Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-Honolulu, 2013-present) would not have run for president – or emerged from backbench obscurity – had it not been for one dramatic moment in 2016.
After Bernie Sanders‘ shellacking in the South Carolina Democratic primary, Tulsi Gabbard announced her resignation from the Democratic National Committee, where she served as vice-chair, to endorse and campaign on his behalf.
This so-called willingness to buck the party that people, including Donna Brazile, wrongly thought had “rigged the primaries” endeared Gabbard to many Bernie Sanders supporters and other tenuous Democrats.
It’s on their support that Gabbard hopes to rise to the presidency (or, more realistically, the Senate/a cabinet position). But those supporting her on the basis of one act alone overlook the many reasons her leftist populism rivals Donald Trump’s demagoguery in ignorance, bigotry, and disregard for fundamental rights and human life.
Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 presidential campaign hinges on a populism that necessitates voters overlook her record and statements for a presumption of anti-establishmentarianism. In no place is this more obvious than her foreign policy beliefs.
Ostensibly anti-war – a position held by many across the ideological spectrum, especially the left – Tulsi Gabbard’s reluctance to use military force stems from her desire to see dictators remain in power.
In Syria, Gabbard has long demanded the withdrawal of U.S troops and cooperation with the dictator Bashar al-Assad. Assad’s despotic regime, aided by Vladimir Putin, has waged a brutal and criminal war against those in his country seeking freedom and liberty.
His atrocities include multiple uses of chemical weapons – a war crime – and the systematic bombing of rebel-held cities (not to mention the humanitarian disaster he caused in Aleppo), killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions, directly contributing to the refugee crisis.
Assad’s crimes haven’t stopped Gabbard from wanting him to remain in power. To prove her commitment to the dictator, Gabbard decided to visit the worn-torn nation. She failed to alert government leaders that she would visit a country with which we do not have diplomatic relations and met with the tyrant in a move that might have run afoul of the Logan Act (given the two countries are in dispute).
She initially wouldn’t disclose who funded the trip, signing and submitting incomplete ethics forms. It soon emerged that an alleged anti-semitic group with longstanding ties to the Syrian regime paid for the trip. That group also helped Greek neo-fascist Golden Dawn members visit the country. After much criticism, Tulsi Gabbard refunded the money.
Gabbard called the trip a “fact-finding” mission, but let it be curated entirely by pro-government figures. Two of Assad’s henchmen, who hail from a virulently anti-Semitic party with a history of fascism, accompanied her throughout the visit.
Without speaking to a single dissident voice, Tulsi Gabbard returned with a renewed belief in Assad’s beneficence – an American falling victim to Assad’s propaganda.
It’s not just the Syrian dictator Gabbard favors. She also visited Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and praised him for his “great courage and leadership in taking on this extreme Islamist ideology, while also fighting against ISIS militarily to keep them from gaining a foothold in Egypt,” urging leaders to “recognize President al-Sisi and his leadership” and “stand with him in this fight against . . . Islamic extremists.”Tulsi Gabbard with the Egyptian dictator.
Al-Sisi’s government has a zero-tolerance policy for dissent of any kind. Opposition figures have been routinely rounded up and jailed without a semblance of due process. Many are then tortured and executed. Others see assets seized and rights revoked after being placed on an opaque terrorism watch list. Civilians wind up in front of military tribunals after speaking out against the government.
These flagrant human rights abuses do not trouble Tulsi Gabbard at all. She supports these dictators in their efforts to stifle fundamental liberties all in the name of fighting terrorism, a phrase long abused by the authoritarian-minded to justify repression.
Both instances shine light onto Gabbard’s fixation with so-called “radical Islamic terrorism” and fundamental distrust of the religion. She spent the better part of her first two congressional terms appearing on any cable news program that would have to argue that Barack Obama and John Kerry’s refusal to mention the words “radical Islamic terrorism” somehow hurt our fight against terrorism.
This bizarre argument, frequently promoted by hawkish Republicans such as Lindsey Graham and their more bigoted counterparts, obviously holds no merit (how does uttering a phrase somehow defeat an enemy?) but does tap into a strong vein of Islamophobia.
Her actions corresponded with her words. In 2014, Tulsi Gabbard introduced legislation to end the visa waiver program for any country with citizens working for ISIS. Given the international reach of the terror group and its ability to radicalize lone wolves who proclaim allegiance to the group, this legislation would have extended to almost every single one of America’s allies. This truly senseless measure for a virtually non-existent threat would have created more bureaucracy and hurt American relationships without making our country any safer.
The next year, she voted for legislation that would have effectively halted Syrian refugee resettlement during the crisis’ height – while, of course, supporting the man responsible for creating those refugees. It would have accomplished a bigot’s dream: Add the most stringent refugee vetting requirements ever demanded of those fleeing a war-torn country.
Given her disinterest in supporting human rights and helping those escaping unimaginable violence, it’s little surprise that Gabbard’s positions earned her the favor of Steve Bannon, the former Donald Trump aide best known for Islamophobia, homophobia, and host of other far-right views.
That attraction apparently went both ways. Shortly after Trump’s election, 169 House Democrats signed a letter denouncing Trump’s appointment of the white nationalist Bannon as his chief strategist. Tulsi Gabbard refused to add her name.
Her position on LGBT rights is little better. Early in her political career, Gabbard opposed abortion and support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and woman.Tulsi Gabbard surfing.
The rhetoric reached disgusting lows: After Honolulu Magazine emailed Gabbard’s father, a leading opponent of LGBT rights, to ask about his former ties to a conservative Hare Krishna splinter group for a 2004 profile, Tulsi angrily replied, accusing the magazine of “acting as a conduit for The Honolulu Weekly and other homosexual extremist supporters of Ed Case [her father’s opponent].”
That same year, she led opposition to and voted against a state bill to all same-sex unions, saying “as Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists.”
In recent years, Gabbard has claimed viewpoint evolution. This in itself would be admirable – it shows growth from her younger years and the ability to admit mistakes – but her own words cast doubt on that sincerity.
A 2015 interview with Ozy shows her personal viewpoints haven’t changed – she’s still opposed to same-sex marriage – but her belief that government should regulate such a union has morphed. This immediately comes across as disingenuous: What else would a Democrat with national ambitions say if she wanted a future in an increasingly socially liberal party?
Tulsi Gabbard has shown a predilection for authoritarian leaders and blatant disregard for human rights, both abroad with those seeing basic freedoms and fleeing violence and death and at home with those hoping to express their love.
Her desire for America to withdraw from its position of world leadership helps no one – except the tyrants. Tusli Gabbard’s 2020 presidential bid must be weighed on her merits, or lack thereof, and not her notoriety for one act of what some consider political heroism. She doesn’t deserve your support or your vote.