Fact Check: Tulsi Gabbard Denies Being an ‘Assad Apologist’

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) has been under fire for years for her crusading against American involvement against Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, ongoing since 2011, and has faced particular criticism for her 2017 visit to Damascus where she met Assad personally.

Gabbard has repeatedly referred to Assad respectfully as “president” — while referring to American President Donald Trump as “Saudi Arabia’s bitch” — and only began referring to Assad publicly as a dictator after she began her presidential run.

“The New York Times and CNN have also smeared veterans like myself for calling for an end to this regime change war,” Gabbard said, replying to a question regarding President Trump’s decision to relocate troops out of Syrian Kurdistan last week. “Just two days ago, the New York Times put out an article saying that I am a Russian asset and an Assad apologist, all these different smears … completely despicable.”

Gabbard promised to “end this regime change war” and end “draconian” sanctions implemented by President Trump.

Gabbard has long been a proponent of drawing down America’s military role in the Middle East, touting her personal experience as a veteran. The “smear” that she is an “Assad apologist” is the product of her decision to meet Assad personally in 2017 during a visit that she did not tell Democratic peers in Congress about before it happened. The Pentagon did confirm they were aware of her visit.

“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria. In order for any peace agreement, in order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him,” she told CNN shortly after her return from meeting with Assad.

At the time that Gabbard visited Assad, he claimed legitimacy to the presidency following the staging of an election in 2014, which he won with nearly 90 percent of the vote. Due to the then-three-year-old civil war, anti-Assad strongholds were excluded from the voting and there was little accountability in vote counting; most of the free world dismissed the “election” as a sham.

Gabbard explained in a statement following her visit that she had “no intention of meeting with Assad” but “felt it was important to take it” when Assad invited her to meet in person.

She returned from her trip accusing the Syrian rebels that America supported in the war of being “terrorists,” many of whom are the same Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) that she criticized Trump for withdrawing support from.

As recently as this March, when asked if Assad — who has repeatedly used chemical weapons against civilians in violation of international law, according to significant evidence compiled by NGOs and neutral states — was a war criminal, Gabbard refused to say yes or no.

“I think the evidence needs to be gathered,” Gabbard said. “And as I have said before — if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be prosecuted as such.”

After years of pressure over her favorable comments about Assad — and now facing renewed criticism in light of her presidential campaign — Gabbard called Assad a “brutal dictator” in August. Assad is still in power as of the election that Gabbard used to justify referring to him as the legal head of state of the country in 2017, and no constitutional changes have occurred in Syria to make Assad more or less legitimate than when Gabbard met with him.

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