Newsmaker: If the issue is war and peace

When Rep. Tulsi Gabbard announced her intent to run for 2020 president, she was treated less like a marquee candidate and more like a sideshow

Newsmaker: If the issue is war and peace
Newsmaker: If the issue is war and peace

Lead with Love,” reads her campaign slogan. Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who announced she is running for president in 2020, means it.

“Aloha is more than just hello and goodbye, Aloha really means that we recognize each other as brothers and sisters. And that when we say Aloha to one another, we’re saying that I’m coming to you with an open heart and with love and compassion and care and respect,” she told CNN when she joined the list of 2020 Democratic candidates for the president.

However, she is facing renewed scrutiny over her past comments on LGBT issues and a controversial meeting with Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad.

Within days of her decision, this Congresswoman is facing questions over her work in the early 2000’s for an anti-gay organization run by her father, Mike Gabbard.

A review of Gabbard’s past political engagements published by CNN’s KFile found while Gabbard was running for state legislature, she touted work she did alongside her father to help pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Hawaii.

“Working with my father, Mike Gabbard, and others to pass a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, I learned that real leaders are willing to make personal sacrifices for the common good. I will bring that attitude of public service to the legislature,” Gabbard is known to have said during an interview.

Rep. Gabbard has cultivated a fandom among the right by bashing fellow Democrats and espousing views that break with the party line.

Since taking office in 2013, Gabbard has gained a reputation of a liberal politician. While holding familiar Democratic positions on environmental issues, health care, and gun control, she was a frequent critic of President Obama’s foreign policy, met Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and has questioned whether he used chemical weapons on his own citizens.

Once discussed among party insiders as a rising star who signed on to be a vice chair at the Democratic National Committee, she quit in protest during the 2016 election and endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary.

Tulsi Gabbard, if elected, would be the youngest president in US history at only thirty-nine years old. At the age of 21, she was elected to the Hawaii state legislature, the youngest woman ever elected to a state house. She served one term in office before deploying with the Hawaii Army National Guard. She has served two overseas tours, one in Iraq and one in Kuwait, and currently holds the rank of Major.

Ever since she entered Congress, Gabbard has built a solid record of progressive credentials. She favors a $15 minimum wage, a “Medicare for All” single-payer healthcare system, the legalization of marijuana, and has been a lifelong advocate of environmentalism.

Being a unique candidate necessarily brings along odd touches. A practicing Hindu, her irregular spiritual journey and associations with “spiritual master” Chris Butler, is likely to raise a lot of eyebrows in Middle America. And her transformation on social issues, previously being both pro-life and opposed to “homosexual extremists,” has already raised voices among progressive activists not entirely convinced by her 2012 conversion.

But where Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential candidacy is most unique is her foreign policy. “There is one main issue that is central to the rest,” she said during an interview with CNN after listing planks for a progressive domestic platform. “And that is the issue of war and peace.”

Gabbard has spent her national career in the spotlight for her heterodox opinions on foreign policy, breaking from the bipartisan, interventionist consensus that Donald Trump similarly challenged in 2016.

Gabbard has been one of the fiercest critics of the Syrian rebels in Congress, opposing efforts by the CIA and the Obama administration to provide billions of dollars of aid and training to Al Qaeda allied Islamist groups. “In short, when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” Gabbard said in a 2016 interview. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I'm a dove.”

And the congresswoman isn’t afraid to say how diametrically opposed she is to the US position in Syria. “Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11 and must be defeated. Obama won’t bomb them in Syria. Putin did. #neverforget911,” she tweeted in 2015. One of her main legislative pushes was the “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” to criminalise US support for Al Qaeda, ISIS, and associated groups. The bill never made it to a vote, but she was happy to see President Donald Trump discontinue the Obama era program in spring 2017. Gabbard’s fall from grace in the Democratic Party came in a bizarre fashion as she picked a series of high-profile fights with the Obama administration over foreign policy.

She bears an unexpected base of support from the far right and the conservative media.

Gabbard has also maintained friendly relationships with high-profile, right-leaning television personalities. She first became an in-demand Fox News guest in 2015 after she criticized Barack Obama’s unwillingness to use the label “radical Islamic terrorism.” Her media tour explaining that position earned her positively-tilted coverage in right-wing outlets—a trend that continued when she later expressed skepticism of Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

In line with her views on Syria, she lacks the anti-Russian stance of other Democrats. “How does going to war with Russia over Syria serve the interest of the American people?” she had mentioned in a tweet. Gabbard has also supported Trump’s diplomatic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in one of her multiple appearances with Tucker Carlson.

She has also condemned the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, saying that profit from US arm sales to the kingdom was “blood money.” Gabbard also criticised President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Gabbard has called for a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, while also declining to condemn torture as an interrogation method.

One area where Gabbard seems to be in full agreement with traditional Washington politics is on Israel. In 2015 she spoke at a conference for Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest pro-Israel organisation in the United States, run by hardline Christian-Zionist Pastor John Hagee. And in 2016 she accepted an award from controversial Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a supporter of Israeli settlement projects and outspoken critic of the Obama administration. At the same event, she took a photograph with Boteach and Miriam Adelson, wife of billionaire Republican donor Sheldon Adelson. Despite her support for the Iran deal, she attended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s joint address to Congress in March 2015, an event many Democratic legislators purposely skipped. She has voiced support for a two-state solution, while also expressing muted criticism for Israeli treatment of Palestinian protesters early last year.

Describing Tulsi’s campaign, Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and former advisor to Hillary Clinton, tweeted sarcastically, “Because the pro-Assad, pro-Bannon, anti-Mazie Hirono lane in the Dem party is a very big one.”

– FC Bureau