Gabbard takes heat from Dems for skepticism of Syria chemical attack

Gabbard takes heat from Dems for skepticism of Syria chemical attack
© Greg Nash

Powerful liberal voices are calling for the ouster of Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardCongress just failed our nation’s veterans when it comes to medical marijuana Govs. Brown and Cuomo are false climate prophets Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel MORE over the Hawaii Democrat’s vocal criticism of last week’s U.S. strike against the Syrian government.

Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Neera Tanden, head of the Center for American Progress, both took to Twitter to bash Gabbard for what they see as a shameful defense of Bashar Assad, the Syrian president long accused of brutal attacks on his own people in the country's ongoing civil war. 

They’re urging Hawaii voters to replace the third-term Democrat in 2018. 

“People of Hawaii’s 2nd district — was it not enough for you that your rep met with a murderous dictator? Will this move you?” Tanden tweeted.

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“This is a disgrace,” Dean echoed. “Gabbard should not be in Congress.”

In January, Gabbard met with Assad as part of a seven-day swing through Syria and Lebanon, a trip designed to examine the state of Syria's yearslong civil war. 

Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran and a prominent member of both the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has been a loud critic of President Trump’s decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airfield last Thursday. The surprise offensive was a direct response to chemical attacks on a western Syria town days earlier that killed scores of civilians and injured hundreds more.

Video footage of the victims, many of them children, sparked an outcry from U.S. allies across the globe, who cheered Trump’s retaliatory measures.

While Gabbard is far from the only U.S. politician to criticize the attacks, she is perhaps the only U.S. lawmaker who has questioned whether Assad was behind the chemical attack.

“If President Assad is found to be responsible after an independent investigation for these horrific chemical weapons attacks, I'll be the first one to denounce him, to call him a war crime and to call for his prosecution in the International Criminal Court,” she told Wolf Blitzer.

She condemned the strikes as “reckless,” urging restraint until the chemical attacks can be thoroughly investigated and there’s absolute proof Assad was behind them.

Of the administration’s claims that Assad was responsible, she said, “The fact remains that they have not brought that evidence before Congress.”

Gabbard also warned that, by provoking Russia, one of Assad’s most ardent international supporters, the strikes could have dire consequences for U.S. security. 

“What we're talking about here really is the very high potential for a direct military conflict between the United States and Russia, the two world's nuclear powers risking, therefore, whether intentional or unintentional, nuclear consequences,” she said.

It’s hardly the first time Gabbard’s position on Syria has sparked controversy.

Her visit to meet with Assad was roundly criticized by members of both parties, who accused Gabbard of legitimizing a tyrant. She defended the face-to-face meeting as a diplomatic “opportunity” to get all perspectives in hopes of hastening an end to the bloody conflict. 

Gabbard has also been highly critical of U.S military aid to Syrian opposition forces, warning for years that the money and arms are propping up terrorist groups hostile not only to Assad but also to the United States and its democratic allies. 

Dean over the weekend pushed back against criticism that he was promoting military aggression over diplomacy.

“Engaging in dialogue isn't the problem,” he said. “It's claiming there is doubt Assad uses chemical warfare. She sounds like Trump making excuses.”

Both Dean and Tanden were strong supporters of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Heller embraces Trump in risky attempt to survive in November Live coverage: Cruz, O'Rourke clash in Texas debate MORE during last year’s presidential race. Gabbard was the rare Capitol Hill Democrat to endorse Clinton's primary opponent, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate Ben & Jerry’s co-founders announce effort to help 7 Dem House challengers Dems look to Gillum, Abrams for pathway to victory in tough states MORE (I-Vt.). 

If the recent election is any indication, Gabbard’s liberal critics have a steep climb if they hope to unseat her. The third-term Democrat won reelection in November by a resounding 81 percent.

Gabbard’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.