I attended the first half of Tulsi Gabbard’s town hall Wednesday night. First, of all, I was thrilled to see hundreds of Kauai residents show up for the town hall. It’s resonant of the activism that has sprung up nationwide after the fall presidential election.
Unfortunately, I felt compelled to leave suddenly after The Honorable Ms. Gabbard’s answer to a question on Syria and her meeting with Assad.
I love Tulsi Gabbard. I love that she’s clearly intelligent, charming, articulate, born-and-raised in Hawaii, has aloha and heart and has policy positions I can get behind on most items, particularly in an environment where centrists, or Democrats or progressives cannot afford to splinter into ineffective factions. I believe Ms. Gabbard cares about Hawaii and wants to represent our state and the country as best she can.
But something hasn’t been right about Ms. Gabbard’s answers on Syria. I am hoping it is just incomplete information. What we know is on Gabbard’s trip to Syria she met with their brutal dictator Assad, and as recently as this last weekend she defended him on national TV.
She indicated she didn’t believe he was responsible for the most recent chemical attacks on Syrians despite undisputed evidence over the past five years that Assad has a habit of using unspeakable tactics to kill hundreds of thousands of his own people.
Every time Gabbard is questioned about Assad, she dodges discussion about his regime and talks about the suffering of the individuals there, especially children, which is true. But this is an incomplete answer since much of the suffering of the Syrian people can at least originally be traced to Assad.
The civil war that Syria was in started with uprisings from its citizens which was quickly squashed by the Assad regime. When people tried to run against him politically, he set up a system where legitimate political opposition is impossible, and then he held a “democratic election” in the middle of a civil war, where much of the country didn’t even have access to voting.
I recognize that there are no easy solutions in Syria. If we go against Assad wholeheartedly, we are virtually engaging in a proxy war with Russia, which few, if any, Americans desire. Also, the most likely people to replace him would be ISIS, Al Qaeda or other extremists, who could be worse for US interests and the Syrian people than Assad himself is.
Perhaps her logic is akin to “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”
I would understand that and hope that the US learned that lesson in Iraq: Don’t force out a brutal dictator without a “what next” plan. Without an acknowledgment of the brutal ways in which Assad has maintained power, though, I am extremely uncomfortable with these details of the conflict always being omitted from Gabbard’s commentary, that she’s met with him privately during this most-charged political climate, and that she shies away from anything that could be consider critical of his government.
I think too highly of Tulsi Gabbard to go without a reasonable answer to these questions. A little more information could clear up a lot of confusion.
Jason Blake is a resident of Lihue.