The Nation: Tulsi Gabbard on the Administration’s Push for War in Syria

September 21, 2018
In The News

On September 13, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard took to the floor of the House to rebuke the administration, accusing President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence of protecting “al-Qaeda and other jihadist forces in Syria,” all the while “threatening Russia, Syria, and Iran, with military force if they dare attack these terrorists.”

“This,” continued Gabbard, “is a betrayal of the American people, especially the victims of Al Qaeda’s attack on 9/11 and their families, first responders, and my brothers and sisters in uniform who have been killed or wounded in action and their families. For the President, who is Commander in Chief, to act as the protective big brother of al-Qaeda and other jihadists must be condemned by every Member of Congress.”

I spoke to Gabbard earlier this week about her opposition to Trump’s Syria policy.

James Carden: In June you and Republican Congressman Walter Jones introduced HR 922, the No More Presidential Wars Resolution, which would both define presidential wars not declared by Congress under Article I, section 8, clause 11 as impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” as well as prohibit the president from perpetuating ongoing wars or from supplying, among other things, war materials, military troops, military intelligence, and financial support without first receiving congressional authorization.

While the policy of attacking Syria clearly fails on a moral, legal, and consequentialist grounds, it also will likely backfire on realist grounds. What is your view in terms of who would benefit and who would suffer from a US-led attack on Syria?

Tulsi Gabbard: In the short term, President Trump would benefit the most. The president loves being adored and praised, and despite his rants against them, he especially craves the favor of the media. Trump remembers very well that the only times he has been praised almost universally by the mainstream media, Republicans, and Democrats, was when he has engaged in aggressive military actions. Brian Williams, Fareed Zakaria and others could hardly contain their delight. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said, “Donald Trump became president of the United States” the moment the bombs started dropping. MSNBC’s Brian Williams praised the launching of US missiles, saying, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” The Washington Post’s David Ignatius said that he thought that by taking this action, Trump “restored the credibility of American power.”

Right now, President Trump’s approval ratings are dropping, and he craves positive reinforcement. He and his team are making a political calculation and looking for any excuse or opportunity to launch another military attack, so that Trump can again be glorified for dropping bombs.

Others who would gain the most are Al Qaeda and all the terrorist organizations who are wanting to keep alive the regime-change war against Assad. Their war to overthrow Assad is about to end. They’re finally facing defeat. A US attack that significantly weakens the Syrian military and would be a gift to these terrorist groups who want to overthrow the government and set up a Sunni Extremist theocracy in Damascus. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar would be the beneficiaries.

The military-industrial complex and others who profit from the continuation of these regime-change wars will benefit.

Who would suffer the most? The Syrian people, who are pleading to be left alone so they can try to rebuild their country. When I visited Syria, people shared their desperation with me, asking me to share their message with the American people: “We’re not begging for your money or your help. We are simply begging you to stop supporting the terrorists who are destroying our country. Please let us live in peace!”

A US attack will increase the likelihood of more US troop casualties, injuries, and suffering, and billions more dollars of taxpayer money wasted, that could instead be used to improve the lives of the American people.

JC: One of the problems with the conflict in Syria is in the language that is used to describe it. The media and many policy-makers tend to use deliberately vague or opaque language when describing what has been going on there for the past six to seven years. So today we hear that Idlib province is “rebel held” that is “holding out” against an imminent attack (possibly with the use of chemical weapons) by Assad. But describing those who control Idlib today merely as “rebels” seems to obscure more than it illuminates: Is it a peaceful, moderate band of rebels who are currently in control of Idlib? What do you suppose would happen to Christians, Druze, Alawites, and the non-practicing if such “rebels” were able, with the help of the US and Turkey (among others) to overthrow Assad and expand their control over Syria?

TG: I believe it would strike most Americans as absolutely insane that the president of the United States, his vice president, UN ambassador, secretary of state, and the mainstream media describe the very terrorist entities that were responsible for the attack on 9/11 as “rebels.”

