Gabbard’s supporters tout her as progressive and a breath of fresh air; however, her overtures with Assad, position on refugees and her mixed messages on foreign policy leave much to be desired.
Following Elizabeth Warren’s New Year’s announcement that she was forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential run, the press has been abuzz about just who would announce next now that Warren had opened the proverbial floodgates. Would it be Joe Biden? Bernie Sanders? Kamala Harris? No, as we now know. None of those candidates, the so-called ‘big hitters’ have announced (as of writing) that they’re planning on running. Instead, the next ‘big’ announcement came from Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic representative for Hawaii.
Outside of the US, Gabbard isn’t exactly well known. Sure, some may know her from her appearance on the much-watched ‘Joe Rogan Experience’, but compared to the likes of Warren or Sanders, she’s not considered (at least abroad) to be in the same league, this in spite of her being the former vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) who famously resigned from the Committee in 2016 to throw her weight behind Bernie Sanders’ run.
Given this endorsement of Sanders’ run in 2016, one would expect Gabbard to be the darling of the Democratic Progressive Caucus and the so-called ‘Bernie or Bust’ groups; indeed, she shares many of Sanders’ positions, and some have called on her to either make Bernie her VP or act as Bernie’s come the 2020 presidential election. She backs causes like Medicare-for-all and has received endorsements from a plethora of liberal and progressive groups like Planned Parenthood, Our Revolution and the Sierra Club.
All in all, then, Gabbard seems to be the perfect candidate for many left-leaning voters, seemingly ticking all their boxes whilst also being young, charming and charismatic. Why is it then that her announcement hasn’t gone over well with both the so-called ‘establishment’ and liberal, left-wing of the Democratic Party?
The One About The Dictator — Gabbard, Syria & Assad.
If you did know of Gabbard prior to her appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, it may have been because of her not-so-secret meeting with bloody Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. To put it mildly, this meeting pissed a lot of folks off, both Democrat and Republican. Gabbard claims that the visit was part of a “fact-finding mission” which aimed to try and understand the suffering of ordinary Syrian citizens and that the meeting with Assad came about as if by chance, a claim many on both sides have scorned.
On the face of it, such a meeting is pretty bad; then again, many other US politicians from both parties have met with, praised and traded with unsavoury characters from all over the globe. What initially made Gabbard’s meeting worse wasn’t simply that she met Assad, it was that she then described the US-backed Syrian opposition as “terrorists” and illegitimate. To be fair to Gabbard, there are some groups that oppose Assad that were and are aligned with Islamic fundamentalism; those like al-Nusra for instance. However, to describe all of the Syrian opposition groups as extremist is a major misstep; the Kurds, for example, are vehemently opposed to Assad’s bloody regime and yet aren’t aligned with Islamic fundamentalism.
As if to dig an even deeper hole for herself, Gabbard later expressed what she described as ‘skepticism’ towards the revelation that Assad was using sarin gas against his own people (in spite of independent monitoring groups finding evidence in support of this) and claimed that the US was once again engaging in pointless “regime-change” wars that left no one happy. Again, her view that US foreign interventions have left innocent people worse off isn’t exactly new or unsubstantiated; it was her willingness to seemingly defend Assad’s bloody regime that rightly drew criticism from many lawmakers.
Not A Good Look — Gabbard’s Position on Refugees.
Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that given the endorsement from many progressive organizations, she’d be supportive of their wish to give asylum to many Syrian, Iraqi and other refugees, especially as she claims these refugees are coming from conflicts instigated and perpetuated by the US in order to enact regime change.
Except you’d be wrong, dead wrong in fact! A piece by Branko Marcetic in the left-leaning Jacobin Magazine and another by pplswar on Medium spells out just how wrong you would be. In spite of claiming her trip to Syria was to fully understand the scale of the suffering of the Syrian people, it seems such a trip wasn’t enough to move her to vote against a bill designed to severely curb the number of refugees the US would grant refuge to as a result of the conflict there, with Gabbard being one of a handful of Democrats to back the GOP bill which made it even harder (if not near impossible) for refugees to gain settled status in the US, a country which prior to the bill’s passing already had one of — if not the — strictest, most invasive vetting processes imaginable.
It Gets Worse — Gabbard’s Wider Views on Foreign Policy, Military Intervention & Islam.
Much like with many on the left of the Democratic Party, Gabbard’s main weaknesses lie in her wider foreign policy positions, the main differences being that her positions are far more inconsistent and generally much more interventionist. In an interview with the Hawaii Herald-Tribune, she stated:
“In short, when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk...
When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”
The funny thing about this is that Gabbard’s position isn’t that different to that of Obama or Bush during their presidencies. Her belief that special-ops and drones strikes can be used to defeat terrorist groups is simply a continuation of Obama-era foreign policy that ended up increasing anti-American sentiment in places like Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. Such a belief is all the more confusing as it stands in direct opposition to statements made by Gabbard in both 2012 and 2018 that bemoaned the endless wars and arms deals the US pursues in trying to fight terrorists — You know, the same terrorists she claimed she’d be a “hawk” against and who the US should be bombing more, not less!
Her views on Islamic fundamentalism, as well as Islam and Muslims more generally, also demonstrate either a lack of experience or a great deal of prejudice. She criticized Obama’s failure to use the phrase ‘radical Islam’ when discussing terrorism, a term many argue is an Islamophobic dog-whistle used by many on the hard right to whip up anti-Muslim hatred; whilst her links to far-right Hindu nationalist groups and vote against a resolution supporting the Muslim minority in India — which Gabbard claimed was an unfair attack on prime minister Narendra Modi that would damage US-India relations — are again a cause for concern for many Democrats and Muslims in the USA
A Real Shame — Concluding Thoughts.
There are a whole host of other reasons that you can find as to why Gabbard may not be the best person for the Democrats to nominate in 2020. Her opposition to the TPP free trade deal, her defence of torture methods, her unwillingness to debate her record, her past as a socially conservative, anti-LGBTQ activist. All of these statements, actions, and positions should and do cause concern among many Democrats and liberal-leaning voters.
And that’s a real shame. Alongside her pro-civil liberties positions on state surveillance and marijuana legalization, Gabbard is articulate, intelligent, young and ambitious, all traits the Democrats badly need to embrace if they are to win in 2020. However, the facts concerning both Gabbard’s past comments and current legislative record don’t lie: Her positions — particularly on foreign policy, Islam and refugees — demonstrate not simply a lack of awareness and judgment, but also reveal a dark side to her character that is neither ‘progressive’ or ‘democratic’.🔷
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(This piece was originally published on the PMP Blog. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)