Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii introduced the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” this week. She talks to NPR’s Scott Simon about the bill and how it relates to US involvement in Syria.
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has been awfully busy. She was at Trump Tower in New York recently and met with President-elect Trump. And then, this week, she introduced a bill in the House called the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, joins us now from her office. Thanks very much for being with us.
TULSI GABBARD: Aloha. Wonderful to join you and your listeners.
SIMON: What would your Stop Arming Terrorists bill accomplish?
GABBARD: Very simply, it addresses an urgent action that is necessary. Right now, under current U.S. law, it wouldn’t surprise people to know that it is illegal for any American to provide any support, whether it’s money, weapons or other assistance, to al-Qaida or ISIS or other terrorist groups.
Yet the U.S. government has been violating this law for years by quietly supporting allies, partners, individuals and groups who are working directly with al-Qaida, ISIS, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and other terrorist groups by providing them with money, weapons and intelligence support in their fight to overthrow the Syrian government.
SIMON: Well, what about the argument, Representative Gabbard, that it’s a big, messy world, and you just can’t hope to keep your hands entirely clean if you’re going to try and keep the world safe, and that, sometimes, strategic alliances have to be struck with some unlovely people? I mean, we certainly did that to survive in World War II.
GABBARD: Well, I’d like to just point directly to what is happening in Syria today, where we are providing – the United States is providing – this direct and indirect support to terrorist groups in order to overthrow the Syrian government. So we will end up with a situation where not only will the Syrian people be under greater human suffering and an even more dire situation. We will end up with al-Qaida now having far greater military capability, far greater strength and posing a greater threat not only to the region but to the United States and the rest of the world.
SIMON: Let me follow up on this, Representative Gabbard. Are you really holding the Syrian rebels more responsible for the death and destruction in Aleppo, for example, than the Assad regime?
GABBARD: I’m simply being a realist about the situation – and that the people in Syria would be in a far worse situation if al-Qaida took charge and took over Syria than they were before this effort to overthrow this regime began.
SIMON: I mean, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons and has committed what a lot of people consider to be war crimes against its own people. You really think the Syrian rebels would be worse?
GABBARD: My statement stands. If those who are calling for the removal of this regime are, in essence, accepting the fact that al-Qaida would take over that country, whether it’s al-Qaida or ISIS or other terrorist groups – and for people to think that that would somehow improve the lives of the people there in Syria or that it would somehow better secure the American people – I think that’s a crazy notion.
SIMON: You and President-elect Trump are obviously of different parties. But don’t you kind of have the same position on Syria?
GABBARD: I have heard him talk about his opposition to continuing interventionist, regime-change wars. I want to be clear, though, that this is an issue that I have been working on for years since I have been in Congress. And it’s one…
SIMON: It’s why you endorsed Senator Sanders, isn’t it?
GABBARD: It’s – correct. It was a clear difference between Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton. I am hopeful that this new administration coming in will change these policies so that we don’t continue making these destructive decisions, as have been made in the past.
SIMON: And when you met with President-elect Trump, did he give you any indication?
GABBARD: I feel like there is definitely areas of agreement on what is happening in Syria and on the direction that we need to go that best serves the Syrian people and that serves the security and safety of the American people.
SIMON: Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, thanks very much for being with us.
GABBARD: Thank you very much. Aloha.