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Tulsi Gabbard’s Road to Damascus

Summary:
It was eight minutes of hell for Kamala Harris. Onstage at the second Democratic debate in Michigan, Harris was subjected to a blistering assault on her record as a California prosecutor at the hands of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Afterwards, Harris was asked about Gabbard’s attack by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Listen,” she replied, “I think that this coming from someone who has been an apologist for an individual, [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad, who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches. She has embraced and been an apologist for him in the way she refuses to call him a war criminal. I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously, so I’m prepared to move on.” Harris was referring to a

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It was eight minutes of hell for Kamala Harris. Onstage at the second Democratic debate in Michigan, Harris was subjected to a blistering assault on her record as a California prosecutor at the hands of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

Afterwards, Harris was asked about Gabbard’s attack by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Listen,” she replied, “I think that this coming from someone who has been an apologist for an individual, [Syrian President Bashar al] Assad, who has murdered the people of his country like cockroaches. She has embraced and been an apologist for him in the way she refuses to call him a war criminal. I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously, so I’m prepared to move on.”

Harris was referring to a controversial four-day visit by Gabbard to Syria in early January 2017, during which she met with Assad. While Gabbard’s performance during the debate was stellar (her name was the most searched of all the Democratic candidates), Harris’s jab regarding Assad seemed like all the mainstream media wanted to talk about.

“When sitting down with someone like Bashar al-Assad in Syria,” MSNBC’s Yasmin Vossoughian asked Gabbard, “do you confront him directly and say why do you order chemical attacks on your own people? Why do you cause the killings of over half a million people in your country?”

Tulsi’s road to Damascus has become an issue in her bid for the White House. To better understand how she found herself in this position, one needs to go back in time, to April 2003, when, while serving as a member of the Hawaiian State Legislature, a 23-year-old Gabbard enlisted in the Hawaii National Guard, and was assigned as a Medical Operations Specialist to the 29th Support Battalion’s Medical Company. When her unit was mobilized for service in Iraq, Gabbard (who was not called up) volunteered to be deployed, because, as she told a reporter in 2004, “I felt it was my duty as a soldier and a friend to join them in the service of our country.”

Following six months of strenuous pre-deployment training, Tulsi Gabbard deployed to Iraq in early 2005 as part of the 29th Brigade Combat Team, an all-National Guard/Reserve unit. She and the rest of the 29th Support Battalion were deployed to Camp Anaconda, a sprawling U.S. facility situated on the grounds of Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad. At the time, Camp Anaconda was under such frequent attack by insurgent mortar fire that it had acquired the nickname “Mortaritaville,” a play on a Jimmy Buffet song of a similar title.

Mortar and rocket attacks became an ever-present reality for the young Hawaiian soldier. “Sometimes,” Gabbard told the Honolulu Advertiser, “we can go for days with no alarm siren going off, no attacks, and sometimes there can be many in one day…sometimes the attacks are so far away you can’t hear the explosion; other times so close that the ground and sky just seem to shake from the impact.” The feeling of helplessness was palpable: “all you can really do,” Gabbard said, “is say a silent prayer that you and your buddies are unharmed.”

While Charlie Med, as her unit was known, came through the deployment unscathed, 18 members of the 29th Brigade Combat Team were killed in Iraq, and scores more were wounded. “Every single day,” Tulsi Gabbard reminded her fellow Americans during the second Democratic debate in July, “I saw the high cost of war.”

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