Tulsi Gabbard Is Not Your FriendBY
BRANKO MARCETICTulsi Gabbard is hailed as a progressive champion. But her views on Islam and support for far-right leaders suggest otherwise.Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard is announced at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Conservative Beginnings
Despite her progressive image today, Gabbard has conservative roots. Her father is Mike Gabbard, a former Honolulu city councilman, state senator, and high profile anti-gay activist who led a campaign against same-sex marriage in Hawaii in the 1990s. He founded the educational nonprofit Stop Promoting Homosexuality and bought himself a show on a local radio station to denounce LGBT people.
Early in her career, Gabbard took after her father. She opposed abortion and supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. After Honolulu Magazine emailed her father to ask about his former ties to a conservative Hare Krishna splinter group for a 2004 profile, it was Gabbard who replied angrily, accusing the magazine of “acting as a conduit for The Honolulu Weekly and other homosexual extremist supporters of Ed Case [her father’s opponent].” The same year, she used her platform as a state representative to testify against civil unions, calling the claim that they were different from same-sex marriage “dishonest, cowardly, and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii,” who had voted in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2 in 1998, empowering the legislature to withhold marriage from same-sex couples.
“As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists,” she said at the time.
Gabbard has since done a 180, citing her military service in the Middle East as the impetus for her conversion to social liberalism.
“The contrast between our society and those in the Middle East made me realize that the difference — the reason those societies are so oppressive — is that they are essentially theocracies where the government and government leaders wield the power to both define and then enforce ‘morality,’” she wrote in a December 2011 post. “I began to realize that the positions I had held previously regarding the issues of choice and gay marriage were rooted in the same premise held by those in power in the oppressive Middle East regimes I saw.”
She effected a similar about-face on abortion, even receiving an endorsement from EMILY’S List during her 2012 congressional run despite her history of opposing reproductive rights.
And why not? Gabbard was only twenty-three when she expounded her socially conservative views, and it’s not unheard of for people’s thinking to evolve.
But suspicion of Gabbard lingers. Her state Democratic Party LGBT caucus, for instance, openly distrusts her, and backed her Democratic primary opponent in 2016. When questioned why the LGBT caucus, which had actually supported her three years earlier, had turned against her, the chairman cited two things. One was her less-than-stellar answers to a questionnaire the LGBT Caucus had sent. The other was a 2015 interview with Ozy, in which she confirmed that her personal views on gay marriage and abortion hadn’t changed, just her view on whether the government should enforce its vision of morality.
Gabbard’s campaign subsequently cancelled an interview with the LGBT Caucus, citing a number of private Facebook posts by its chairman and vice chairman in support of her primary opponent as evidence the group was “campaigning” for her. Gabbard’s press aide told Golojuch that “it unfortunately appears that your leadership is out of touch.”
This came on top of an earlier slight in 2013, when the caucus had asked Gabbard to send someone to testify at the legislative special session on same-sex marriage, only to be told that Gabbard “doesn’t get involved in state politics.” Gabbard’s Hawaiian colleagues in Congress all sent a representative to testify in support.
Gabbard does not actively work against gay rights. In fact, she’s cosponsored and supported numerous bills favoring the LGBT community during her time in Congress, from the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Still, her questionable loyalty to LGBT and abortion rights is disquieting considering her public reputation as a beacon of progressivism.Gabbard’s Anti-Interventionism
Much of the praise Gabbard receives is for her anti-interventionism. During her 2012 House campaign, she ran ads complaining about “endless war.” She has called for pulling out of Afghanistan, the longest war in US history, suggesting that the government invest the money instead into “rebuilding our own nation through long-term infrastructure projects.” She’s opposed US intervention in Syria since 2013, air strikes in Iraq, and arms sales to Saudi Arabia. She backed Sanders in the Democratic primary because of Clinton’s record of supporting “interventionist regime change wars.”
All of this has created the impression that Gabbard, unlike much of the Democratic Party, is antiwar.
Gabbard’s objections to US wars spring not from a concern for those parts of the world the US military bombs and invades, but exclusively from a concern about the Americans who fight them. As she told Truthout in 2012, her own military service in Iraq and Kuwait “changed my life completely” and revealed the “tremendous cost of war,” recounting the daily casualties and injuries to US troop she saw when she was deployed in a medical unit.
“The cost of war impacts all of us — both in the human cost and the cost that’s being felt frankly in places like Flint, Michigan, where families and children are devastated and destroyed by completely failed infrastructure because of lack of investment,” she told Glamour magazine in March last year.
This also formed the thrust of her speech at 2012’s (particularly militaristic) DNC, where she told the crowd, “As a combat veteran, I know the costs of war. The sacrifices made by our troops and our military families are immeasurable.”
There’s nothing wrong, of course, with expressing empathy for the soldiers who are sent to fight, lose limbs, and die in wars of choice launched by their political leaders. The suffering they and their families endure is heartbreaking, especially considering that many join the military because they lack any other economic opportunities. And the money spent on wars abroad would surely be better used on infrastructure at home.
