
Jake Tapper on Wednesday.
with a message:
"I'll tell you
what I heard from the Syrian people that I met with,
Jake, walking down the street in Aleppo, in Damascus,
hearing from them.
happiness and joy at seeing an American walking through
their streets. But they also asked why the U.S. and its
allies are providing support and arms to terrorist
groups like al-Nusra, al-Qaida or al-Sham, ISIS who are
on the ground there, raping, kidnapping, torturing and
killing the Syrian people.
"They asked me,
why is the United States and its allies supporting these
terrorist groups who are destroying Syria when it was al
Qaida who attacked the United States on 9/11, not Syria.
I didn't have an answer for them,” Gabbard said.
is... every place that I went, every person that I spoke
to, I asked this question to them, and without
hesitation, they said, there are no moderate rebels. Who
are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?
Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest
fighting force on the ground in Syria is al Nusra, or al
Qaida and ISIS. That is a fact,” Gabbard said.
“There is a
number of different, other groups -- all of them
essentially are fighting alongside, with, or under the
command of the strongest group on the ground that's
trying to overthrow Assad.
“The Syrian people recognize and they know that if
President Assad is overthrown, then al Qaida -- or a
group like al Qaida, that has been killing Christians,
killing people simply because of their religion, or
because they won’t support their terror activities, they
will take charge of all of Syria.
“This is the reality that the people of Syria are facing
on the ground, and why they are pleading with us here in
the United States to stop supporting these terrorist
groups. Let the Syrian people themselves determine their
future, not the United States, not some foreign
initially, she didn't plan to meet with President Assad:
"When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so
because I felt it's important that if we profess to
truly care about the Syrian people, about their
suffering, then we've got to be able to meet with anyone
that we need to if there is a possibility that we could
achieve peace, and that's exactly what we talked about."
that Assad is responsible for hundreds of thousands of
deaths and millions of people being forced from their
homes and even their country during the five-year civil
"Did you have
any compunctions about meeting with somebody like that,
giving him any sort of enhanced credibility because a
member of the United States Congress would meet with
someone like that?" Tapper asked.
think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the
president of Syria,” Tulsi replied. “In order for any
peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a
viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a
conversation with him,” Gabbard said.
people will determine his outcome and what happens with
their government and their future, but our focus, my
focus, my commitment is on ending this war that has
caused so much suffering to the Syrian people.”
In a speech on
the House floor earlier this month, Gabbard criticized
America’s “interventionist wars.”
resources should go toward rebuilding our communities
here at home, not fueling more counterproductive regime
change wars abroad.”
She urged her
fellow lawmakers to support her bill, the “Stop Arming
Terrorists Act,” legislation that would stop the U.S.
government from using taxpayer dollars to directly or
indirectly support groups allied with terrorist groups
such as ISIS and al Qaeda in their war to overthrow the
“The fact that our resources are being used to
strengthen the very terrorist groups we should be
focused on defeating should alarm every American,”
supported Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, but after
the election, she was one of many people invited to meet
with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New
"President-elect Trump asked me to meet with him about
our current policies regarding Syria, our fight against
terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS, as well as
other foreign policy challenges we face," Gabbard said
about the meeting.
“I felt it
important to take the opportunity to meet with the
President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that
neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of
the war to overthrow the Syrian government -- a war
which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives
and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in
search of safety for themselves and their families.”
The Syrian People
Desperately Want Peace
As much of
Washington prepared for the inauguration of President
Donald Trump, I spent last week on a fact-finding
mission in Syria and Lebanon to see and hear directly
from the Syrian people. Their lives have been consumed
by a horrific war that has killed hundreds of thousands
of Syrians and forced millions to flee their homeland in
search of peace.
It is clear now
more than ever: this regime change war does not serve
America’s interest, and it certainly isn’t in the
interest of the Syrian people.
throughout Damascus and Aleppo, listening to Syrians
from different parts of the country. 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 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.
I heard this
message over and over again from those who have suffered
and survived unspeakable horrors. They asked that I
share their voice with the world; frustrated voices
which have not been heard due to the false, one-sided
biased reports pushing a narrative that supports this
regime change war at the expense of Syrian lives.
I heard testimony
about how peaceful protests against the government that
began in 2011 were quickly overtaken by Wahhabi jihadist
groups like al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) who were funded and
supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the United
States, and others. They exploited the peaceful
protesters, occupied their communities, and killed and
tortured Syrians who would not cooperate with them in
their fight to overthrow the government.
I met a Muslim
girl from Zabadani who was kidnapped, beaten repeatedly,
and raped in 2012, when she was just 14 years old, by
“rebel groups” who were angry that her father, a sheep
herder, would not give them his money. She watched in
horror as masked men murdered her father in their living
room, emptying their entire magazine of bullets into
I met a boy who
was kidnapped while walking down the street to buy bread
for his family. He was tortured, waterboarded,
electrocuted, placed on a cross and whipped, all because
he refused to help the “rebels” — he told them he just
wanted to go to school. This is how the “rebels” are
treating the Syrian people who do not cooperate with
them, or whose religion is not acceptable to them.
to the Assad government, the political opposition spoke
strongly about their adamant rejection of the use of
violence to bring about reforms. They argue that if the
Wahhabi jihadists, fueled by foreign governments, are
successful in overthrowing the Syrian state, it would
destroy Syria and its long history of a secular,
pluralist society where people of all religions have
lived peacefully side by side. Although this political
opposition continues to seek reforms, they are adamant
that as long as foreign governments wage a proxy regime
change war against Syria using jihadist terrorist
groups, they will stand with the Syrian state as they
work peacefully toward a stronger Syria for all Syrians.
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.
return to Washington, DC with even greater
resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow
the Syrian government. 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.
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 — directly
by providing weapons, training and
logistical support to rebel groups
affiliated with al-Qaeda and ISIS; and
indirectly through Saudi Arabia, the Gulf
States, and Turkey, who, in turn, support
these terrorist groups. We must end our war
to overthrow the Syrian government and focus
our attention on defeating al-Qaeda and
U.S. must stop supporting terrorists who are
destroying Syria and her people. The U.S.
and other countries fueling this war must
stop immediately. We must allow the Syrian
people to try to recover from this terrible
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