Democratic presidential candidate and congresswoman from Hawaii Tulsi Gabbard, appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, repeatedly defended Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, refusing to denounce him either as an “enemy” or even an “adversary.”
“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” declared Gabbard, who had previously met with Assad. “We have to look to who poses a threat to the United States.”
It is, frankly, very disturbing that Gabbard has been taken in by Assad’s propaganda. The State Department has listed Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism for the past several decades. Syria provides support for myriad terrorist groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all of which openly maintain offices in Damascus.
The Syrian government also provides material support to Hezbollah, the terrorist organization responsible for the 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon that resulted in the deaths of 241 American servicemen.
Yet, Gabbard seems to think that Assad is all that stands in the way of al-Qaeda and ISIS taking over Syria. In fact, the Assad regime has both directly and indirectly been a major supporter of al-Qaeda for years. Syria has harbored al-Qaeda terrorists responsible for the 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca, as well as the 2004 Madrid train bombings, among others.
Assad and al-Qaeda have historically enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, especially when the Syrian dictator needs them to attack his enemies. In 2002, notorious jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi set up an al-Qaeda cell in Syria to carry out the assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley outside his home in Amman. Syrian al-Qaeda operatives have also attempted to destabilize and overthrow the governments of Jordan and Lebanon, at times with the direct support of senior Syrian intelligence officials.
Syria has also provided a critical lifeline to the Iraqi insurgency since 2003, which would eventually morph into ISIS, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Iraqis. In fact, almost all foreign al-Qaeda volunteers in Iraq entered via Syria (with the full awareness of Assad and his top aides).
Assad has the blood of thousands on his hands, including that of Tulsi Gabbard’s fellow American servicemen and women. Gabbard’s insistence that Assad is not an enemy of the U.S. is astounding.
Assad released the majority of the ISIS leadership from his jails in a calculated decision to discredit and radicalize the Syrian opposition at the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Assad avoided fighting ISIS to enable their cannibalization of the more secular, pro-democratic opposition backed by Western powers. Assad continued to support ISIS by purchasing millions of dollars worth of oil from the terror group. At one point, sales to Assad peaked at 72% of ISIS oil revenues.
Gabbard has been taken in by this murderous dictator. The question is whether that is a testament to Assad’s ability as a master manipulator, or proof positive that Gabbard is unfit to serve in the highest office in the land.
Bradley Martin is a Senior Fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center