There is a lot to unpack in Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s interview Tuesday morning with the seat-fillers on “Morning Joe.” Other observers have already slammed her refusal to say that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is an “enemy” of the United States or her continued hesitance to admit the dictator has used chemical weapons against his own people, despite multiple investigations by the United Nations concluding that he did just that.
But what struck me about this train wreck of an interview was the incoherence of Gabbard’s foreign policy views.
For example, early on she told Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that Kurds in northeast Syria need U.S. troops to stay in the country for a while longer to help them secure their own space and defend themselves, but that Assad is not an enemy of the United States because he doesn’t threaten our “direct interests:”
A minute later, she decries the United States continuing to send its troops around the world to meddle in the internal affairs of nations where we do not have what she considers a direct interest:
U.S. troops should not be nation-building. But the Kurds’ ultimate goal is to be able to defend themselves from ISIS, from Assad, and from neighboring Turkey, which regards them as a threat. The presence of American troops in Kurdish-held areas of Syria has deterred Assad from retaking that territory. President Trump’s announcement that he would quickly remove American troops from Syria has actually driven the Kurds to consider allying with Assad as protection against Turkey. Which would mean Assad moving his troops back into Kurdish-held areas of his country as soon as the U.S. leaves.
One way to protect the Kurds is to keep American troops in place to help defeat ISIS and then carve out some sort of autonomous region separate from Syria, which would like its Kurdish-held land back. But setting up such a region for the Kurds would mean getting Assad to give up his claim on those areas of his country, which he does not seem to be considering. Would not setting up such a region be nation-building?
In other words, Gabbard’s support of helping the Kurds implies a de facto acknowledgment that doing so is a “direct interest” of the United States. If it wasn’t, why would she oppose pulling the troops out as quickly as Trump wants and leaving the Kurds to fend for themselves?
At the same time, she is saying that Assad is not a threat to America so we should not waste our resources fighting him. Which is exactly what we would have to do to ensure the Kurds’ safety.
Are we all still following?
In Gabbard’s defense, the interviewers of Morning Joe did not do her any favors by not pushing her to clarify her position or confront its contradictions. They just keep asking her if she considers Assad an enemy of the United States, even though she has already said she doesn’t.
Tulsi Gabbard seems confused as to whether she’s a neocon or not. Which is okay, because so are the rest of us.