Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii announced she will launch a presidential campaign for 2020. Her campaign is likely to distinguish itself from other Democratic campaigns by making wars and broader United States foreign policy a major issue.
Gabbard was elected to the Hawaii state legislature in 2002. She joined the Hawaii Army National Guard a year later and voluntarily deployed to Iraq, where she completed two tours of duty in 2004 and 2005.
She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2012, and according to her own website, she was “one of the first two female combat veterans to ever serve in the U.S. Congress, and also its first Hindu member.”
During Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, Gabbard gained notoriety after she resigned from her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee so she could openly support Sanders. She spoke at Sanders campaign rallies to help him distinguish his foreign policy from the much more hawkish foreign policy of Hillary Clinton.
Gabbard was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2018. She won 83 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary election.
Most progressives are not as outspoken against U.S. military interventions or what she refers to as “regime change wars.” She witnessed the impact of regime change on the people of Iraq, as well as U.S. troops, and that inspired her to talk more about the human cost of war and challenge the military industrial-complex.
Gabbard has persistently called attention to the war in Syria. She traveled to Aleppo and Damascus in January 2017 to see some of the devastation Syrians have endured since 2011. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad invited her to a meeting, and she accepted.
“Originally, I had no intention of meeting with Assad, but when given the opportunity, I felt it was important to take it. I think we should be ready to meet with anyone if there’s a chance it can help bring about an end to this war, which is causing the Syrian people so much suffering,” Gabbard declared.
Supporters of the Syrian war—the same people who do not want President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. troops—seized upon Gabbard’s meeting with Assad to discredit her, and it has fueled the backlash among Western media pundits to her decision to run for president.
Yet, in spite of a smear campaign encouraged by the political establishment, Gabbard has not backed down from protesting U.S. support for terrorists in Syria. She sponsored legislation, the Stop Arming Terrorists Act.
During an interview for the Sanders Institute in September 2018, Gabbard said, “Since 2011, when the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and these other countries started this slow drawn-out regime change war in Syria, it is terrorist groups like al Qaida, al Nusra, and Hayat Tahrir al Sham, these different groups that have morphed and taken on names but essentially are all linked to al Qaida or al Qaida themselves that have proven to be the most effective ground force against the government in trying to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Gabbard opposes what she calls a “genocidal war” in Yemen, and she is one of the few representatives, who has worked to pass a war powers resolution in the House to end U.S. military involvement since Congress never authorized the war.
“The United States is standing shoulder to shoulder supporting Saudi Arabia in this war as they commit these atrocities against Yemeni civilians,” Gabbard said during the same Sanders Institute interview.
Another war Gabbard questions is the war in Libya. In an interview for “The Jimmy Dore Show” on September 11, 2018, she spoke about the devastating consequences of pursuing regime change without considering what would happen after Muammar Gaddafi was removed from power.
“After we led the war to topple Gaddafi, we have open human slave trading going on, in open market. In today’s society, we have more terrorists in Libya today than there ever were before.”
Gabbard is also one of the few elected politicians to oppose weapons sales, especially to Saudi Arabia. She recognizes the military industrial-complex benefits the most from Congress not exercising its authority over war-making by presidents, whether they are Republican or Democrat.
She spoke out against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he refused to revoke support for Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen because it would jeopardize a $2 billion arms deal.
Not many Democrats are willing to be optimistic on North Korea, but Gabbard sees potential for peace and does not view Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un as an act of treason.
Gabbard said during the Sanders Institute interview, “For years, I’ve been working in Congress and calling for direct engagement with North Korea with Kim Jong-un to be able to try to broker a peace agreement that will result in de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and and finally bring about an end to the Korean War.”
“So I think that the recent engagement that we have seen—both the historic meeting between a sitting U.S. president and the leader of North Korea—is certainly a positive step in the right direction. We have to be willing to have these conversation to promote peace,” Gabbard said. And, “I think the continued engagement between North Korea and South Korea is positive.”
Gabbard acknowledged there are a lot of details that have to be worked out, but that does not make her hostile to the entire process, which is the attitude of many pundits and Democrats in the establishment.
Joe Rogan interviewed Gabbard in September 2018. He raised the issue of Russian troll farms and Facebook’s failure to deal with them. She had a sober response to his concerns.
“The United States has been doing this for a very long time in countries around the world, both overtly and covertly, through these kinds of disinformation campaigns,” Gabbard contended. “Not even counting like the regime change wars, like we’re going to take you out.”
She continued, “I think it is very hypocritical for us to be discussing this issue as a country without actually being honest about how this goes both ways. So, yes, we need to stop these other foreign countries—and Russia’s not the only one; there are others—from trying to influence the American people and our elections. We also need to stop doing the same thing in other countries.”
