Rep. Tulsi Gabbard refused to label Syrian President Bashar Assad as an adversary or enemy of the United States on Wednesday.
“Assad is not the enemy of the United States because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the United States,” the Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Ms. Gabbard said that the troops in the region are focused on defeating ISIS, and claimed that some have expressed frustration about talk that the U.S. should topple the Assad regime.
Host Joe Scarborough pressed Ms. Gabbard on if she could call him an adversary, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is considered to be one.
She argued instead that any determination of whether or not a foreign government or leader is a friend or foe needs to be based on the threat they pose to American interests.
“If you cannot say he is an adversary or an enemy, what is Assad to the U.S.?” host Mika Brzezinski asked the congresswoman.
“You can describe it however you want to describe it,” Ms. Gabbard said.
The Trump administration has determined the Assad regime used chemical weapons to attack his own civilian population.
After President Trump authorized a military strike in Syria in 2017, Ms. Gabbard expressed skepticism about the assertion that the Assad regime was responsible for the attacks.
The congresswoman surprised many when she met with Assad on a secret trip to Syria in 2016.
Ms. Gabbard defended that meeting on Wednesday, saying she discussed it with Ilham Ahmed, the Syrian Kurdish leader who attended the State of the Union as her guest.
“She recognized why I met with him and agreed with that meeting because she knows how it important it is that we be willing to meet with adversaries or potential adversaries not just our friends,” she said.
Ms. Gabbard launched her campaign for president last month and has already put an emphasis on opposing what she describes as regime change wars.
“[There are] so many examples of our troops being deployed, their lives put on the line, without an understanding of what the clear mission or objective is and how that mission actually serves the security,” she said.
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