Rep. Tulsi Gabbard on Thursday called Syrian leader Bashar Assad a “brutal dictator” as her previous comments about the leader face increased scrutiny following a breakout performance at Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate.
“He’s a brutal dictator. Just like Saddam Hussein. Just like Gadhafi in Libya,” the congresswoman from Hawaii, who’s an Iraq War veteran, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “Prime Time.”
“The reason that I’m so outspoken on this issue of ending these wasteful regime-change wars is because I have seen firsthand this high human cost of war and the impact that it has on my fellow brothers and sisters in uniform. I will do anything and everything that I possibly can to stop sending our men and women in uniform into harm’s way, fighting in these wasteful, counterproductive wars.”
Gabbard has faced criticism for her controversial meeting with Assad in 2017 and her subsequent refusal to call him a war criminal. She said at the time of her meeting with Assad that she thought it was “important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we can achieve peace.”
When asked about Assad during her CNN town hall in March, Gabbard said, “I think that the evidence needs to be gathered and, as I have said before, if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be prosecuted as such.”
After Gabbard confronted Sen. Kamala Harris on the Californian’s record as a prosecutor Wednesday night, Harris labeled her an Assad “apologist.”
“I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously,” Harris said, adding, “I’m prepared to move on.”
Gabbard said Thursday that her comments on Assad stem from a skepticism she developed as a soldier.
“I know the cost of war in a way that none of those other people on that stage last night can understand,” she said. “So yes. I will always ask the tough questions. I will ask for the evidence.”
Prior to Wednesday’s debate, Gabbard’s campaign had largely been marked by low poll numbers and controversy surrounding her past views on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ equality. A CNN poll released last month found Gabbard holds just 1% support.