Still seeking clarity from Gabbard

Leinani Springer and I are good friends and have been for years. I appreciate her thoughtful response to my letter about Tulsi Gabbard’s responses on her visit to Syria. Normally, I’d continue this conversation privately but have been heartened by the dozens of people who have stopped me and said effectively, “Thanks for speaking up.” So, let’s continue the conversation publicly.

Gabbard’s responses were well-crafted politically, and she’s skilled with connection, public speaking and heart. Those skills can just as easily be used to obfuscate. Most Americans have bought something they didn’t really want at least once from a skilled salesperson. Without more data, Gabbard’s incomplete answers only lead me to more questions. After all, timing is everything. This visit to Syria was just after the most controversial election of our lifetimes.

We are presented with more vetted evidence that the current administration colluded with a foreign adversary to win the presidency. That foreign adversary, Russia, is deeply-aligned with the Assad regime. These are the things that stick my attention and demand greater clarity for Gabbard to regain my full support:

w Why did she take the trip at that time? Gabbard is a Democrat. She had eight years to go meet with Obama and then make this trip. Instead, she was the first Democrat to visit Trump Tower fresh off this controversial election and then traveled to Syria while most Democratic women nationwide were participating in the Women’s March, possibly the largest public protest in American history.

w Gabbard’s public statement was that this was simply a humanitarian trip and that the meeting with Assad happened, almost as if, by chance. Are we really supposed to believe that this meeting wasn’t planned? It sounds much better to say a “humanitarian trip” than to say, “I’m going to meet with and thereby give legitimacy to a falsely-elected dictator who is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of his own people to maintain power.” Had she publicly revealed a plan to meet with Assad in advance, the outcry would have come before the trip as it would have gone against a long-standing U.S. protocol of U.S. officials not meeting with and thereby giving legitimacy to governments our country believes are false or dangerous to the populations they are sworn to protect.

w Gabbard was co-chair of the Democratic National Convention before stepping down. I’m dipping my toe in the conspiracy waters here, so I’ll pose it as a public call for a response: I’d like Mrs. Gabbard to attest that there was not compromising material in the DNC hack that was used to pressure her to help to smooth U.S.-Syria tensions, and by default, Russian relations. We have no evidence of this, but it’s not impossible in the current climate. This would have been asked in advance by the press had the Assad meeting were disclosed in advance of the trip to Syria.

w The organization that funded her trip was controversial enough that Gabbard had to change position and end up paying for the trip herself. At best, the group is veritably pro-Assad. Other legitimate reports tie it to a fascist party in Syria and anti-Semitic rhetoric, though those charges are less clear.

From my point of view, there are two legitimate reasons for Gabbard’s trip: There are no good options in Syria. If Assad is toppled, the outcome might be worse, like Iraq. For better or worse, we should deal with Assad for now. The second legitimate answer is less pretty but necessary: I’m a skilled and ambitious politician. I have a vision for the country that is better than what we are currently doing and eventually I’d like to run for higher office and help implement that vision. Unfortunately, I’m a woman so I’ll be unfairly criticized. I need to differentiate myself as not afraid of international issues and having a clear voice on military action. This is one of the ways I will do that.

Either or both answers could be true and while I might not agree with them, I’d respect them and they’d pass the smell test. I wouldn’t be wondering whose side my congressional representative is on, which I am now. Either answer also would have led to criticism and debate and potential push back from constituents, which is part of the job of a Representative to handle.

Calling the trip “humanitarian,” having a “chance” meeting with a brutal dictator and then dodging fact-finding on those details is not okay with me in the current climate.

Another friend, who is a wonderful woman with a big heart and a generous spirit, sent me a news article that defended Gabbard and Assad, speculating all kinds of reasons for the trip. I first had to point out that we shouldn’t have to speculate about the reasons for the trip. Tulsi has real answers to these questions and can put our minds at ease. I then had to gently point out that the article the friend had sent me was from a Moscow publication.

America is at a crucial point. I’m not going down without a fight.

•••

Jason Blake is a Lihue resident.

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