Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who raised eyebrows when she met with then President-elect Trump to discuss Syria in November, has bucked the establishment once again: calling for Syria's longtime dictator to stay put after meeting with the man face-to-face.
Following her week-long trip to Syria and Lebanon in January, the Hawaii congresswoman sat down with Circa for an extended interview about her views on the war-torn country and its president.
"Are we going to continue this counterproductive, illegal regime-change war that is causing so much suffering for the Syrian people and strengthening terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS, or are we going to end this madness?" Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, said.
On Meeting With AssadTraveling without first informing leaders in Congress, Gabbard’s trip included meetings with civilians, the political opposition and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That meeting was the first between a sitting U.S. lawmaker and Assad since the start of that country's civil war in 2011.
In what she described as a “lengthy discussion,” Gabbard said the reconstruction of Syria, the refugee crisis, and Syria’s future as a secular country were among the talking points.
We have to be willing to meet with President Assad, who, whether people like it or not, remains the president of Syria.
When asked whether their meeting sent the right message, Gabbard said it’s important Assad be part of the dialogue. But other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle disagree. Senator John McCain reportedly said the trip sent "the wrong signal."
Fellow Iraq War veteran Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said he was "disgusted" by the meeting.
The facts of history have shown the truth time and time again.
On Whether 'Assad Must Go'
Gabbard believes forcing Syria's president out of power would be counterproductive to U.S. interests. She points to the U.S. invasions of Libya in 2011 and Iraq in 2003 as examples of American interventionist policy gone wrong.
If Assad is overthrown, Gabbard believes terrorists groups like ISIS will take advantage of the vacuum.
On Who Paid For Her Trip
Gabbard's trip met the requirements of the House Ethics Committee, but it still resulted in a lot of criticism.
Reports emerged suggesting the group that "led and sponsored" the trip had links to the Assad regime. According to Gabbard, the reporting on the Cleveland-based Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (AACESS-Ohio) lacked "substance."
They are trying to create the distraction away from the debate that should be had.
Gabbard chose to personally reimburse the costs of the trip after the coverage became a "distraction."
On Arming and Funding TerroristsGabbard, a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation called the Stop Arming Terrorists Act. The bill would bar the U.S. from sending federal funds to countries or organizations that support terrorist groups.
“It infuriates me that this has been happening, and the American people, as they learn about it, are mind-blown that this is something that has been happening essentially in the dark of night," Gabbard said.
The U.S. government maintains it does not fund terrorist activity and only provides support to "moderate rebels."
Gabbard says such rebels don’t exist in Syria.