US Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has just departed Damascus following a trip her aides described as a “fact finding” mission to work toward ending the nearly six year conflict in Syria, according to Foreign Policy Website.
Congressional travel to the devastated country is exceedingly rare, especially as fighting continues in direct violation of a recent ceasefire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia. This week, Syrian government forces backed by Lebanese fighters attempted to recapture a terrorist-controlled area near Damascus that includes a pumping station that supplies most of the city’s water.
Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran who drew speculation about an appointment in the Trump administration after she met privately with the president-elect in November, has frequently bucked her party and Washington’s foreign policy establishment in debates over the Syrian conflict.
For years, she has opposed a U.S. policy of regime change and says the country will become more unstable and dangerous if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is dethroned.
In describing the purpose of the trip, Gabbard spokeswoman Emily Latimer said she “felt it was important to meet with a number of individuals and groups including religious leaders, humanitarian workers, refugees and government and community leaders.”
Earlier this month, she introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would prohibit the U.S. government from providing funding and weapons to militant groups working to overthrow the government, such as the Levant Front, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and al Qaeda.
In interviews, she has called for the U.S. to abandon its goal of removing Assad and focus on eliminating the ISIL and al Qaeda.
“Gabbard has long been committed to peace and ending counterproductive, interventionist wars,” her spokeswoman told Foreign Policy.
When asked if Gabbard met with President Assad, Latimer declined to comment, citing security and logistical concerns.
“I don’t think Assad should be removed,” Gabbard told CNN. “If Assad is removed and overthrown, ISIL, al Qaeda, Al Nusra, these extremist groups will walk straight in and take over all of Syria … they will be even stronger.”
After Gabbard met with Trump in November she issued a statement saying the president-elect “asked me to meet with him about our current policies regarding Syria, our fight against terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL.”
“Where I disagree with President-elect Trump on issues, I will not hesitate to express that disagreement,” she added. “However, I believe we can disagree, even strongly, but still come together on issues that matter to the American people and affect their daily lives.”