Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Keep Syrian President Assad in place, fight ISIS

WASHINGTON (CNN) — A House Democrat is calling for the U.S. to let Syrian President Bashar Assad stay in power — a position in stark contrast with President Barack Obama, much of her party and the GOP.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, told CNN on Friday that it’s time for the U.S. to stop its “illegal, counter-productive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad.”

Photo courtesy office of U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard
Photo courtesy office of U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard

Speaking with CNN’s Chris Cuomo in Paris — where Gabbard was visiting a memorial to the victims of the terror attacks there with flowers from her home state — the second-term congresswoman said removing Assad would help terrorists.

“I don’t think Assad should be removed,” Gabbard said. “If Assad is removed and overthrown, ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, these Islamic extremist groups will walk straight in and take over all of Syria … they will be even stronger.”

Though the U.S. hasn’t directly supported the fighters in the Syrian civil war who are seeking to topple the Assad regime, the majority of political leaders, including Obama, have called for his removal at least politically.

Republicans, including Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have also criticized the Obama administration for supporting, training and equipping Syrian fighters against ISIS, but not allowing them to use those resources to fight Assad, which is what the rebels want.

U.S. lawmakers from both sides have also criticized Russia’s intervention in Syria for targeting rebels in a bid to prop up the Assad regime as opposed to fighting ISIS.

But Gabbard, an Iraq-war veteran, said she sees the U.S. repeating “the same mistakes of the past,” even if experts say Assad is a brutal dictator who is killing his own people.

“Our mission should be to defeat our enemy, the perpetrators of these attacks. the perpetrators of 9-11, found in al-Qaeda and ISIS, al-Nusra and all of these other groups that are working on the ground towards their goal of removing the Syrian government of Assad so that they can take over all of Syria. if that is allowed to occur, we will see a humanitarian disaster unlike anything else. And we’ll see a greater threat not only to the region but to the world,” Gabbard said on CNN. 

“People said the very same thing about Saddam (Hussein), the very same thing about (Moammar) Gadhafi, the results of those two failed efforts of regime change and the following nation-building have been absolute, not only have they been failures, but they’ve actually worked to strengthen our enemy,” Gabbard said.

She introduced legislation on Thursday with a House Republican to block the U.S. from waging a war to topple Assad.

“The war to overthrow Assad is counter-productive because it actually helps ISIS and other Islamic extremists achieve their goal of overthrowing the Syrian government of Assad and taking control of all of Syria—which will simply increase human suffering in the region, exacerbate the refugee crisis, and pose a greater threat to the world. Also, the war to overthrow Assad is illegal because Congress never authorized it,” Gabbard said in introducing the legislation.

While entering Iraq to take out Hussein was the decision of the George W. Bush administration, Gabbard’s criticism of the U.S. strategy in Libya is a direct critique of the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now running for president.

It’s not the first time this fall she has made waves by bucking her party. Gabbard was an oustpoken critic of Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her decision to limit the number of Democratic debates and claimed Wasserman Schultz disinvited her from the first Democratic debate in return. She also criticized the administration for avoiding using the word Islamic to describe terrorists.

But Gabbard said Friday she’s not concerned about going against Democrats.

“I serve the American people. I serve the people of Hawaii,” Gabbard said. “I’m a veteran, and I hear from so many of my fellow soldiers and those who I’ve served with how concerned they are that we repeat these same mistakes of the past.”

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