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Are Efforts To Overthrow Assad Counter Productive?

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The debate over U.S. policy in Syria has few points of agreement, but President Obama and many of his critics both say Syrian President Bashar al Assad it a tyrant who should leave power. Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has a different idea. She says the threat to the U.S. of ISIS is greater than the threat of Assad and says the U.S. needs to end what she's called a counterproductive and illegal U.S. war to overthrow Assad. The Iraq War veteran has introduced bipartisan legislation to end U.S. efforts to replace Assad. Representative Gabbard joins us. Thanks very much for being with us.

TULSI GABBARD: Aloha. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Aloha. And why let a man who's a dictator, who is widely considered to have slaughtered thousands and thousands of his own people, stay in power?

GABBARD: Well, we just need to look back to what has happened in our country's most recent history. The same things that are being said about Assad right now were said about Saddam Hussein in Iraq, making the argument for the Iraq War. They were said about Gaddafi in Libya, making the argument for overthrowing him in Libya. And in those two examples, we can see what the outcome has been. We've seen more chaos, more human suffering, more lives lost and a stronger ISIS, al-Qaida, Islamic extremist stronghold that has been put in place in both of these countries. So that's why I feel it's so important for us to learn from these lessons in Syria, understand what the outcome will be if this effort to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad is successful. I think in the best case scenario, you end up with a situation where we will be committed to go on yet another nation-building mission, expending billions or even trillions of dollars in something that - as we've seen in Iraq - could be - may or may not be successful. And if it is, it may take a generation or two.

SIMON: But...

GABBARD: And that's the best case scenario. The worst case scenario, which I believe is the most likely scenario, is that there is no establishment. There is no government that's ready to step in and take over in Syria. The ones who are working hardest for this, the ones who have this clear objective is ISIS, al-Qaida, al-Nusra and these other groups. And as soon as the Syrian government and Assad is overthrown, these groups will walk in the front door, creating an even greater humanitarian crisis and a far more serious threat to the world.

SIMON: But, Representative Gabbard, will the millions of Syrians who've left their country because of Assad's tyranny return to their homes and try to build a democracy if Bashar al Assad stays in power?

GABBARD: Well, the people who have left Syria have left Syria for two reasons. It's been because of the terror caused by the civil war and the terror caused by these ISIS, al-Qaida and these other Islamic extremist groups. And again...

SIMON: You wouldn't say that a lot of them have left because of Assad's regime?

GABBARD: I would say that they have left escaping...

SIMON: Or the way that he's been - the way that Assad's forces have been bombing civilian areas?

GABBARD: If we look at the timeline, people began leaving - people began leaving once the civil war began kicking in. And much of this has been driven by the funding and equipping and arming of countries like the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. And it has been and continues to be a very ugly civil war, which is one of the reasons why I'm advocating for stopping and ending that civil war so we can focus our resources on defeating ISIS and ending the other reason why so many people are being driven out of Syria. But I want to go back to this point...

SIMON: We just got 20 seconds left. Go ahead, please.

GABBARD: If the Syrian government of Assad is overthrown, ISIS and al-Qaida and these other groups will take charge of all of Syria, creating an even greater humanitarian crisis so that those who have fled Syria will continue to have no home there. They will continue to see no peace, no stability and the threat will be even greater for the rest of the world.

SIMON: Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, thanks very much for being with us.

GABBARD: Thank you, Scott. Aloha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.