Meghan McCain Demands Tulsi Gabbard Call Syria's Assad 'the Enemy of the United States'

Meghan McCain demanded that Democratic representative and presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard denounce Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an adversary of the United States during a heated encounter on the former's morning television program.

Gabbard appeared Wednesday on The View, where she entered into a debate with conservative co-hosts McCain—the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, a veteran and former presidential candidate—and Ana Navarro about her opposition to U.S. interventions abroad. Gabbard recalled her past as a Hawaii Army National Guard member serving in the Iraq War and had just finished discussing the blowback of past U.S. military action in the Middle East and North Africa when McCain pressed the politician on her controversial 2017 meeting with a Syrian leader accused by Washington of war crimes.

"When I hear the name Tulsi Gabbard, I think of 'Assad apologist,' I think of someone who comes back to the United States and is spouting propaganda from Syria. You have said that the Syrian president, Assad, is not the enemy of the United States, yet he's used chemical weapons against his own people 300 times, that was a red line with President Obama," McCain said, after briefly thanking Gabbard for her service.

She argued, "13 million Syrians have been displaced, so when you say regime change is hurtful for the country, but gassing children isn't more hurtful, it's hard for me to understand where you come from a humanitarian standpoint if you were to become president." Gabbard shot back, "you're putting words in my mouth that I've never said."

McCain asked if Gabbard denied saying that "Syrian President Assad is not the enemy of the United States" and told her to "say it now, clarify it." Gabbard began to clarify that "the issue here is: how do we alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people?" McCain again cut her off, asking "just really, one moment, is he an enemy of the United States?"

Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard and a U.S. presidential candidate, defends her opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria during a debate with View co-host Meghan McCain, February 20. Screenshot: ABC "The View"

Gabbard explained that "an enemy of the United States is someone who threatens our safety and security" and shared her belief that Assad was a "brutal dictator" who had used chemical weapons throughout his country's eight-year civil war. She argued that "since the U.S. began waging a covert regime change war in Syria starting in 2011, the lives of the Syrian people have not been improved."

Speaking over further protests by McCain, Gabbard continued, arguing that U.S. intervention in Syria "has also undermined our national security, leaving us in a place where Al-Qaeda is a stronger threat there than they have been before, and Iran has greater influence in Syria than ever before."

Throughout the course of Syria's conflict, insurgent groups grew increasingly Islamist and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) ultimately spread there out of a neighboring Sunni Muslim insurgency sparked a decade earlier after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Pentagon began to scale down aid to Syrian opposition groups and launched a new campaign in 2014, shifting its goal from ousting Assad to defeating ISIS with the help of a mostly Kurdish group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, which the U.S. officially partnered with the following year.

Around this same time in 2015, Russia conducted its own intervention at the request of Assad, who was already being supported by Iran and allied regional militias. Separate U.S. and Russia-backed campaigns have largely eradicated ISIS, but Washington and Moscow remain at odds about the political future of Damascus. Like Gabbard, President Donald Trump has often criticized "endless wars" in the Middle East and announced in December a withdrawal from Syria, though the timeline of such an exit remains unclear and a number of his officials have suggested the U.S. could stay to check revolutionary Shiite Muslim Iran and ensure the departure of Assad, who has reclaimed much of the country.

While Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire to get out of Syria, the president and his administration have drummed the prospects of a new intervention in Venezuela, where Washington has recognized National Assembly head and opposition leader Juan Guaidó's challenge to the position of socialist President Nicolás Maduro. As Gabbard finished her explanation on Syria, Navarro confronted the presidential hopeful about her stance on the ongoing leadership dispute in the South American nation.

"I'm very troubled about the tweets on Venezuela that you've put out. You know, we've talked about that, what Maduro is doing to the people of Venezuela. There is over three million that have been displaced, these people are starving. He's not allowing humanitarian aid in, he is a thug, he is a dictator, he is corrupt and I am very supportive of what the United States is doing right now, leading the solidarity and support of freedom-loving Venezuelans and putting sanctions," Navarro stated. She then asked Gabbard, "Why are you so against intervention in Venezuela? Not military intervention, but what we are doing?"

Gabbard replied that "every time the United States, and particularly in Latin America has gotten involved in regime change, using different tools to enact that regime change, there have been both long and short-term devastating impacts." She continued: "If there are ways we can work with surrounding countries to try and get humanitarian aid to people there, then we should be doing that. But for the United States to go in and choose who should be the leader of Venezuela, that is not something that serves the interests of the Venezuelan people."

While most recent U.S. interventions abroad have focused on the Middle East and its peripheries in Africa and Asia, Washington has an extensive history of suppressing leftist movements across Latin America, especially during the Cold War. Maduro and his international allies, including Russia, have deemed the Trump administration's actions as the latest episode in this series, though many regional states and U.S. allies abroad have also endorsed Guaidó as president amid deteriorating economic and humanitarian conditions.