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Tulsi Gabbard and the Great Foreign Policy Realignment

“There’s one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace.” Those were the words [1] of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii, appearing on CNN on January 12, as she threw her hat into the presidential ring.

Gabbard is one of the few Democrats in the 2020 mix who has experience as a combatant in war. Back in 2004, at the peak of fighting in Iraq, she volunteered for duty with the Hawaii National Guard as it was deployed to that country. So for her, as well as for all the other veterans of our recent wars of choice, America’s Middle East policy is more than an object for armchair strategizing.

Thus did Gabbard smile in agreement when CNN host Van Jones summarized her views as “hawk on terror, dove on regime change.” And most Americans would agree: that is, everybody wants an anti-terrorism policy, but few want more foreign wars and regime changes.

Interestingly, Gabbard’s words and related anti-war actions make her a controversial figure on today’s Left. As one Democratic activist tweeted [2] to her nearly 27,000 followers, “She has defended and met with Assad. She sided with Putin over Obama regarding Syria.” It is true that Gabbard, a long-time critic of military intervention in Syria, went to Damascus in January 2017 to meet with Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, immediately after the 2016 election, Gabbard met even with the dreaded Donald Trump.


Some will say, of course, that this is what diplomacy is all about: one engages people in dialogue, including antagonists, foreign and domestic. For instance, during the Vietnam War, plenty of Americans traveled to North Vietnam—including, most notoriously, Jane Fonda [3]—and while such trips caused storms on the Right, few on the Left were bothered.

Yet these days, the Left is bothered. For example, Rolling Stone, once at the vanguard of the anti-war counterculture, is now among those raining down thunder on the anti-war candidate. Its headline [4]: “Tulsi Gabbard’s 2020 Campaign May Be Over Before It Starts.”

Yes, times do change. Back in 1972, Senator George McGovern, himself a decorated combat veteran of World War II, ran on a strongly anti-Vietnam War platform—and Rolling Stone was right there with him. In the words [5] of one writer for the magazine, “McGovern is indisputably a man of conscience.” Another RS writer went further: “George McGovern [is] the only candidate in either party worth voting for.”

As we all know, McGovern won the Democratic nomination that year, but was then crushed by Richard Nixon in the general election. And yet dovishness survived that defeat. In the 1970s and ’80s, grassroots McGovernites took over much of the Democratic Party.

Of course, those were also the years when the Democrats had a hard time winning the presidency—even as they kept a firmer grip on Congress—and that fact was not lost on party insiders. So by 1992, when Bill Clinton won the presidential nomination, Democrats had refashioned themselves to be more hawkish (the preferred word was “muscular”).

Clinton himself didn’t have much standing as a hawk. He had, after all, avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, and had been a staffer on McGovern’s 1972 campaign. Nevertheless, from the comfort and safety of the Oval Office, he was happy to posture as aggressive.

Later, in 2002, Clinton’s wife, Senator Hillary Clinton, another ex-McGovernite, was joined by most Senate Democrats in supporting President George W. Bush’s Iraq war resolution.

Yet even as many Democrats were given over to the liberal version of neoconservatism, anti-war Democrats had hardly disappeared. For instance, Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential nomination in large part because had opposed the Iraq war. Of course, once he was in office, to the vexation of doves, he chose Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state, thereby giving over much of his presidency to Clinton-style military intervention.

One unexpected consequence of this Obama-Clinton hawkishness was the 2016 intra-party insurgency of Senator Bernie Sanders, a lifelong dove who had voted “no” on that same Iraq war resolution.

Enter Gabbard. Having been elected to Congress in 2012, she resigned her post [6] as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 so that she could explicitly support Sanders. (This at a time when the DNC was implicitly supporting Hillary Clinton.)

In other words, looking to 2020, Gabbard can rightfully claim her share of the anti-war mantle—even if Sanders chooses to run again.

