Tulsi Gabbard
© Global Look Press/ CNP/AdMedia/Ron Sachs
Democratic congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard
Democratic presidential challenger Tulsi Gabbard has refused to budge on her anti-war views and apologize for meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2017, defending dialogue as the "only alternative" to "more war."

Anti-war congresswoman and Iraq veteran Gabbard (D-Hawaii) was pilloried by mainstream media as well as the political establishment, both on the left and the right, for going on a privately funded fact-finding trip to Syria in January 2017, during which she visited Aleppo and met with President Assad.

Gabbard was labelled an "Assad apologist" and "Putin puppet," nicknames that have resurfaced after she announced her presidential bid earlier in January. But rather than renouncing the perceived "ills" to rally some mainstream support, Gabbard told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday that she did not regret her decision to speak face-to-face with Assad.

"It continues to be very important for any leader in this country to be willing to meet with others, whether they be friends or adversaries or potential adversaries, if we are serious about the pursuit of peace and securing our country," Gabbard said. She referred to Trump's meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to prove her point, saying that the "stakes are far too high" to brush away dialogue if it can help avert a major war.

"It's why I have urged and continue to urge to meet with people like Kim Jong-un in North Korea because we understand what's at stake here and the only alternative to having these kinds of conversations is more war," she said, adding that, as a US Army veteran, she understands all too well the cost of military adventures.

Upon her return from Syria, Gabbard was castigated by fellow Democrats as well as Republicans for cozying up to the Syrian government, almost universally seen by the establishment as a dictatorship that needs to be toppled. The congresswoman, who had also met with Syrian civil activists and religious leaders, said the trip gave her "greater resolve to end our illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government." Gabbard, who criticized the Obama administration's involvement in Syria, urged the government to stop providing arms to rebels, lest they fall into the wrong hands.

Gabbard's views ended up in the spotlight of controversy recently after she fell under inevitable scrutiny following after she revealed presidential ambitions. It turned out she had made a problematic remark on homosexuals over a decade ago.

The otherwise long-forgotten words she uttered in 2004, when testifying against a same-sex civil unions bill, returned to haunt her anew, making waves on social media.

"As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists," Gabbard said 15 years ago, laying out a bonfire under herself to be lit by the far more progressive Democratic base of 2019.

Unlike her opinion on Syria, however, Gabbard says experience has changed her stance on LGBTQ rights. She gave several interviews, apologizing for her past views, and cited her record in Congress where she has consistently supported pro-LGBTQ legislation.

Gabbard is not the first Democrat to renounce past views, that no longer align with the mainstream agenda. Former US president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both at one point disapproved of the concept of gay marriage, but later made a turnaround.