WaPo | The Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria has had a quiet but well-funded lobbying effort in Washington since well before he began murdering his own people. But that influence campaign’s clearest triumph came only this month, when it succeeded in bringing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) to Damascus and having her parrot Assad’s propaganda on her return.
Gabbard was not the first U.S. elected official to meet Assad. In the early years of Assad’s presidency, several senior U.S. lawmakers publicly traveled to see the young English-speaking optometrist-turned-ruler, in the hope that he might be a reformer, break with Iran and even make peace with Israel. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) visited Assad in 2007. Then-Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) led a delegation in 2009.
After the killing began in 2011, however, Assad’s friends in Washington largely went underground and a covert influence and intimidation campaign blossomed. The FBI began investigating Syrian ambassador Imad Moustapha, due to evidence he was keeping tabs on Syrian Americans who showed disloyalty so the Syrian government could threaten their families back home. Moustapha departed for Beijing in 2012, but he left in place a network of friends, Syrian Americans who nurtured close ties to the regime and worked on Assad’s behalf.