Yet these days, it remains to be seen how many Democrats count themselves as anti-war. Indeed, according to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll [7], just 29 percent of Democrats support withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, while 50 percent oppose. As for Afghanistan, by a one-point plurality, Democrats count themselves as hawks.

So what’s going on with the Democrats? Is dovish McGovernism dead? Part of the phenomenon, of course, is knee-jerk opposition to Trump. That is, if the president says he wants to get out of Syria and to draw down in Afghanistan, well, that’s the cue for Democrats to take the opposite position. Such is the nature of partisanship.

Yet it’s also true that the Democrats are changing. That is, many neoconservatives, having supported Bush 43 and Republicans, then turned against Trump and the GOP in 2016; they have, in effect, joined the Democratic Party. And in so doing, they’ve given the Democrats a distinctly Hillary-like—if not Bush 43-like—aspect. Most notably, MSNBC, which styles itself as the most progressive of the cable news channels, has become a haven for Bush 43 alums.

Writing in The Intercept on January 11, Glenn Greenwald [8] summed up the new tendency in the Democratic Party:

What’s happening here is far more insidious. A core ethos of the anti-Trump #Resistance has become militarism, jingoism, and neoconservatism. Trump is frequently attacked by Democrats using longstanding Cold War scripts wielded for decades against them by the far right: Trump is insufficiently belligerent with U.S. enemies; he’s willing to allow the Bad Countries to take over by bringing home U.S. soldiers.

Will that sort of rhetorical pile-driving open up a path for Gabbard as the dovish candidate—or will it simply harden the opposition to her? We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, as the hawks have migrated to the Left, the doves have migrated to the Right. According to that same Politico/Morning Consult poll, 73 percent of Republicans support getting out of Syria: that’s a whopping 44 points more than the Democrats. And 76 percent of Republicans endorse reducing our footprint in Afghanistan.

In other words, within the GOP, the foreign policy positions of, say, Senator Rand Paul and Congressman Justin Amash—joined by, on some days, Trump himself—are in the ascendancy. Indeed, the same survey shows that the bulk of voters take dovish positions on the two foreign conflicts.

Of course, Gabbard is running for the Democratic nomination—and as we have seen, the Democratic Party now abounds with newly arrived hawks. Yet it’s still hard to believe that rank-and-file Democrats are really getting excited about foreign military adventures.

In the meantime, Gabbard is undeniably progressive on most issues. For instance, in 2017, long before Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal was a thing, Gabbard introduced legislation to eliminate fossil fuels by 2035 [9].

In these times, of course, nobody’s crystal ball is working well. And yet it does seem fair to say this much: if Gabbard could somehow win the 2020 Democratic nomination, she’d likely be formidable in the November election. That is, she’s a woman, she’s “diverse”—she was the first Hindu elected to Congress—and she’s a combat veteran with a no-nonsense attitude toward terrorism. And yes, she’s pro-peace. These days, among Americans overall, that’s a winning hand.

Indeed, ever since 2016, when the candidacies of Trump and Sanders seemed to run parallel to each other—and in opposition to their respective party establishments—observers have wondered whether the two political insurgencies, still ongoing, might not ultimately discover that they have much in common. That is, both are more focused on domestic policy than on foreign policy; one might even say that both are more nationalist than globalist.

We might add that such a fusion is already occurring in Europe, where the anti-establishment Right and Left are finding common ground against, most immediately, the European Union—and international institutions in general. Such an alliance has already happened in Italy, where the right-leaning League and the left-leaning Five Stars, joined in an upstart coalition, have taken power in Rome.

Today, in Gabbard’s candidacy, one sees a glimmer of the same sort of possible fusion here in the United States.

Yes, it’s only a glimmer. Yet Gabbard is just 37. She has time.

