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Tulsi Gabbard’s “Regime-Change War” Is a Fraud

October 16, 2019
Tulsi Gabbard’s “Regime-Change War” Is a Fraud
(SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Tulsi Gabbard is many things, but among them is this unfortunate fact: She is the ideological heir Ramsey Clark, LBJ’s attorney general who found it in his heart to defend Saddam Hussein, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, Charles Taylor, and Slobodan Milošević against the depredations and aggressions of the United States.

During Wednesday night’s debate, Gabbard followed in Clark’s footsteps by defending Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator with half a million deaths on his hands, and counting.

Who’s really to blame for the slaughter of the Kurds now underway in northern Syria? America and its pursuit of “regime-change war.”

“Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands,” Gabbard declared. “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.” The only politician from the Democratic party with any possible responsibility for the current situation with the Kurds is President Barack Obama.

But while Gabbard may be crazy, she’s not crazy. So she didn’t accuse Obama of having blood on his hands by name from the debate stage. Maybe she’s saving that for her convention speech.

Gabbard has the uncommon ability to say untruths with a calm, soothing voice while staring directly into a television camera.

For example:

  • There are four people with “blood on their hands” in northern Syria. The first is Bashar al-Assad, who has bombed and shot hundreds of thousands of his own people. The second is Recep Erdogan, who initiated military strikes against the Kurds just a few days ago. The other two are Vladimir Putin and Ali Khamenei. Gabbard had nothing to say about any of them.
  • There has never been a U.S. “war” against Syria, let alone a war dedicated to regime change.
  • U.S. involvement in Syria peaked at 2,500 troops and is now down to 1,000. The involvement has been almost completely counterterrorism against the Islamic State, shamefully and unofficially, through a mutual understanding with Assad, Iran, and Russia.
  • There is indeed a “regime-change war” in Syria. It was begun in 2011 by the Syrian people, who have fought it entirely on their own, again to our shame.
  • The American counterterrorism operation that Gabbard is talking about didn’t begin until 2014.
  • Gabbard also claimed that the Syrian refugee crisis is somehow a product of America’s involvement—as if it wasn’t Assad’s gassing of his own people which led millions to flee the country.

Either Gabbard doesn’t understand any of this, in which case she’s a dupe. Or she does understand it, in which she’s a liar.

Whatever Gabbard says, the truth is that since 2014, American policy in Syria has been a mess. President Obama stated that “Assad must go.” But that turned out to be a wish, not a policy. When push came to shove, Obama decided to punt on the matter, despite encouragements from his secretaries of State and Defense and the director of the CIA.

President Trump’s policy has officially been that regime change is not a priority. Then-ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley declared this on national television. Five days after that assurance, Assad once against used chemical weapons against his people.

When Pete Buttigieg pushed back against Gabbard’s bizarre comments, she countered that people such as Buttigieg wanted “U.S. troops in Syria for an indefinite period of time to continue this regime change war” and that this desire has undermined America’s national security.

Again, this is exactly wrong. It is the lack of action in Syria that has undermined our national security: by giving rise to the Islamic State; by sitting silent as the refugee crisis in Europe unfolded; by further destabilizing our relationship with Turkey—a country that has access to our military secrets.

But Gabbard didn’t just criticize American military intervention—she attacked even the use of sanctions against our adversaries. She called them “draconian” and called the sanctions regime a “modern-day siege.” There is plenty to be said about how our excessive use of sanctions could backfire. But sanctions are not a “modern-day siege.”

They’re an alternative to hard power.

If you oppose both military intervention and sanctions, then what tools is America left with? And without America’s ability to influence the course of events to further the cause of human rights, murderers such as Assad will operate with total impunity.

But then, surely that’s the point.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri studied Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He’s an immigrant from Iran and writes the Substack newsletter The Russia-Iran File.