Since we know that they know Al Qaeda is the primary force in control of Idlib, we can only conclude that they no longer consider Al Qaeda to be a terrorist organization or the enemy.

General Joseph Dunford, as well as the UN, have confirmed that Idlib is controlled by 20,000 to 30,000 Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Brett McGurk, the administration’s special envoy to counter ISIS, said that, “Idlib is Al Qaeda’s largest safe haven since 9/11.”

So there is no ambiguity about the situation: The United States is acting as the big brother and protector of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in Syria.

The real question is why.

We’ve been waging a regime change war in Syria since 2011. Central to that war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad, along with our allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, has been providing direct and indirect support to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda who are effectively serving as our ground force in that regime-change war, enabling them to grow in numbers and strength in Syria.

Now, President Trump and his cabinet of warhawks are concerned that if Al Qaeda is defeated in Idlib, then our regime-change war to overthrow the Syrian government will be over.

There is no doubt that if the United States and its allies are successful in their war to topple Assad, the most powerful forces on the ground (Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups) would take over, and religious minorities or anyone who disagreed with Al Qaeda’s theology/ideology would be targeted. When I visited Syria, I met with Christian leaders in Aleppo who took me to a few of their historic churches that had been targeted and bombed to rubble by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS who adhere to the extreme Wahhabi Salafi ideology, propagated by Saudi Arabia around the world, believing that unless you adhere to their extremist exclusivist ideology, then you must be killed or enslaved.

Just last week, President Trump and Vice President Pence delivered solemn speeches about the attacks on 9/11, honoring the victims of Al Qaeda’s attack on our country. Yet they continue to protect Al Qaeda and other terrorist forces in Syria, and have threatened “dire consequences” and an illegal war against Russia, Syria, and Iran if they dare attack these terrorists—potentially putting our country on a path towards World War III. The Trump administration’s continued protection of Al Qaeda is a betrayal of the American people, especially the victims of 9/11, first-responders, my brothers and sisters in uniform who have been killed or wounded in action, and their families. It’s a betrayal of the American people who have had trillions of dollars taken from their wallets, ostensibly to defeat the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11, only to find Al Qaeda is stronger today than ever before.

This is not a partisan issue. Every American—Democrat, Republican, independent—must condemn this betrayal by our commander in chief. This regime-change war in Syria and US alliance with Al Qaeda and other terrorists must end now.

JC: One will often hear neocons and liberal interventionists (surely by now a distinction without a difference) warn against over-learning the lessons of Iraq. Which is kind of an odd concern. In your years in Congress have you seen any evidence that those lessons have been actually been learned by the political and media establishments in the first place?

TG: No. Based on our country’s continued counterproductive regime-change war policies, it is clear that leaders on both sides of the aisle have not learned the painful lessons of decades of interventionist regime-change wars, most recently in Iraq, Libya, and now Syria. The result has been costly for the American people, in human lives and taxpayer dollars, and devastating for the people of these countries, where countless lives have been lost, humanitarian crises created, with refugees’ being forced from their homes, and the utter destruction of their way of life.

I recently fought to strip a provision from the 2018 defense-authorization bill that essentially authorizes the secretaries of state and defense to go to war with Iran. Only 60 members of Congress supported my amendment.

While many members of Congress and the Trump administration rail against Iran and are calling for US troops to remain in Syria indefinitely to counter Iran’s influence and presence there, they refuse to acknowledge the fact that the United States regime-change war in Syria has greatly strengthened Iran’s presence and influence in that country. In other words, the Syrian government of Assad has become much more dependent upon and beholden to Iran and Russia, due to our efforts to overthrow their government. This obviously does not serve the national interests of the United States or Israel.

Furthermore, Iran’s presence and influence in Iraq was zero before we overthrew Saddam Hussein. Now Iran is the dominant power in Iraq.

