Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Women's March: Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar join Kamala Harris and Liz Warren

The 2019 Women's March this Saturday may have been abandoned by the DNC on account of perceived anti-Semitism (it still has plenty of sponsors, and the one in Houston is on; keep an eye on the weather), but the 2020 run is almost full.  Of the rumored, declared, and 'exploring' female presidential Democratic contenders kept track of by Axios, all have moved to the starting blocks.

And all have promptly undergone preliminary vetting, Gabbard the most of all.  This post will focus on her; the other women I will put in one post (my thoughts on Warren are here) later this week.  Let me throw up a few links -- no pun -- and sprinkle in some opinion.

Vox: How she went from rising star to pariah -- and then presidential candidate

Zack Beauchamp's history is the best place to begin if you're still learning about the Congresswoman.  Here's a few excerpts.

On paper, Gabbard is the perfect Democratic candidate. She is an Iraq War veteran who vocally criticized American wars, an outspoken economic progressive, and the first Hindu member of Congress. After her 2012 election victory, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called her an “emerging star”; MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow predicted that “she is on the fast track to being very famous.”

You've probably heard about her anti-LGBTQ family upbringing.

Despite her conservative social views — she also opposed abortion — Gabbard was a Democrat, albeit not one likely to succeed on the national stage. But in 2004, Gabbard deployed to the Middle East for her National Guard unit, serving as a combat medic in Iraq and a counterterrorism trainer in Kuwait.

This was, according to Gabbard, a transformative experience. During her 2012 campaign for an open seat in the US House, Gabbard supported both same-sex marriage and abortion rights. She explained her change of heart in a December 2011 blog post on her campaign site. It’s worth reading her statement at length ...

Take a moment and consider that.  Continuing:

Gabbard made a name for herself during the 2012 campaign as a Democrat to watch. The strength of her campaign — she won an upset primary victory after initially trailing by 50 points — and her compelling personal background caught the eye of national Democrats pretty early. That summer, Pelosi tapped her for a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention.

She effectively moved beyond her controversial stands on social issues, situating herself as an economic progressive and critic of the Bush-era wars in the Middle East. The latter was particularly important, as she grounded her anti-war arguments in her personal experience witnessing the cost of war. This immunized her from the “soft on terrorism” charges so many Democrats were terrified to court, making her a powerful critic of “nation building” and “wars of choice.”

Another famous biracial Hawaiian politician, President Barack Obama, endorsed her congressional run. After her victory, Gabbard was given one of five vice-chairmanships of the Democratic National Committee, a sign of the party’s faith in her.

From there, it's been all downhill for Tulsi and establishment Democrats.  First, she consistently put herself on the wrong side of the Obama administration in the War on Terra.  That wasn't a bad thing at first ...until she undermined her 'anti-war' reputation.

As early as January 2015, she started going on every cable channel that would have her — including Fox News — and bashing Obama’s policy on terrorism. She sounded indistinguishable from a Republican presidential candidate.

“What is so frustrating ... is that our administration refuses to recognize who our enemy is,” she said in a January 2015 interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “And unless and until that happens, then it’s impossible to come up with a strategy to defeat that enemy. We have to recognize that this is about radical Islam.”

Ah yes, 'radical Islam'.  You'd best go get the full context that follows.

The term is not analytically precise, not necessary for designing a strategy against specific groups like ISIS, and insulting to the vast majority of Muslims around the world. President George W. Bush’s counterterrorism team refused to use it for precisely these reasons.

Yet this was the hill that Gabbard had chosen to die on. Time and time again, she went after the Obama administration for its refusal to say “radical Islam,” each time pushing herself away from the party mainstream.

This overwhelming focus on the threat from terrorism culminated in what’s now her most infamous policy position: quasi-support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the dictator responsible for the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the conflict’s worst atrocities.

Gabbard argued, along with a small minority of foreign policy analysts, that the best way to defeat ISIS in Syria was for the US to align itself with Assad’s regime. Gabbard argued that the US should cut funding to the rebels fighting Assad, even sponsoring a bill in Congress to cut off US support. In the fall of 2015, when Russia began its bombing campaign in Syria, Gabbard celebrated it as a win for counter-terrorism.

This scorched her.  But she kept going.

Gabbard’s pro-Assad behavior only escalated as her time in Congress went on. In January 2017, she traveled to Syria and went to meet with Assad personally, blindsiding the Democratic leadership in Congress. After returning to the US, she went on CNN and parroted the regime’s line that there was “no difference” between the mainstream anti-Assad rebels and ISIS.

When Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians in April 2017, Gabbard said she was “skeptical” that Assad was responsible, aligning herself with conspiracy theorists against both US intelligence and the overwhelming majority of independent experts.

The “radical Islam” and Syria debacles doubly damned Gabbard. To the leadership, they showed her to be disloyal; to the party’s policy experts and rank-and-file, they revealed her to be someone who had worrying affinities with Syria and Russia.

