Tulsi Gabbard’s Mendacious Crusade Against Democracy and Humanitarian Aid in Syria
In a tacit admission of wrongdoing, Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard has announced that she will foot the bill for her pro-Assad P.R. stunt (it’s unclear how writing a reimbursement check to the fascist Syrian Socialist National Party who sponsored her trip is going to repair her reputation; giving money to fascists for any reason is indefensible).
The political blowback Gabbard got was much deserved and long overdue because she has been working in Congress against Syria’s moderate opposition — the one she now claims ‘doesn’t exist’ — for years. The legislative record shows that with each failed attempt, she became progressively more dishonest as a means of gaining support for her efforts.
The first of Gabbard’s failed efforts to end U.S. support for anti-Assad forces came in 2015 in the form of H.R. 4108 whose purpose is to “To prohibit the use of funds for the provision of assistance to Syrian opposition groups and individuals.” At least she was honest enough in 2015 to admit that such forces existed. Gabbard’s bill would have cut off support not just for anti-Assad rebels but for democratic civilian councils that rule rebel areas and provide badly needed services like first responders who rush into bombed buildings to rescue civilians, hospitals and doctors, maintaining critical infrastructure, programs to empower women, and education for children because it would bar “assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, stipends, construction of training and associated facilities, and [sic] sustainment, to any element of the Syrian opposition or to any other Syrian group or individual seeking to overthrow the government of the Syrian Arab Republic.” The U.S. spent roughly $1.5 billion a year since 2012 on this kind of humanitarian assistance for Syrian civilians and it made up the bulk of the funding these organizations received.
If Gabbard’s bill had passed, these organizations would have shut down, hospitals would have closed, first responders would not be able to buy ambulances, schools would have been closed, bakeries would have gone without flour.
In other words, more Syrians would have died and those that survived would be uneducated, disease-ridden, grievously injured, and hungry.
In 2016, Gabbard tried to cut off funding for moderate rebels by offering an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2017. In her speech on the House floor, Gabbard started using Assad regime talking points by referring to the “so-called moderate opposition.” Her amendment was voted down by a huge margin: 135 yeas to 283 nays.
Later in 2016, Gabbard introduced H.R. 6504 whose stated purpose is to “To prohibit the use of United States Government funds to provide assistance to Al Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and to countries supporting those organizations, and for other purposes.” For anyone who doesn’t know, the United States government has never funded or supported any of these terrorist organizations (doing so would be illegal under U.S. law) and is in fact bombing both of them to pieces. Dozens of Al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in Syria thanks by U.S. drone strikes and the U.S. is waging an all-out multi-front war to wipe ISIS off the face of the Earth.
But what H.R. 6504 would do under the pretext of anti-terrorism is accomplish what H.R. 4108 would have done — end assistance to not only moderate rebels but to civilian organizations providing essential humanitarian services in rebel-held areas. The bill says, “no funds [would be made] made available to any Federal department or agency may be used to provide covered assistance to Al Qaeda, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and ISIL, and any individual or group that is affiliated with, associated with, cooperating with, or adherents to such groups.”
Practically every rebel group and civilian institution in the rebel-held governates of Idlib, Daraa, and Quenitra is arguably ‘associated with’ and/or ‘cooperating with’ Al-Qaeda. The Druze (a minority religion) of Idlib who were forced by Al-Qaeda to convert to Sunni Islam at gunpoint undeniably ‘cooperated’ with Al-Qaeda by giving up their religion instead of agreeing to be shot and the bill makes no allowance for ‘cooperation’ under duress or coercion. Civilian activists and democrats in rebel-held Idlib have struggled for years to win concessions from Al-Qaeda and its allies in the Army of Conquest concerning matters of local governance and recently made some headway. These pro-democracy forces also fall afoul of Gabbard’s bill since they are ‘associated with’ Al-Qaeda since they co-exist in the same area geographically and almost certainly have had contentious, adversarial meetings with Al-Qaeda commanders to resolve local disputes.
Sadly, Gabbard’s anti-terrorism ploy worked and in addition to two of the Republican co-sponsors of H.R. 4108, she got three Democrats to support H.R. 6504. On the plus side, the bill went to committee where it died again.
Shortly after returning from her politically disastrous trip to Syria, Gabbard reintroduced the text of H.R. 6504 into the House for the new Congress as H.R.608, the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act”— a mendacious and provocative name for a bill if there ever was one. The bill has six co-sponsors (mostly the same people who sponsored the two previous bills) but it has a major upside for Gabbard: free unwarranted publicity from the Alt-Right and Alt-Left.