During her trip, she spoke with civilians, religious leaders, opposition leaders, and President Assad.
Gabbard described her privately-funded seven-day trip to Lebanon and Syria as a “fact-finding mission” to learn the truth about the war by speaking directly to the Syrian people. The itinerary was kept secret until Gabbard’s return to the US for security reasons.
Gabbard travelled to Beirut, and then to Damascus and Aleppo, where she spoke with Syrian students, entrepreneurs, academics, and aid workers. She also received firsthand accounts of the conflict from refugees displaced by the war.
She met with a number of religious leaders, including The Grand Mufti of Syria Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun and Archbishop Denys Antoine Chahda, who heads the Syrian Catholic Church of Aleppo.
Gabbard also met with several leaders of the Syrian opposition who spearheaded anti-government protests in 2011. She says some of them believe that the originally peaceful uprising was hijacked by jihadists “funded and supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, the United States.”
Contrary to the official US narrative that terrorist groups such as Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS, ISIL) and Al-Nusra Front could be “separated” from the moderate opposition which fights by their side, Gabbard said that the Syrian people she talked with do not distinguish between the various militant groups.
The U.S. must stop supporting terrorists who are destroying Syria and her people.https://t.co/Gngsh01XCB
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 26, 2017
“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,” Gabbard said, describing the essence of the Syrian conflict as “a war between terrorists under the command of groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and the Syrian government.”
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 25, 2017
Gabbard confessed she lacked any plausible explanations to offer the Syrian people about the role of the US in the lingering conflict, as she was asked questions like: “Why is the United States and its allies helping al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups try to take over Syria? Syria did not attack the United States. Al-Qaeda did.”
The Syrian people caught in this war “cry out for the U.S. and other countries to stop supporting those who are destroying Syria and her people,” Gabbard wrote in a blog post, adding that it is the message they asked her to convey to the world, as it has been constantly muted by “one-sided biased reports pushing a narrative that supports this regime change war at the expense of Syrian lives.”
The Congresswoman revealed upon her return that she had also met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, noting that she was not originally planning to meet him, but could not pass up the opportunity in hopes of making a difference. She did not elaborate on the details of the meeting.
“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 can achieve peace,” Gabbard told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Brushing off criticism over the perceived ethical issues that might arise from the meeting, Gabbard said that dialogue is an indispensable prerequisite on the road to any peaceful settlement.
“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria,” Gabbard said, stressing that “in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur there has to be a conversation with him.”
An Iraq War veteran and member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, Gabbard is known for her sharp criticism of former US President Barack Obama’s interventionist policy in the Middle East.
Her Syria trip became a talking point within the US establishment immediately after it was announced, with some pundits alleging she intends to cozy up to the Syrian government.
In December, Gabbard introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, designed to prevent the US government from providing direct assistance to terrorist groups and to “prohibit the Federal government from funding assistance to countries that are directly or indirectly supporting those terrorist groups.
The people of Syria are crying for peace, asking the US to stop arming terrorist "rebels" who are destroying Syria. https://t.co/tu0O5ThBvc
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 25, 2017
“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”, Gabbard wrote.
Gabbard believes Washington should shift its approach from attempting to overthrow the Syrian government to actually combating terrorist groups. She says the US has been repeating the same foreign policy pattern “from Iraq to Libya and now in Syria,” with its pursuit of regime change which, she argues, has only brought about “unimaginable suffering, devastating loss of life” and contributed to “the strengthening of groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.”
“I return to Washington, DC with even greater resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government,” Gabbard wrote in her blog post.