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CNN "Newsroom" - Transcript: Iraq

Interview

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Thanks for having me on your show. Aloha.

SCIUTTO: So we have breaking news developments there, in addition to the military fight in the north with U.S. air strikes against ISIS, you have this political battle under way, troops being deployed in Baghdad. Clearly Prime Minister Maliki not going quietly. What is the significance of this in terms of finding stability in Iraq?

GABBARD: Well, this action by Maliki is really, for me, just further evidence of why Iraq's governance, why their political problems that they're facing now, are absolutely none of our concern and why we should not further give Maliki's government any more legitimacy. His government is clearly a joke and to say any further action that we will take against ISIS or other extremist terrorists in Iraq based on whatever Maliki or the Iraqi government does is honestly, it's ridiculous.

We've got to stay very focused about what's in our best interest and let the Iraqi people figure out the kind of future they want for their country, whether it's staying as one country or breaking up into three territories or whatever that is. The Iraqi governance is really not our concern.

SCIUTTO: The administration, the president, have placed an enormous amount of capital and importance based on political developments in Iraq. They say that Iraq needs a stable government, an inclusive prime minister, et cetera, et cetera. Do you think the administration is too focused on political developments there, maybe too hopeful that Iraq can come up with an inclusive government, while you have a war under way with ISIS?

GABBARD: I absolutely think the administration is not focused where we should be focused as a country. By continuing to focus on Iraq's governance and so-called political stability, we're continuing the same mistake that we've made really since 9/11.

If we look back to the day after 9/11, we had our nation's leaders declaring war against these Islamic extremists who attacked us, who declared war on us, and that we would go after them, anywhere in the world and take them out. Since then, we saw over the years really a distraction and we ended up nation building. We ended up occupying Iraq. We ended up occupying Afghanistan. And spending a lot of our nation's treasure and precious lives doing so.

This has clearly been a mistake because now we are seeing the result of that distraction through groups like ISIS and other Islamic extremists who have grown in their strength, their capabilities, their discipline, and now we're having to deal with the consequence of that, both with what's happening in Kurdistan and in other places.

SCIUTTO: I want to remind our viewers that you're an Iraq veteran, so you're not someone who's sort of sniping from the sidelines. You've seen things on the ground there and you've seen the cost of the Iraq War.

I want to ask you this, separate from the political --

(CROSSTALK)

GABBARD: And Jim, let me just comment on that real quick, if you don't mind. It's because myself and others, so many people who joined the military after 9/11, we joined the military with the motivation of saying we want to go after the people who attacked our American citizens, who took American lives, so it's disheartening to see the distractions that our country's leaders have led us down over the last several years, but even with the Obama administration.

A couple of days ago, a White House official said a quote that was very disturbing to me, and I quote, he said that, "The Obama air strike was not an authorization of a broad-based counterterrorism campaign against ISIS." End of quote. And for someone like myself to have that blatant statement that there is no broad counterterrorism strategy against people who are continuing to wage war on us against American citizens is very, very disturbing.

SCIUTTO: So you want to see more than U.S. air strikes? The administration has defined this mission very limited, as going -- saving the Yazidi people who've been surrounded, but also protecting U.S. personnel in Erbil and Baghdad. Do you think this should be a broader mission that aims to push back and destroy ISIS?

GABBARD: Well, I'd like to be clear -- what we should not be doing is nation building. What we should not be doing is getting involved with building governments or taking down nation's leaders. What we should not be doing is occupying other countries.

What we should be doing, in a very targeted, tactical, military way, is focusing on taking out these Islamic extremists, such as ISIS or al Qaeda or whatever you call them. These are people who continue to wage war on us, and conduct tactical strikes on them wherever they are. And with the Kurds -- now we see good example of how we can do this. We've got Kurds on the ground who are fighting, very courageously, against ISIS. We should be supplying them with heavy weaponry so they can actually wage a fair fight against ISIS and provide the air strikes and the cover that will help finish this battle once and for all for them.

