BY REP. TOM GARRETT (R-VA.), OPINION CONTRIBUTOR
Over the last decade, U.S. policy in the Middle East has been an unmitigated failure. For this reason, I want to publicly commend Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) for her brave, though much maligned, trip to Syria. Status quo U.S. policy has cost innumerable lives, displaced millions, and shattered a more peaceful order across the globe. As an Army Veteran, this is particularly concerning for me.
I also commend her proposed legislation that ends funding to so-called 'moderate rebels' in the Syrian Civil War. There are no such 'moderates' with any realistic prospect of filling a void created by deposing the Assad regime.
Beyond supporting Congresswoman Gabbard, I would propose the following two pronged test to precede the application of military force or rendering of aid to entities seeking regime change.
First, the president should be able to articulate in two sentences or less, the desired outcome, if U.S. actions are successful, and how this outcome serves the best interests of the United States, her allies, and of peace better than the status quo.
In supporting the Arab Spring, horrific dictators were overthrown without consideration for who would fill the voids. Muammar Gaddafi is no longer in power in Libya, but the vacuum was filled by more nefarious actors. This has meant ongoing bloodshed, population displacement, and mass killing of religious minorities. The same can be said for actions across the region. In Syria, no viable and less threatening partner for peace exists to replace a deposed Assad. We are fortunate that in spite of, and not because of U.S. action, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi brought rational action and relative peace to Egypt following his overthrow of Muslim Brotherhood Islamist Mohamed Morsi. Had Morsi remained, conflict with Israel would be probable and Egypt's ever shrinking Coptic minority might be displaced. U.S. failure to assist forces who originally opposed Morsi and apparent indifference to Sisi pushed what had been a reliable ally ever closer to Iran, and away from decades old alliances with the West. We have no one to blame but the previous administration. In the future, we may not be so lucky.
Second, any entity seeking military or financial aid should be queried as to whom they would turn their weapons on next, if they succeed in their current struggle. If the answer is that these weapons are likely to be turned on the U.S., our allies, or used to the detriment of peace, we should not support that entity.
In Syria, we hear accounts of moderate rebels. Open source inquiry tells us that what was formerly Jabhat Al Nusra and currently is Jabhat Fateh al-Sham is commonly known as al Queda in Syria. The other alternative is ISIS. The third is the regime. None of these alternatives is good, and Assad is bad, but ISIS and al Queda are worse. If our goals are peace and stability, security for oppressed religious minorities, and a stop to displacement and killing, Assad has a track record. Further, Assad passes the second tier of the two-pronged test, and on the first question, Assad, as bad as he has been, is the status quo.
If there is a 'moderate rebel' faction, somebody had better show us, because it isn't readily apparent. To date, U.S. efforts to develop one have only strengthened of those who would next turn their weapons on persecuted religious minorities, our allies, and indeed us.
For these reasons, I commend Congresswoman Gabbard. The bipartisan attacks which greeted her upon her return to the United States should be filtered against the two-pronged criteria above. If anyone has better ideas for peace and stability they should speak up before casting stones. All we have seen prior is an endless war in which two of the three factions have no tolerance for dissent, the rights of religious minorities, or for the rights of women.
Yes, Assad is bad, but under his regime Alawite and Christian minorities lived in peace and security alongside their neighbors. Women were free to pursue careers and made up over fifty percent of college graduates. A stable but tenuous peace existed with Israel, and ISIS and al Queda didn't control large swaths of the nation.
If peace is the goal, and the aforementioned tests are applied, we should at the very least encourage the defeat of al Queda and ISIS affiliated elements in Syria and insist that Assad then hold free and fair elections as he has said he would. We should ensure that he does not create instability in the region through Hezbollah or returning troops to Lebanon. If peace and stability are our goals, and Congresswoman Gabbard and I think they should be, then we should completely reexamine our foreign policies in Syria and the world.
Rep. Garrett represents Virginia's 5th District and is a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.