Presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) on Wednesday morning insisted to a stunned MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is “not an enemy of the United States.”
The Hawaii congresswoman dropped the shocking claim after dodging multiple questions on how she would describe the Syrian dictator’s relationship with the United States.
“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” Gabbard responded to MSNBC correspondent Kasie Hunt’s point-blank question on whether she believed Assad poses a threat.
Gabbard, who announced her run for presidency last month, has faced criticism for some of her unorthodox beliefs that fall outside of the Democratic Party line—most especially her frequent defenses of Assad or her past homophobic comments. In 2017, Gabbard infamously met with the Syrian dictator after the Battle of Aleppo—despite his egregious human-rights record—and expressed skepticism that Assad was behind a deadly gas attack on his own citizens.
On Wednesday, Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski repeatedly pressed Gabbard on her views about Assad, demanding her opinion on whether the dictator is a foe.
“We have to look to who poses a threat to the United States—” Gabbard started to respond, before Scarborough at one point cut her off, saying world leaders do not need to pose an immediate threat to be considered an adversary.
“Vladimir Putin considers America to be an enemy. We consider Russia to be an adversary. Do you consider Assad to be an adversary of the United States?” Scarborough pushed again.
“When I look at whether it’s Syria or Turkey or Russia or China or other countries in the world, I look at what are their interests and are their interests counter to our interests?” Gabbard responded. “My point is, whether it is Syria or any of these other countries, we need to look at how their interests are counter to or aligned with ours.”
Later in the program, Morning Joe co-host Willie Geist pushed Gabbard on her suggestion that he did not use chemical weapons on Syrian citizens.
“I certainly think it’s possible,” the presidential hopeful said, slightly departing from her previous doubtful statements. “My skepticism in the past has been solely on saying, show us the evidence before you deploy U.S. troops into military action because I served in Iraq and I understood what that cost came when the American people were lied to and presented false evidence, where we started off a new war.”
Since taking office in 2013, the 37-year-old Democrat has established a reputation as often critiquing her party’s foreign policy, establishing herself as a stern non-interventionist.
Her unusual policy combinations have earned her a broad fanbase from both the anti-war left and elements of the far right—from Fox News host Tucker Carlson to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, who has repeatedly endorsed Gabbard despite her unequivocal rejections of his “hateful” views.
“I have strongly denounced David Duke’s hateful views and his so-called ‘support’ multiple times in the past, and reject his support,” the congresswoman said in a statement to The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “Publicizing Duke’s so-called ‘endorsement’ is meant to distract from my message: that I will end regime-change wars, work to end the new Cold War and take us away from the precipice of a nuclear war, which is a greater danger now than ever before.”