Presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) speaking during a CNN Town Hall interview. March 10, 2019 (CNN)

Syria: Tulsi Gabbard vs. the media

American media commentators criticized Presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii)'s recent comments on President Bashar al Assad and the U.S. policy toward Syria.

What's happening: Congresswoman Gabbard refused to say whether she believed Assad was a war criminal during a CNN town hall. "I think that the evidence needs to be gathered, and as I have said before, if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be prosecuted as such," she told the host. The war in Syria has resulted in one of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Critics from the media subsequently accused the Congresswoman of giving the benefit of the doubt to foreign autocrats, or worse. Washington Post reporter and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin casted her as "Assad's mouthpiece in Washington."

Between the lines: Rep. Gabbard's reluctance to condemn Syrian President Bashar Assad is a byproduct of her military service during the Iraq war, she explained. Tulsi Gabbard's position reflects a distrust of American military intervention and regime change and the justification provided that is prevalent amongst the American public, bruised by President George W. Bush administration's false statements to the American people and to the United Nations on the existence of weapons of mass destruction to launch a war in Iraq.

Why it matters: This argument between media personalities and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be interpreted as a disagreement about what standard of proof it takes to cast a foreign autocrat as a war criminal and back up military intervention abroad. Yet, it also raises questions on the role of journalism beyond telling the story. In what circumstances, if any, can journalists and the media arbitrate and the story?

A little girl waits at a medical center in the transit camp Al-Hol in Syria, March 8, 2019. (Laurence Geai/LE MONDE)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 18, 2019

1. Afghans worry about the return of Shia fighters from Syria's civil war. Will they further undermine their country's stability, the Economist asked. The paper interviewed a 23-year-old man who fought with an Afghan militia recruited by Iran to help prop up the government in Syria's civil war. The young man came from the Hazara ethnic minority. Most Hazaras are Shia Muslims, as are the ruling elite in both Iran and Syria.

2. France brings back Islamic State jihadists' children from Syria camps, French newspaper Le Monde reported. France has repatriated five young children of jihadist fighters from northern Syria, whom it describes as vulnerable orphans. The French Foreign Ministry said that "as for adult French nationals - jihadist fighters with Daesh [Islamic State] - France's position remains unchanged: they must be tried on the territory where they committed their crimes - this is a matter of both justice and security".

3. Syria army vows to retake control of Kurdish areas, AFP reported (via Yahoo News). On Monday, Syrian Defence Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub warned that the Syrian government will recapture territory controlled by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the same way it "liberated" other parts of Syria. Eight years into a war, Syrian government forces control almost two-thirds of the country.

Officials pose for a group photo during a Syria donors conference at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Thursday, March 14, 2019. Senior representatives from scores of countries and international organizations gathered Thursday in a fresh effort to drum up aid for Syria amid growing donor fatigue as the conflict enters its ninth year. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 14, 2019

1. The Syrian civil war enters its ninth year. An Arab Spring-inspired uprising began with protests in March 2011 and since escalated into one of the most convoluted and deadly conflicts in the world, leaving at least 400,000 people dead and millions displaced. President Bashar al-Assad's enemies have been defeated and the bulk of the country is back under his control. Yet, it is unclear how the Syrian government will be able to bring the country back from the brink, with tightening U.S. and European Union's sanctions, rebuilding cities devastated by the war, economic difficulties and the many challenges of reaching a political settlement.

2. Donors pledge $7B in aid for Syria, refugees. International donors have pledged around $7 billion in aid for Syria and Syrian refugees who fled the conflict-ravaged country, the European Union announced Thursday, as the war enters its ninth year. But it was unclear how or when the money would be made available to those in need, AP reported.

3. The United States is not discussing a Turkish offensive in northeast Syria with Turkey and believes no such operation is needed to address Ankara's security concerns, dismissing media reports to the contrary, Reuters reported. In fact, the news agency claims, the U.S. sees Turkish offensive in Syria as unnecessary.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney looks behind former Secretary of State James Baker as he stands next to former Vice President Dan Quayle, back, during memorial ceremonies for former President George H.W. Bush at the Capitol in Washington. Dec. 3, 2018 (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 13, 2019

1. Turkey says it is discussing with Russia a Syria offensive against U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces. Turkey is discussing with Russia and the U.S. a potential military offensive in a region of northeast Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters, a Turkish defense official was cited as saying by state media on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

2. Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized President Trump foreign policy. Speaking with Vice President Mike Pence last weekend, Cheney warned that American allies were questioning the dependability of the U.S. as a result of the Trump's public statements. He specifically highlighted Trump's public complaints about the role of NATO and the surprise announcement of the withdrawal of troops from Syria, AP reported.

