Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI., who secretly met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a four-day trip to the war-stricken nation in January, condemned President Donald Trump’s airstrike on the regime’s airbases Thursday night, saying the “short-sighted” action will lead to “more dead civilians.”
The representative told news outlets at the time she spoke with Assad in an effort to create a dialogue that could one day lead to a viable peace agreement. But because of U.S. attacks on Syrian forces as a response to a reported chemical attack on innocent civilians led by the Assad regime Wednesday, Gabbard said it will now be more difficult to hold the Syrian leader accountable for the war crimes he’s been accused of.
“It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government,” Gabbard, an Iraqi war veteran, said Thursday night. “This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of Al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.”
The U.S. decidedly stayed out of the Syrian civil war, beginning in 2011, under former President Barack Obama. Though his administration considered military intervention after another reported chemical attack in 2013, the move was denied by a Republican-led Congress. The U.S. Embassy in Syria closed in 2012.
Gabbard’s closed-door meeting with the Syrian president came at a time when both nations’ governments weren’t communicating, making the trip all the more controversial. The rising Democratic star was criticized for not alerting Congressional leadership of her visit ahead of time.
“Assad has exterminated hundreds of thousands of Syrians,” Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA., said in a statement January. “This trip was not authorized by the committee, and it was just wrong.”
The representative said she was determined to seek a peaceful close to the Syrian conflict, responsible for displacing upwards of 11 million people since the violence began.
“When the opportunity arose to meet with [Assad], I did so because I felt that it’s important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we can achieve peace,” Gabbard said in a CNN interview after her visit. “My commitment is on ending this war that has caused so much suffering to the Syrian people, to these children, to these families, many of whom I met on this trip.”
Gabbard said Thursday she was hoping for a complete prosecution of the Syrian leader following Wednesday’s deadly attacks on civilians in the northern province of Idlib, but U.S. attacks could compromise a full investigation from ever occurring.
“This administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning,” Gabbard said Thursday. “If President Assad is indeed guilty of this horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians, I will be the first to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court. However, because of our attack on Syria, this investigation may now not even be possible. And without such evidence, a successful prosecution will be much harder.”