Gabbard’s Syria visit showed courage

I welcome my friend Jason Blake’s invitation to continue our public conversation about Tulsi Gabbard and her visit to Syria, a visit that included two, one-on-one discussions with Bashar al-Assad. Jason raises points worthy of consideration. He provides a healthy skepticism to the effects and motives of Rep. Gabbard’s visit.

Regarding Syria, as I see it, two diametrically opposed views are in contention:

• Those who believe that Bashar al-Assad is an illegitimate and ruthless ruler of Syria, the source of the conflict, who must be overthrown, even if this means supporting the efforts of Al Qaida and ISIS until this is accomplished;

• Those who view the conflict as a war between Islamic terrorists seeking to impose a theocracy on the country versus, like it or not, the legitimate head of the secular government, whatever his faults, who must be part of any viable solution. Many in the U.S. have opted for the first approach. This has meant that substantial arms have been made available in support of Islamic terrorists, contributing to the ongoing destruction and suffering in the country and strengthening groups that have caused widespread destruction throughout Europe and, of course, the United States, in addition to Syria. Rep. Gabbard is sponsoring legislation intended to have the United States stop arming terrorist acts.

The Syrian conflict is ongoing and seemingly without satisfactory solution, as Jason acknowledges. Rep. Gabbard stepped into this quagmire: She arranged a trip to Syria and, as the opportunity presented itself, held two private meetings with al-Assad. Jason alleges that these “… gave legitimacy to a falsely-elected dictator who is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of his own people to maintain power.” Rep. Gabbard has argued that her visit hardly could have had the effect of legitimatizing al-Assad’s position, that her purpose was to do whatever she could to bring about peace. Jason then posits two reasons he could accept for Rep. Gabbard’s action:

• If Assad were to be toppled, the outcome could make the situation even worse for the Syrian people — “For better or worse, we should deal with Assad now;”

• Assuming Rep. Gabbard has ambitions for higher office, such a bold step (talking directly with al-Assad) would strengthen her claim to her ability to deal with international issues and show her having a clear voice on military action. While Jason would not necessarily agree with these positions, he could accept them as legitimate.

Fine. Then let’s agree that Rep. Gabbard’s motives are not either humanitarian or for personal gain, but that they may be multiple — all of these. That she acted with courage and independence is indicated by the degree of comment and criticism she has endured and to which she has responded. Written accounts of what happened and numerous interviews she has given about the visit surely provide evidence of a thoughtful and sincere individual seeking to act responsibly and effectively in a situation to which there are no certain or easy answers.

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Leinani Springer is a resident of Poipu.

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