In a tense exchange, the two military veterans in the Democratic primary sparred over President Trump’s decision to pull back U.S. troops in Syria.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has long opposed any U.S. efforts to undermine Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime, sparred with Mayor Pete Buttigieg over how the U.S. should extract itself from the long-running conflict.
“Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war,” she said.
Last week, Trump announced that 50 U.S. troops stationed on Syria’s northern border with Turkey would be pulled deeper south into the country. After the announcement, Turkey immediately invaded, slaughtering Kurdish fighters and civilians, and horrifying the international community. The Kurds fought ISIS alongside U.S. troops, and Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. protection for them was widely viewed as a betrayal that seriously harms America’s international credibility.
“We need to get out, but we need to do this through a negotiated solution,” Gabbard said.
Buttigieg lit into Gabbard.
“Respectfully, Congresswoman, I think that is dead wrong,” he said. “The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it is a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this president of American allies and American values. Look, I didn’t think we should have gone to Iraq in the first place. I think we need to get out of Afghanistan, but it’s also the case that a small number of specialized, special operations forces and intelligence capabilities were the only thing that stood between that part of Syria and what we’re seeing now, which is the beginning of a genocide and the resurgence of ISIS.”
Gabbard pressed him on his answer, asking if he would keep the U.S. in Syria indefinitely.
“You can put an end to endless war without embracing Donald Trump’s policy, as you’re doing,” he retorted.
“What is an endless war if it’s not a regime change war?” she replied.
“What we were doing in Syria was keeping our word,” he replied.
The skirmish encapsulated the tension within the Democratic Party on foreign policy. But neither is wooing voters in an outsize way: Buttigieg polls at just over 5 percent of the Democratic primary vote in the RealClearPolitics polling average, while Gabbard is just under 1 percent.