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Gabbard Restrained In Debate But Questions Warren About Syria

John Minchillo/AP
Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by CNN/New York Times at Otterbein University, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, in Westerville, Ohio.

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard did not have significant air time in Tuesday's crowded debate of 12 Democratic presidential candidates but she was most emphatic when arguing in support of the U.S. pullout from Syria.

She also pressed presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on her stand on the war during the three-hour televised Democratic National Committee debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. 

Gabbard, an Army National Guard major who served in Iraq and Kuwait, has taken an isolationist position on U.S. involvement in foreign wars.

She was asked how she would differ from President Trump in his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, a move which triggered Turkey's offensive against the Kurds, who have helped Americans in the fight against ISIS.

"Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands, but so do many of the politicians in our country from both parties who have supported this ongoing regime change in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war," she said. 

NPR national security editor Philip Ewing in a fact-check of Gabbard's statements said Syria was never a regime change war. 

"President Barack Obama debated an attack directly against the Syrian regime led by strongman Bashar Assad — but he elected not to launch it. President Trump ordered attacks directly against Syrian regime forces, but they were comparatively minor and limited and never threatened political leaders in Damascus," Ewing said.

Gabbard, who was the last among Hawaii congressional members to support an impeachment inquiry of Trump, gave muted support for it in the debate. She said Trump's call to Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky caused her to support the inquiry.

But she also said: "If impeachment is driven by these hyperpartisan interests, it will only further divide an already terribly divided country."

Gabbard did not attack a fellow candidate as she did in the second Democratic debate in July, when she went after Kamala Harris on her record as California attorney general. 

Among Gabbard's most strident comments targeted the media, singling out CNN and The New York Times, sponsors of the debate. On Saturday, the Times posted a story questioning what Gabbard was up to and pointing to her politically confusing and concerning sources of support. 

She said the story called her a Russian asset and Syrian president Bashar Assad apologist, although the story makes no such reference. "Completely despicable," she said.

Gabbard's long-shot presidential campaign has been lagging. She did not qualify for the September debate, barely reached the requirements for Tuesday's debate and has not attracted the necessary donations and support in polls as yet to make the November debate.

Gabbard has also been dogged by a recent poll that shows constituents in her 2nd Congressional District want her to drop her presidential ambitions. 

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