The problem is that our leaders are either extremely shortsighted, or they’re consciously working against the interests of the United States and our allies. The undeniable truth is that the direct result of our overthrowing the regimes of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, and our efforts to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, has greatly increased the presence and influence of Russia and Iran, as well as Al Qaeda and other jihadists, in all three of those countries.

In short, we have spent trillions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of American lives in order to help those we consider to be our enemies or adversaries. Who needs enemies when we have leaders like this?

JC: President Trump has, over the past year with the addition of John Bolton and the elevation of Mike Pompeo to secretary of state, assembled what might fairly be called a “war cabinet.” Yet, with the notable exceptions of yourself, Representative Ro Khanna, Representative Walter Jones, and Senator Rand Paul, some, but not too may, voices have been raised against the specter of yet another disastrous war in the Greater Middle East. What do you think explains the the silence?

TG: I think there are a number of reasons for this. Some people mean well—they see pictures of children suffering and are moved to want to do something to try to alleviate that suffering. But too often they are shortsighted, waging regime-change wars and dropping bombs, without realizing their actions will likely increase the suffering of the very people they say they want to help.

Others simply do not care that they will cause unnecessary suffering.

Others may be concerned about how speaking out against regime-change wars may impact their political “career” or campaign. They don’t want to be slandered as being “pro-dictator” by the media and on social media. If you were against the regime-change war in Iraq, you’re a Saddam lover. If you were against the regime change war in Libya, you’re a Gaddafi lover. If you ask for evidence before launching a US military attack against a sovereign nation without congressional approval, you will have leaders like Howard Dean saying, “This is a disgrace. This person should not be in Congress!” Our politicians see leading Republicans and Democrats joining hands to smear anyone who stands up against regime-change wars.

Some remain silent because they don’t have the strength to stand up against the corporate lobbyists.

Every politician wants to see themselves as great humanitarians. But sadly, and dangerously, many fail to realize that all too often the path to hell is paved with good intentions.

These well-meaning people make decisions based on emotions, without considering the consequences of their actions. If they see children suffering, and are told by the media that Mr. X is responsible for that suffering, they feel a moral responsibility to get rid of Mr. X.

But they do so without thinking through the consequences of their actions and the likelihood that their decisions will end up causing infinitely greater human suffering.

Just look at the situation in Libya. In order to “save” the Libyan people, we completely destroyed their country. It’s a failed state. They are under the domination of terrorists and slave merchants where women and children are publicly sold in marketplaces. It’s hell on earth. Yet we have not heard a single apology to the Libyan people from any American or European leader who was responsible for this regime-change war. These leaders are not interested in the wasteland that they left behind—they’re too busy planning and promoting new regime-change wars.

The proclamations being made by President Trump, Ambassador Nikki Haley, Secretary Mike Pompeo, and John Bolton about trying to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and civilian casualties in Idlib, Syria, ring especially hollow. They seem to have completely forgotten our attacks on Mosul and Raqqa—which resulted in many thousands of civilian casualties.

The Trump administration’s proclamations of humanitarianism are just a pretext to protect Al Qaeda and other terrorist forces we have allied with in our quest to overthrow the Syrian government. The bottom line is we don’t want them killed because they work for us. Their interests are our interests, and vice versa.

If the Trump administration and leaders in Congress really cared about preventing civilian casualties, they would end all US support for Saudi Arabia and condemn their genocidal war in Yemen that has killed thousands of civilians with bombs, caused millions to suffer due to forced starvation and cholera, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

If they were truly concerned about human suffering, they would most certainly not take action to increase the likelihood of direct conflict with Iran or Russia—which could lead to World War III and suffering beyond our imagination.

If they were truly concerned about the suffering of the Syrian people, then they would recognize that intervening to protect the terrorists who are trying to overthrow the Syrian government will simply prolong the war and lead to more suffering for the Syrian people.

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