For some progressive Democrats, Tulsi Gabbard is an exciting leader-in-the-making.
The Hawaii congresswoman vocally supported Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. Last February, she resigned from her post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, a canny political move given progressives’ emerging problems with the DNC at the time.
Gabbard has natural appeal as an attractive, energetic 35-year-old.
And she manages to be something to everyone. Conservative hawks love her because she’s an Iraq war veteran who criticized President Obama on foreign policy. Liberal doves love her because she rails against “war-mongering neocons.” Millennials love her because her positions are unorthodox. By the way, have you heard that she surfs?
But Gabbard has dug herself into a hole in recent weeks with her bizarre but insistent views about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his country’s bloody six years of civil war. And her tendency to attract media attention, once an asset, seems only to be making things worse.
Let’s go back to exactly a week ago, when news broke that a chemical attack had killed scores of Syrians, including children.
The Syrian civil war had not seen such an attack since 2013. In that case, and last week, there was little substantive debate over whom to blame. The United States and its allies, along with non-governmental organizations, all agreed the evidence pointed to Assad.
This is where Gabbard’s point of view starts to stray. For one thing, she still doesn’t believe there’s enough evidence to hold Assad responsible for last week’s chemical attack.
Here’s how she responded on Twitter a week ago:
(2/3) Whoever is found responsible, be it the Syrian govt, al-Qaeda, or ISIS, (all have access to chemical weapons) must be held accountable
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) April 4, 2017
(3/3) This tragedy points to the absolute necessity that this war end now.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) April 4, 2017
And here is how Gabbard reacted to Trump’s decision to launch missile strikes:
It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a possible nuclear war between the United States and Russia.
This administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning. If President Assad is indeed guilty of this horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians, I will be the first to call for his prosecution and execution by the International Criminal Court. However, because of our attack on Syria, this investigation may now not even be possible. And without such evidence, a successful prosecution will be much harder.
It’s remarkable that Gabbard raised the prospect of nuclear war with Russia. But note her language when it comes to placing blame. “Whoever is found responsible.” “If President Assad is indeed guilty.” These phrases reveal her striking departure from the consensus that Assad’s government launched the attack.
As a reminder, Gabbard met with Assad in Syria in January, an unusual decision met with criticism once she returned to Washington. The Hawaii congresswoman said she met with Assad because she’s interested in ending the Syrian civil war. “We’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace,” she told CNN on Jan. 25.
The reaction quieted down somewhat until last week, when Gabbard commented on the chemical attack and Trump’s retaliatory missile strikes. Here’s a sample of what Gabbard received on Twitter:
— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) April 4, 2017
Has Tulsi Gabbard put out a statement yet decrying US aggression against the innocent Assad regime???
— Adam Blickstein (@AdamBlickstein) April 7, 2017
Maybe it was the North Koreans, they have chemical weapons too. https://t.co/uKmqR3pnU5
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) April 5, 2017
Wicked snarky, but I think Tulsi Gabbard earned it. https://t.co/olBhk7lw2z
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) April 5, 2017
A few days later, Gabbard doubled down on her skepticism that Assad was responsible:
— CNN (@CNN) April 7, 2017
Her comments to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer elicited strong reactions on the left:
People who have insisted Gabbard is the future of the Democratic Party may need to consider her outré views on issues like Assad… https://t.co/TMqf2kgqxr
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) April 8, 2017
— Daily Kos Elections (@DKElections) April 8, 2017
Notably, Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean suggested Gabbard was not fit to serve in the House:
People of Hawaii's 2nd district – was it not enough for you that your rep met with a murderous dictator? Will this move you?1 https://t.co/jbwGuZIJ6R
— Neera Tanden (@neeratanden) April 7, 2017
This is a disgrace. Gabbard should not be in Congress. https://t.co/yDTh43GZam
— Howard Dean (@GovHowardDean) April 9, 2017
Their criticism has triggered even bigger coverage of Gabbard’s views online. There’s even some speculation she’ll receive a primary challenger as a result.
Here’s her latest response:
Those who've declared Trump a habitual liar now vilify those refusing to blindly follow him into another regime change war. Hypocrisy.
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) April 10, 2017