Stephen Colbert got through a few pleasantries with Tulsi Gabbard on Monday night before getting to the question that is going to dog the Democrat from Hawaii for her entire run for the presidency in 2020.
As Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq War, began to make her case against “regime change” by the United States around the world, the Late Show host jumped in with, “But if it is someone like Bashar al-Assad who gasses his own people or engages in war crimes against his own people, should the United States not be involved?”
“The United States should not be intervening to overthrow these dictators and regimes that we don't like,” Gabbard said definitively, whether it is Assad or Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong Un or anyone else, because, she argued, history shows we only “end up increasing the suffering of the people in these countries.”
“I would agree, even from my limited knowledge of this that American interventionism has unintended blowback, often, both for the United States and for the people who we're trying to help,” Colbert said. “But you got heat for meeting with Bashar al-Assad. Do you not consider him a war criminal? Why did you meet with that man?”
Gabbard said she did so in “pursuit of peace and security.”
“If we are not willing to meet with adversaries,” she said before correcting herself, “potential adversaries in the pursuit of peace and security, the only alternative is more war.”
At a CNN town hall in Austin on Sunday, Gabbard refused to characterize Assad as a “war criminal,” and Colbert asked directly if she believes he used chemical weapons against his own people. “Do you believe he gassed his own people or committed atrocities against his own people?” he asked.
“Yes, reports have shown that's a fact,” Gabbard admitted, denying that she has ever suggested otherwise and going on to stress that “reports have shown chemical weapons attacks have been used by both the Syrian government as well as by the terrorist groups who are fighting in Syria.”
“I don't know whether America should be the policeman of the world,” Colbert said, to which Gabbard responded, “It is my opinion we should not be.”
He went on to say, “If we are not though, nature abhors a vacuum, and if we are not involved in international conflicts or trying to quell international conflicts, certainly the Russians and the Chinese will fill that vacuum and we will step away from the world stage in a significant way that might destabilize the world because the United States, however flawed, is a force for good in the world, in my opinion. Would you agree with that?”
“I do agree with that,” she replied to applause. “My point is that in order to be a force for good, we must actually do good. The consequences of these regime change war policies has been horrible.”
But if Gabbard thought those were the hardest questions she would get from Colbert, she was mistaken, because he wasn’t done. Before letting her go, the host asked why she thinks people like David Duke, Steve Bannon and ultra-conservative congressman Matt Gaetz have all publicly praised her. “What do you make of how much they like you?” he asked.
She didn’t want to venture a guess.
“You should ask them,” Gabbard said with a laugh. “Look, I have denounced strongly, time and again, the white nationalist views of David Duke and racist and bigoted views of people who are fomenting hatred and even violence. This is something that is unacceptable and something we should all stand up and condemn.”