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Democrats Decry Trump’s Syria Policy But Fail to Address Palestine, Yemen, China & Other Issues

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Image Credit: CNN

At Tuesday’s debate, Democratic candidates took aim at President Trump’s recent move to withdraw support from the Kurds in northern Syria, paving the way for Turkey to invade the region. We speak with Intercept contributor Mehdi Hasan, host of the “Deconstructed” podcast, about the candidates’ foreign policy proposals.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as we continue coverage of the Democratic debate, let’s turn to the issue of foreign policy. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii pushed for ending what she called regime change wars in the Middle East.

REP. TULSI GABBARD: Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hand, but so do many of the politicians in our country, from both parties, who have supported this ongoing regime change war in Syria that started in 2011, along with many in the mainstream media, who have been championing and cheerleading this regime change war. … As president, I will end these regime change wars by doing two things: ending the draconian sanctions, that are really a modern-day siege, the likes of which we are seeing Saudi Arabia wage against Yemen, that have caused tens and thousands of Syrian civilians to die and to starve, and I would make sure that we stop supporting terrorists like al-Qaeda in Syria who have been the ground force in this ongoing regime change war.


REP. TULSI GABBARD: I’d like to ask Senator Warren if she would join me in calling for an end to this regime change war in Syria, finally.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN: So, look, I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East. I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way. What this president has done is that he has sucked up to dictators, he has made impulsive decisions that often his own team doesn’t understand, he has cut and run on our allies, and he has enriched himself at the expense of the United States of America. In Syria, he has created a bigger-than-ever humanitarian crisis. He has helped ISIS get another foothold, a new lease on life.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Elizabeth Warren and, before that, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Mehdi Hasan, your response to this exchange, briefly?

MEHDI HASAN: Yeah. So, Elizabeth Warren there saying she wanted troops out of the Middle East, my ears perked up as I was watching the debate. Was a U.S. presidential candidate really saying they were going to pull all U.S. troops out of the Middle East? That would be unprecedented. The Warren campaign have since clarified that she was referring to combat troops, specifically in Syria, that she’s in favor of withdrawing, but wants it to be done in the appropriate way, which is the Bernie Sanders position, as well. You have a responsible withdrawal. You don’t cut and run. You don’t abandon the Kurds via tweet over a weekend without telling your commanders on the ground. So that’s what she was referring to.

Obviously, Tulsi Gabbard was trying to get her to go further. Gabbard is a fascinating character, very controversial figure. Some on the left like her. They see her as an antiwar figure. At yesterday’s debate, she was both half-right and half-wrong. She was right to say that too many Democrats and too many people in D.C. did support a lot of Syrian rebel groups, many of whom are now the same Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey who are slaughtering Kurds. And that’s a fact. She’s wrong to say that those Kurds are dying because of a regime change war. U.S. troops in Syria were there with those Kurds fighting ISIS, not fighting Assad. So she’s wrong about that.

And, of course, she’s the wrong messenger. As much as I’d like to see more Democratic candidates oppose endless wars in the Middle East, Tulsi Gabbard is someone who said herself that she is a hawk when it comes to the “war on terror.” She’s only a dove on regime change wars, but she’s happy for Russia or Assad or even the U.S. to bomb any group deemed to be al-Qaeda. She’s also a candidate who has some very dodgy ties to fascist leaders like President Assad in Syria, President Sisi in Egypt and, of course, neofascists like Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India. So she’s not the right messenger, to be honest.

But, yes, we do need to be talking much more about endless wars in the Middle East. As I said at the start of the show, I’m glad we talked about Trump’s mess-up in Syria and his abandonment of the Kurds, but we didn’t talk last night about Yemen, where Bernie Sanders led the Senate in opposition to U.S. involvement in that horrific war, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. We didn’t talk about Israel-Palestine. We didn’t talk about China at all in the debate last night. So the foreign policy part of the debate was, as usual, lacking.

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