Last week, a federal judge ruled that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad murdered American journalist Marie Colvin in 2012, ordering it to pay more than $300 million in damages to her family.
Colvin, a correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times, was killed in a shelling attack while working in a makeshift press center in Homs, Syria. According to the judge's opinion, the evidence "shows officials at the highest level of the Syrian government carefully planned and executed the artillery assault on the [media center] for the specific purpose of killing the journalists inside."
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Apparently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), a 2020 presidential candidate, either did not see any reports on Jackson's ruling, or she does not believe that a foreign dictator murdering an American citizen is a hostile act. How else should one interpret her comments on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Wednesday, the latest stop on her shameful and bizarre years-long campaign to defend Assad, appropriately nicknamed the Butcher of Damascus, from any and all criticism.
"Assad is not the enemy of the United States, because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States," Gabbard said, echoing her usual anti-interventionist talking points. "My point is that whether it is Syria or any of these other countries, we need to look at how their interests are counter to or aligned with ours."
Gabbard was repeatedly pressed to say what Assad is to the United States if not an "enemy" or an "adversary," and she repeatedly deflected the question, implying that the dictator and Washington share common interests. She even refused to say that Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, only saying "it's possible," despite ample evidence that he has deployed chemical agents dozens of times since 2011, when the Syrian conflict began.
Watching Gabbard stumble through her answers to avoid criticizing Assad with a strange smile on her face, one could be forgiven for mistaking her for Assad's spokeswoman. Her efforts to parrot talking points from Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus have been remarkably successful.
And Gabbard was not done when the interview ended. "Syria/Assad did not attack us on 9/11, killing thousands of Americans—al-Qaeda did," she tweeted later. "No Authorization to Use Military Force has ever passed Congress to go to war against Syria. If US topples Assad, Al-Qaeda/ISIS will take over. Why do you prefer them to Assad?"
Gabbard's tweet either illustrates mind numbing ignorance or shameful—and horrifying—dishonesty. Neither one makes for a promising commander in chief. One should ask her: how is Assad murdering an American journalist with artillery any better than the Islamic State murdering an American hostage with a knife?
But first, the most obvious point: the Assad regime, along with Russia and Iran, has slaughtered about 500,000 Syrians since 2011, and displaced millions more. Assad's brutality triggered a massive refugee crisis that not only destabilized neighboring countries—including U.S. allies like Jordan—but also much of Europe. Assad is still in power only because he, aided by his Russian and Iranian overlords, has been willing to be so cruel, so brutal, so savage—all in the face of Western indifference—to lose any vestige of humanity. Assad will be remembered as the greatest monster of the early 21st century. That alone should disqualify him from being defended.
Beyond basic morality, Assad poses a strategic threat to the United States, allowing Iran to continue its imperial expansion across the Middle East in its quest for regional preeminence. Iran's aggression, bolstered by Russian support, is the chief threat to the United States in the Middle East. The reason is simple: a powerful Islamic Republic threatens America's most important interests in the region—from ensuring the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, to protecting key allies like Israel, to countering nuclear proliferation.
For those who do not buy the notion that Iran poses a greater threat than Sunni jihadist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State, Iran has an extensive history of both helping these organizations and fueling their recruitment by pursuing sectarian, pro-Shi'ite policies. Oh, and there is the small detail that Iran is the world's foremost state sponsor of terrorism.
Iran is not alone, however. Assad has played the most cynical of games during the Syrian conflict, strengthening Islamist terrorist groups, like ISIS and al Qaeda, to discredit opposition forces and ensure that the West does not intervene against him. The story is too long to outline here, but journalist Roy Gutman has detailed Assad's collusion with the ISIS terrorists in an essential three-part series—from releasing thousands of jihadists from Syria's prisons to staging bombings, and much more.
The story goes back even further. Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, explains in his book, The Syrian Jihad, how, during the Iraq war, thousands of jihadists entered the battlefield to fight and kill American troops from Syria. Many even crossed the border in Syrian government buses. In other words, the Assad regime facilitated al Qaeda in Iraq's efforts to kill Americans—the same Americans with whom Gabbard served in the war.
The argument that Assad is a bulwark against terrorists has always been absurd. Indeed, the notion would be laughable if its twisted logic had not been used to defend his savage, beast-like brutality.
In defending Assad, Gabbard has lost all credibility, if she ever had any, to discuss human rights and to define America's national security interests. Her views on foreign policy are shameful, and should be widely condemned as such. But what is worse is that her man in Damascus will remain in power for the foreseeable future, and is unlikely ever to be held accountable for his war crimes. He survives in large part because of the West's cowardice, indifference, and sheer stupidity—all abetted by the arguments that Gabbard makes on a regular basis.