That's what drew Neera Tanden and Howard Dean's vitriol.  More from Salon.  Tulsi's benefit-of-the-doubt granted Assad isn't supported by the overwhelming evidence against the dictator, despite his vehement denials (and Putin's excuses for him).

These controversies unraveled the principal promise of Gabbard’s candidacy from a progressive point of view: that she’d be a consistent, effective anti-war voice.

It became clear that her position wasn’t that endless war was bad, but rather that wars for regime change should be replaced with a beefed-up war on terrorism. In addition to suggesting the US should intervene in Syria on the same side as a murderous dictator, she proposed a policy of US special forces raids around the world and even expressed a willingness to authorize torture of terrorism suspects if she were president. She referred to herself in one interview as a “dove” on regime change but a “hawk” on terrorism, neatly summarizing her actual positions.

'Nuance' on torture is a deal-breaker for me.  Let me wrap the Vox profile with this.

If Gabbard were estranged from the party leadership as a result of her views on terrorism, a full-on divorce came in 2016 when she became one of a handful of prominent Democrats to endorse Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. To do so, Gabbard resigned her position as vice-chair of the DNC, a hard break with the party that she claimed was motivated by reservations about Clinton’s foreign policy instincts.


Much like Gabbard’s postwar conversion on abortion and gay rights, this seems both plausible and politically savvy. Gabbard’s positioning on Syria and fights with the Obama administration had already alienated many people in the party’s more mainstream wing; courting the party’s insurgents seemed like a smart way to build a new base of national support.

In the years since, Gabbard has cultivated this relationship. She has endorsed a $15 minimum wage, Medicare-for-All, and the Green New Deal. When she faced a primary challenge in 2018, motivated in part by her Syria position, the pro-Sanders group Our Revolution endorsed her (as did actress Shailene Woodley, an Our Revolution board member). She has a vocal group of online fans from the so-called “anti-imperialist” left, a loose group of writers — like the anti-Israel gadfly Max Blumenthal — who share her position on Syria.

But on the whole, the left isn’t nearly as pro-Gabbard as you might think. Some of Gabbard’s harshest critics come not from the party mainstream, but rather the party’s left and democratic socialist flanks.

In 2017, the socialist publication Jacobin published a brutal takedown entitled “Tulsi Gabbard Is Not Your Friend,” focusing on dispelling the myth of Gabbard as an opponent of America’s wars abroad.

“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,” Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic writes. “It is nationalism in anti-war garb, reinforcing instead of undercutting the toxic rhetoric that treats foreigners as less deserving of dignity than Americans.”

Reached via email, Marcetic told me that he believes many in the American left share his view of Gabbard.

“My sense is there’s a pretty big cohort of the Left that distrusts Gabbard,” he said. “Her anti-interventionism isn’t quite as peaceful as she makes it out to be.”

Just two weeks ago, the Intercept, a left-aligned anti-war outlet, published a deeply reported expose on Gabbard’s ties to Hindu nationalists. Gabbard has long supported Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an anti-Islam right-winger who had previously been barred from entering the US due to being personally implicated in deadly anti-Muslim riots. In turn, American Hindu supporters of Modi had become some of Gabbard’s biggest donors — including some disturbingly Islamophobic groups.

“Hindu-Americans have supported Gabbard since the start of her political career, and that support has increased substantially since Modi’s election, much of it coming from Hindu nationalists,” Soumya Shankar writes in the Intercept’s piece. “Dozens of Gabbard’s donors have either expressed strong sympathy with or have ties to the Sangh Parivar — a network of religious, political, paramilitary, and student groups that subscribe to the Hindu supremacist, exclusionary ideology known as Hindutva.”

Hitting pause: See yesterday's Tucker Carlson/Glenn Greenwald interview -- where the two agree that Tulsi is being maligned by the Washington establishment; never mind what else may be going on with her political positions -- if you need some more cognitive dissonance.

These attacks in the left press underscore how divisive a figure she is even among the party’s insurgent wing. It’s hard to see why a faction that was troubled by Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy record would be open to someone who had engaged in borderline Islamophobic rhetoric about “radical Islam,” called for escalations in the war on terrorism, and backed anti-Islam populists and dictators abroad.

What’s more, the Bernie camp has a candidate they’d obviously prefer to Gabbard: Bernie. If the senator from Vermont runs, as many expect, there’s no way his biggest fans in the party would pick Gabbard over him. There isn’t room for multiple left outsiders, and Sanders is just more popular and has far better name recognition.

And even if he doesn’t run, it’s not obvious that his supporters would automatically pick Gabbard over another progressive.

That's bingo on my card.  I'll wish Tulsi good luck but she won't be my second choice, or third, or ...

Still to come: Senators Kamala (pronounced like 'Pamela'), Kirsten, Amy, and one for the boys next week, Sherrod Brown.  For now enjoy this 'top ten' by Mehdi Hasan of the Intercept, which is kind of a joke and kind of truth at the same time.

I'm not counting on Oprah, or her pal Marianne Williamson (who'd be better off running Green) as being serious contenders.  Nevertheless, MW has "something" scheduled for the end of this month.

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