SCIUTTO: Representative Gabbard, please don't go anywhere. We're going to keep you till after the break because we have a lot of other stories we're monitoring, including two others overseas, a humanitarian crisis growing in Eastern Ukraine, and a fragile cease- fire between Israel and Hamas. We want to get your take on both those stories. Please stay with us, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. We're talking developments in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. I want to bring back in Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; she's a Democrat representing Hawaii's second district. She is also an Iraq veteran herself.

Talking about the administration response, earlier in this broadcast, I had on several former generals who fought in Iraq and commanded in Iraq, including General Petraeus' aide, who said that whatever the administration says about a limited mission here, that they see the U.S. mission expanding in terms of fighting ISIS, including the possibility of ground forces -- if not a fighting forces, at least forward-deployed military advisers.

Do you agree that that's necessary, that it's likely, and that that would help win the fight against ISIS?

GABBARD: I disagree with what they're talking about. Because the problem that we're seeing, as we hear too a lot of different commentators on this, is everyone is talking about this as if it's about Iraq and our U.S. involvement in Iraq. Are we going back to war with Iraq?

That's not the question here. This is really not about Iraq. Our U.S. military should remain very laser-focused on seeing how we can take out these Islamic extremists, such as ISIS, al Qaeda, whatever name you call them by, in a way that is precise, tactical and effective.

What we're seeing now, for example, in Kurdistan, there is no need for us to have these ground forces there because you have the Kurds, the Peshmerga, who are fighting very effectively. They would be more effective if we provided them with the heavy weaponry they need to fight against the tanks that are attacking them. But it's going to be a different situation when you look at Islamic

extremists in another part of the world. And we can't just say, well, we're going to go in with ground forces and think that this is about Iraq. This is not at all about Iraq, and so I think we've got to look at it in a totally different context.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, as well as the Kurds are performing, the Iraqi national forces did not perform well. In fact, they faded away as ISIS was advancing. Can air strikes, limited air strikes in support of the Kurds in the north, truly do the job against ISIS in Iraq?

GABBARD: Well, we've got to top to monitor the situation and look at what will be the most effective tactical military strategy going forward.

You're right, the Iraqi military, what we saw, they gave up their weapons, they gave up their vehicles and they would not be good people for us to partner with in this fight against ISIS for many different reasons. And that's why previously I had opposed getting involved because it would have inserted us into this sectarian civil war, pitting us, making us choose between Shias or Sunnis, and that's not at all what the United States should be doing. That's a very different situation than what is occurring right now with the Kurds who are fighting against ISIS.

SCIUTTO: Let me, if I can, ask you about another international crisis -- there seem to be so many right now. But in Eastern Ukraine, the administration's response so far has been firm talk plus a gradual ratcheting up of economic sanctions against Russia. They have the Europeans on board now for some fairly painful sanctions, but there's grave concern among intelligence officials I talked to that Russia may do more, that they might send forces across the border.

Is that a concern, in your view? And do you believe that the Obama administration policy is working, that it is effectively deterring President Vladimir Putin?

GABBARD: I think as the sanctions continue to be ratcheted up, both by the United States and the European partners, I think that that is going to continue to cause more pain for Russia, but will it be enough to stop them from going over the border? I don't think so.

I think Russia knows that any time they want to roll their tanks across the bored into Ukraine, Ukraine does not have the capability to fight back. There is no way Ukraine can fight tank-to-tank. The United States should not mobilize our forces to fight that war for them.

So, again, I think we've got look at this in a very different perspective to say how can the people of Ukraine, the people of the Baltic states, people of Poland, and these other country who are feeling this threat from Russia, how can they respond in a way that will make an impact? They can fight back through unconventional means, both tactics and with unconventional weapons, basically guerilla warfare, and conduct an insurgency to cause pain to Russia and let them know that this will not -- this incursion in their country will not be acceptable. And we can accept that in these countries by providing them with some of these insurgent-type weapons and training that will make it possible for them to fight author their own countries.

SCIUTTO: Well, the challenges overseas now just seem endless. It's great to have your point of view. Thanks very much, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, joining us from Hawaii.

GABBARD: Thanks, Jim.

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