Fortune favors the bold, but not the reckless.

And that’s what Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s mysterious trip to Syria and spur-of-the-moment meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad was.


As Hawaii well knows, the congresswoman is no stranger to speaking her mind or disobeying the party line. Indeed, that rogue, anti-establishment streak endears her to many.

But Gabbard’s recent trip to Syria was so much more than a maverick move. It was, at best, naive and irresponsible, and, at worst, insincere and counterproductive to her stated goal of ending the horrible conflict in Syria.

The majority of congressional leaders as well as foreign policy experts have maintained that any solution to the six-year Syrian conflict includes getting rid of Assad, who most people blame for mass atrocities and war crimes against his own citizens.

But Gabbard has been a vocal opponent of U.S. policy in Syria, arguing that regime change is ineffective and that the country would become more dangerous if Assad is ousted. In November, she even met with then-President-elect Donald Trump to discuss her position against aiding Syrian rebels, a position Trump has expressed support for.

Her views certainly have their merits: U.S. military involvement in regime change in the Middle East doesn’t have the best track record in recent years. But Gabbard’s talking points lately have gone much further than advocating for restraint or due diligence.

After her Syria trip, she’s been implying that anyone who opposes Assad is a terrorist — a viewpoint that the Assad regime and the Russian government have long propagated.

That similarity has raised eyebrows since, as Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin notes, “Principled opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria is one thing. Becoming a tool of a mass murderer’s propaganda and influence campaign is another.”

Whether she intended to or not, the optics surrounding Gabbard’s relationship with the Syrian regime suggest she has crossed the line to the latter.

First, the details about who financed the trip have gone from murky — largely because Gabbard has refused to discuss what she knew about the group paying for her trip — to more clear Tuesday when the pro-Syrian activist who led the visit acknowledged he and his brother were responsible for raising the money. The money was funneled through the Ohio chapter of the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACCESS—Ohio), a nonprofit whose tax filings show it has had no revenue or assets since 2006.

And while the congresswoman has defended her trip as a “fact-finding” mission — to discern for herself what is happening on the ground in Syria — it appears her tour guide and the trip’s organizer has ties to Assad.

Cleveland businessman Bassam Khawam facilitated Gabbard’s meeting with Assad and got the congresswoman access to areas under the protection of government forces.

It is not unsurprising, therefore, that the Syrians Gabbard spoke to were loyal to Assad and claimed that the current U.S. policy against him is causing more harm than good.

“As I visited with people from across the country,” she said in a statement, “and heard heartbreaking stories of how this war has devastated their lives, I was asked, ‘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.’ I had no answer.”

Gabbard’s noble motivations are also undermined by the fact that she clearly fell victim to confirmation bias. The evidence she gathered from her “fact-finding” trip conveniently supports the position she has already taken on Syria and the legislation she has already written.

The Syrians she spoke to told her that, by arming anti-Syrian government rebels, the U.S. was assisting terrorists.

“Repeatedly I was told there is no difference between ‘moderate’ rebels and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) or ISIS — they are all the same,” Gabbard wrote in an opinion piece in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

This viewpoint supports the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which Gabbard introduced in December. The measure would make it a crime for the U.S. government to provide assistance, inadvertently or not, to terrorist groups or any country that has given direct or indirect support to terrorist groups.

While it’s safe to say no American wants taxpayer money going to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, it’s highly unlikely Gabbard will receive much support for her proposal. In addition to the fact that the situation on the ground is much more complex than the binary option (terrorist vs. pro-Assad) that Gabbard is painting, her decision to meet with Assad hasn’t endeared her to congressional colleagues.

Gabbard didn’t inform any of them — Republican or Democrat — about her trip and she has been mysteriously tight-lipped about it since returning. This has angered some of her colleagues, especially those on the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.

Boldness is a trademark of Gabbard, but if her true goal is to promote her foreign policy agenda, she’s going to need friends in Congress. Meeting with Assad may have raised her own profile (in addition to the national media attention, Gabbard’s husband, Abraham Williams, produced a campaign ad-style video about the trip), but it almost certainly dooms her efforts to effect meaningful change.

Unless, of course, she continues to curry favor with Trump. Back in November, rumors were swirling that she was being considered for jobs at the Defense Department, State Department and the United Nations — rumors that some of Trump’s more controversial supporters are happy to ramp up again in light of Gabbard’s Assad meeting.

In a tweet, white supremacist Richard B. Spencer said Gabbard is “brave and the kind of person we need in the diplomatic corps.”  David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, also tweeted his support for Gabbard, saying she was “speaking the truth.”

Gabbard swiftly denounced Spencer, but that kind of support further highlights the unsavory reality of Gabbard’s Assad meeting.

Gabbard has legitimate concerns about U.S. policy in Syria. But while she billed this as a listening-to-all-sides trip, she came back clearly on the side of a murderous despot.

That’s a brazen stance to take, even in Trump’s America.

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