But Gabbard’s almost singular focus on the damage these wars inflict domestically, and her comparative lack of focus on the carnage they wreak in the countries under attack, is troubling. It is nationalism in antiwar garb, reinforcing instead of undercutting the toxic rhetoric that treats foreigners as less deserving of dignity than Americans. (Gabbard’s brand of anti-interventionism has even received praise from former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who called for her to be named secretary of state.)
And it still produces its fair share of bloodshed. Like campaign-era Trump, Gabbard may be against miring the United States in blunderous, short-sighted conflicts that backfire, but she’s more than willing to use America’s military might to go after suspected terrorists around the world (and inevitably kill and maim civilians in the process). In the same Truthout interview, responding to a question about drones, Gabbard said that “there is a place for the use of this technology, as well as smaller, quick-strike special force teams versus tens, if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers occupying space within a country.”
It’s a point she’s repeated again and again. Responding to questions from Honolulu Civil Beat in 2012, Gabbard said that “the best way to defeat the terrorists is through strategically placed, small quick-strike special forces and drones — the strategy that took out Osama Bin Laden.” She told Fox in 2014 that she would direct “the great military that we have” to conduct “unconventional strategic precise operations to take out these terrorists wherever they are.” The same year, she told Civil Beat that military strategy must “put the safety of Americans above all else” and “utilize our highly skilled special operations forces, work with and support trusted foreign partners to seek and destroy this threat.”
“In short, when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” she told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald last year. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”
In other words, Gabbard would continue the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which itself was a continuation (and in some ways ramping up) of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. She would keep up the drone bombing of seven Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa — perhaps even expand it — while also relying more on special operations forces, which are already raiding, assassinating, and gathering intelligence in 70 percent of the world’s countries.
Drones killed hundreds of civilians over Obama’s eight years, while special operations forces like SEAL Team 6 — which Gabbard specifically name-checked in her positive allusion to the bin Laden raid — are known for their fair share of brutality. It was “quick-strike special forces” conducting a “strategic precise operation,” to use Gabbard’s term, that a little less than four months ago killed thirty civilians in a botched raid in Yemen.
Not surprisingly, Gabbard has received plaudits from conservatives for her foreign policy stances. The National Review published a glowing profile of the congresswoman in April 2015, complete with a quote from American Enterprise Institute (AEI) president Arthur Brooks saying that he “like[s] her thinking a lot.”
Gabbard was subsequently one of three Democrats — the others being New Jersey senator Cory Booker and Maryland congressman John Delaney — who secured an invitation to AEI’s annual closed-to-the-press retreat, where she hobnobbed with the likes of Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, Mike Pence, Rupert Murdoch, the DeVoses, and a host of other major conservative figures. At the AEI’s urging, she had earlier spoken at the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of national security wonks sponsored by Lockheed Martin, Canada’s Department of National Defence, and others.
Another reason Gabbard started receiving applause from the Right was her very public skepticism of the Iran deal.
The Obama administration may have continued much of the Bush approach to the “war on terror,” but it at least recognized the value of diplomacy. Not Gabbard, however, who told Fox News she was “cynical” toward the pact, and agreed with host Greta van Susteren that it was akin to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous Munich agreement with Hitler in 1938.
Breitbart gleefully quoted her in headlines expressing “many” and “great” concerns over the deal as it was being negotiated. On the day the agreement was finalized, she issued a statement saying, “We cannot afford to make the same mistake with Iran that was made with North Korea,” citing North Korea’s abrogation of the Agreed Framework agreement it had signed in 1994. When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his unprecedented speech to Congress in March 2015 in an attempt to torpedo the deal, Gabbard didn’t join the significant number of Democrats who boycotted the speech. She attended it.
In light of this, the fact that Gabbard received a “Champion of Freedom” award at the Jewish Values Gala — an awards ceremony held by the World Values Network, which was founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an enthusiastic Trump supporter — in between campaigning for Sanders is less puzzling.
On Rabbi Shmuley’s Facebook page, Gabbard’s award win is recounted in the same post that celebrates making then–Secretary of State John Kerry renounce his statements that Israeli policies contribute to terrorism against Israel. A photo from the event shows Gabbard posing with Rabbi Shmuley and Miriam Adelson, the wife of Sheldon Adelson (Adelson himself is a major Trump supporter, and happens to believe Palestinians are “a made-up people”). As her Democratic primary opponent pointed out, Gabbard has introduced Adelson-backed legislation to Congress before.
Clearly liberals and leftists who admire Gabbard’s foreign policy are mistaking her anti-interventionism for dovishness. But Gabbard’s foreign policy, while an improvement on Trump’s — and what isn’t? — would continue to foment anti-American resentment and anger around the world, with its casualties, destruction, and casual violations of national sovereignty, fueling the very “endless war” she despises.