Such positions on war and U.S. foreign policy effectively make her a pariah to establishment media pundits and the political class. But her anti-establishment politics do not end there.
Gabbard has advocated against superdelegates, which are Democratic party insiders that have an outsized role in influencing the outcome of presidential primaries. She favors open primaries and same-day voter registration. She is outspoken against the influence of money in politics, and she is audacious enough to question members of her own political party.
“We have to dig a few layers deeper as people are running for office, say what do you actually stand for?” she said on “The Jimmy Dore Show.” “What is your vision for this country? That’s the debate that we will have to have in Congress should Democrats win over the House or win more seats in the Senate.”
“Otherwise, it will be more of the same status quo, where you’ll have lobbyists who have more of a seat at the table writing policies that affect healthcare and education and Wall Street and everything else rather than having a true and representative government by and for the people,” she concluded.
She was also critical of self-described progressives, who are pro-war, while on “Jimmy Dore”:
You have these individuals and groups of people who call themselves progressive but are some of the first to call for more war in the guise of humanitarianism. They look at these poor people suffering—and there are people suffering in the other parts of the world. Let’s go drop more bombs and try to take away their suffering. And when you look at example after example after example, our actions, U.S. policy, interventionist regime change war policy, [has] made the lives of people in these other countries far worse off than they ever were before or would have been if we had just stayed out of it.
Gabbard was much closer to an establishment politician prior to her resignation from the DNC. She accepted tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from political action committees (PACs).
The Center for Responsive Politics noted, “One of the largest contributing sectors was the defense industry. While Gabbard has gained a following for her anti-interventionist stances, yet, her 2016 campaign was given $63,500 from the defense sector. In fact, the campaign received donations of $10,000 from the Boeing Corporation PAC and from Lockheed Martin’s PAC, two of the biggest names in the military-industrial complex.”
In 2017, Gabbard announced she would no longer accept PAC money. She raised $37,000 from labor associations and trade unions.
Gabbard was “conflicted” over whether to support the Senate report on CIA torture. She said in 2014 that she thought there were “things missing or it was incomplete.” She also endorsed the “ticking time bomb” scenario that officials use to justify torture, and it is unclear what her view would be now, if asked about the issue.
She has taken a position on Israeli occupation of Palestine that is common among Democrats. She supports a two-state solution and describes Israel as the U.S.’ “strongest ally.” But it may be shifting. In the last year, she condemned Israel for its violence against the people of Gaza, and she was reluctant to vote for a House resolution that condemned the UN Security Council for criticizing Israeli settlements.
Journalist Eoin Higgins questioned Gabbard’s support from the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), which he described as right-wing. She has garnered criticism for her trip to India in 2014, when she met with India prime minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist.
But HAF believes this criticism of Gabbard is unfair because other members of Congress, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have attended gatherings with Modi. They also point to financial records and maintain they are a U.S. organization without ties to any organizations in India.
When she was much younger, Gabbard helped her father’s organization mobilize against a same-sex marriage in Hawaii. The organization, Alliance for Traditional Marriage, backed conversion therapy
However, there is evidence to suggest that Gabbard has abandoned much of the bigotry that she probably learned from her father. She backed Edith Windsor when she challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
“Let me say I regret the positions I took in the past, and the things I said. I’m grateful for those in the LGBTQ+ community who have shared their aloha with me throughout my personal journey,” Gabbard stated, responding to media coverage of this aspect of her past.
She noted that she has since supported “the Equality Act, the repeal of DOMA, Restore Honor to Service members Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and the Equality for All Resolution,” and added, “Much work remains to ensure equality and civil rights protections for LGBTQ+ Americans, and if elected President, I will continue to fight for equal rights for all.”
There are powerful forces in American politics that will seize upon her past opposition to LGBTQ rights and meeting with Assad to neutralize her presidential campaign before she even has an opportunity to tour the country and meet with potential supporters. They fear the impact she could have if voters gravitate to her campaign, which will likely promote her anti-imperialism.
Often Democrats do not bother to connect foreign policy to domestic issues. Gabbard is likely to run a rare campaign, where she makes the case that they are intertwined—that in order to make investments in universal health care, education, infrastructure, etc, the massive investment in war must be severely curtailed.
Gabbard also aware of the disenchantment among voters, who do not believe either political party has the answers. She understands President Trump is a symptom of what ails the country.
As she said on “Jimmy Dore,” “If we look at the lead-up to the 2016 election, and if we actually listen to and examine why people chose to vote the way they did, it points to much bigger problems, a much bigger disaffection that has been building for quite some time, that voters have against the establishment of Washington, the political establishment within both parties.”