3. Russia and Turkey begin co-ordinated patrols in Idlib. Russia and Turkey initiated co-ordinated patrols on March 8 to implement a demilitarised zone in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, a major area held by Syrian rebels, as part of a deal struck last year, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar announced that same day, Jane's Defence Weekly reported.

Map displayed during a presentation to the International Homeland Security Forum conference in Jerusalem, June 14, 2018 (Haaretz)

Israel's Syria map

The map of today's Middle East as seen by Israel displays only two colors: red and black.

  • Red: Countries with an Islamic State presence.
  • Black: Iran-controlled countries or influence.

Why it matters: The map (above), presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the International Homeland Security Forum organized by the Israel Minister of Public Security and Strategic Affairs last June, is an indication of Israel's perception of the Middle East as dominated by Iran's progress and influence and a metastasizing Islamic State, far from U.S. President Donald Trump's optimistic assessments about the jihadist group's defeat in recent months.

The state of play for Israel in Syria: The Syrian civil war was not a bad development for Israel, Haaretz reported, as the two main fighting sides, the Syrian government of Bashar al Assad and its jihadist opponents, deeply hated Israel. Yet, Iranian involvement and dominance in Syria as President al Assad gradually regained its control of the country and emerged as the winner of the eight years war have exacerbated Israel's concerns.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard speaking at a CNN Town Hall in Austin, Texas on March 10, 2019 (CNN)

Syria’s war news you missed - March 11, 2019

1. Ad-hoc repatriation of Islamic State foreign fighters would strengthen jihadist networks. Between 800 and 1,000 Islamic State fighters, many of whom retain Western citizenship, are being held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) at detention centres in northeastern Syria. With the US planning to withdraw most of its troops from Syria imminently, the fate of these Islamic prisoners poses a serious challenge for European governments, Jane's Intelligence Weekly reported.

2. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard cited her experience serving in Iraq as informing her approach to Syria in an interview with CNN. When asked whether Syria's president Bashar al Assad is a war criminal, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate said, "I served in a war in Iraq, a war that was launched based on lies, and a war that was launched without evidence. [...] And so the American people were duped."

3. Brett McGurk, former Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL under both Presidents Obama and Trump, cautioned against a U.S. withdrawal on Twitter: "Given this serious situation in Syria and the SDF now holding thousands of ISIS fighters and families, the last thing we should do is plan to withdraw 90 percent of the American force. Makes no sense. The SDF needs more support right now, not less."

Illustration: Shout! News

Is Venezuela the 'Syria of the Western Hemisphere’?

Last Sunday, a former Venezuelan diplomat, Isaias Medina, in an interview for Fox News claimed that is country was the "Syria of the Western Hemisphere."

Big picture: A U.S.-supported opposition, an entrenched leader backed by Moscow, violent street protests, desperate people scrambling across borders, and the United Nations blamed for a weak response. The ongoing crisis around the last presidential elections left incumbent Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó battling for the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and brought comparison with the conflict in Syria and its embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

What they're saying:

  • Former Venezuelan diplomat Isaias Medina pointed to the same actors as in the Syrian conflict involved in in the current crisis in Venezuela, with Russia backing up the "dictatorship" of president Nicolás Maduro. The former diplomat to the United Nations who quit the Maduro government in protest over a year ago called for the use of force to remove president Maduro.
  • "[Nicolás] Maduro did not come to power in the same way that any of these dictators did. He did not lead a military coup, nor did he inherit a country run like a family estate from his father. He was democratically elected twice. There is little similarity between the Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement, which Chavez founded and Maduro now represents, and the forces that backed and maintained these Arab tyrants in power. Chavismo is a democratic, left-wing, popular movement that has sought to invest the riches of the state to empower and uplift the poor," analyst Hussein Walid said on Al Jazeera.