AUSTIN, Texas — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii, is spearheading a bipartisan effort to force the United States to stop arming extremist groups in Syria.
The bill, known as the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, would make it illegal for U.S. funds to be spent in ways that directly or indirectly support terrorist groups such as al-Qaida and Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL).
“The bill singles out ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the ‘rebranded’ version of al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front) and forbids support to them, their allies,” Jason Ditz reported for Antiwar.com on Thursday.
Gabbard is a distinguished veteran of the Hawaii Army National Guard who has served in the Middle East. In the House, she serves on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees.
Co-sponsors of the bill come from both sides of the aisle and around the country: Reps. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont; Barbara Lee, a Democrat from California; Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California; and Thomas Massie, a Republican from Kentucky.
In a speech introducing the bill to the House on Thursday, Gabbard accused the U.S. government of breaking its own laws while seeking regime change in Syria. She explained:
“Under U.S. law, it is illegal for you or me, or any American, to provide any type of assistance to al-Qaida, ISIS or other terrorist groups. If we broke this law we’d be thrown in jail. Yet the U.S. government has been breaking this law for years, directly and indirectly supporting allies and partners of groups like al-Qaida and ISIS with money, weapons, intelligence, and other support in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Officially, the U.S. government has offered training, intelligence, and assistance to so-called “moderate” rebel groups in Syria, but there’s ample evidence that this materiel has freely flowed to terrorist groups opposed to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Several rebel groups scattered or defected after receiving U.S. training, and according to a December 2015 episode of the BBC Radio 4 series “The Report,” American and British military aid to the so-called “moderate” rebels is treated like a “Wal-Mart” for extremists.
WikiLeaks’ archives of U.S. diplomatic cables show that the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel have been planning since at least 2006 to provoke strife and civil war in the region as a means to overthrow the Syrian government.
Even the U.S. mainstream media has been forced to acknowledge the growing ties between rebels and extremists. In November, The New York Times reported on the efforts by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, to rebrand itself as Jabhat al-Sham in order to outwardly distance itself from al-Qaida and attract more U.S. government aid. As a result, as the Wall Street Journal reported in September, other Syrian rebel groups are growing increasingly brazen in their cooperation with al-Qaida.
“This alliance has rendered the phrase ‘moderate rebels’ meaningless,” Gabbard declared in her speech.
“We must stop this madness. We must stop arming terrorists,” she concluded.
Gabbard’s alliance of representatives could receive the support of the incoming administration. Last month, President-elect Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he was likely to abandon U.S. efforts to arm Syrian rebels. “We have no idea who these people are,” he said.
However, as the president-elect fills his Cabinet with generals and others with ties to the military-industrial complex, it remains to be seen if or how he’ll follow through on this promise to curb U.S. empire-building in the Middle East.