James P. Pinkerton is an author and contributing editor at The American Conservative. He served as a White House policy aide to both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

75 Comments (Open | Close)

75 Comments To "Tulsi Gabbard and the Great Foreign Policy Realignment"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On January 17, 2019 @ 12:20 pm

“Tulsi Gabbard Nov 11, 2016 Veterans Day Speech”

#2 Comment By WestcoastDeplorable On January 17, 2019 @ 2:07 pm

For the record, there is no comparison between Tulsi Gabbard and Jane Fonda. Tulsi enlisted in the ‘Guard and served in Iraq. Fonda is an actress who used her stardom to protest the war in Vietnam. Both were right, but Tulsi put her life on the line.

#3 Comment By RT On January 17, 2019 @ 3:48 pm

I voted for Trump and will vote for Trump again. With one exception. If I get a chance to vote for Tulsi Gabbard

#4 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On January 17, 2019 @ 3:51 pm

In fact, she enjoys substantial support among right-wing Hindu nationalists (as well as right-wing American nationalists), in no small part due to a shared Islamophobia. BobS

Islam is a belief system that asserts that Hindus like Tulsi Gabbard are infidels and idolaters. Islamic societies are organized as three-tier apartheid societies in which Muslims are the top dogs, Jews and Christians are below them, and Hindus/Buddhists/etc are at the bottom. That is why the death benefit in Saudi Arabia for a Muslim is twice that for a Jew or Christian, and 16 times that for a Hindu.

Unless Gabbard is a complete moron, which is not, she ought detest a belief system that considers her to be an inferior human being.

The only remaining question is whether you are a Christian or Jew, and if so, what mental pathology causes you to support a belief system that considers you to be an inferior human being.

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 17, 2019 @ 3:58 pm

Someone who has not figured why to avoid supporting torture by what it invites as to reciprocity to our military or civilians in the field, after serving —

Come now.

#6 Comment By LibraryITGuy On January 17, 2019 @ 4:42 pm

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first non-hit think-piece on Tulsi Gabbard I’ve read since she announced. I noticed her principled resignation from the DNC position in 2016 and have followed her on Twitter since then. I agree completely with James Pinkerton’s assessment: she would be truly formidable in 11/2020 if she won the nomination. But I doubt she can get there, given the New Militant Progressive Wing’s demand for utter conformity and ideological purity.

#7 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On January 17, 2019 @ 7:40 pm


Personally, I’m alright with ceding the angry old white guys to their natural habitat. I suspect many of them were already so-called Reagan Democrats who’d already gotten comfortable voting for Republicans.
With respect to any younger voters who were in that Bernie/Trump demographic (and more of them voted for Stein or no one at all), I suspect they’re more easily educable and that they took away a valuable lesson in the binary nature of American politics.

Looks like you’ve got no idea as to who voted Bernie at all. Old, young, white, black… That’s all their secondary traits. The really important one is that they’re mostly working class. Try to “educate” them that they are supposed to feed freeloading immigrants and Wall Street grifters and see what happens. Such an attempt (Remember that disgusting campaign against “Bernie-or-busters” around July 2016? The one that largely sealed Hillary’s loss?) has already cost you the national election. Want an infinite repetition? You’ll be getting it. Until someone with clearer vision takes over the Democratic Party like Trump did to the GOP. Think a hostile takeover of a party is only possible on the right? Dream on. Frankly, you amaze me, folks. You face defeat after defeat after defeat and are still trying to act triumphantly. Ancien Régime ’88 without wigs and decorum.

Again, that so many old, white, conservative men find Gabbard attractive pretty much proves she’s far to the right of the Democratic mainstream. Arguably, she’s only a Democrat because of the exigencies of Hawaiian politics.

Ever assumed that your understanding of “left” and “right” is a tad outdated? Italy is now ruled by two anti-immigrant parties – right-wing Lega and left-wing Cinque Stelle. Yellow Vests in France are supported by both right-wing Le Pen and left-wing Mélenchon. Both Germany’s rising parties – right-wing AfD and appropriately named Left Party – are anti-immigrant. In Britain anti-EU Tories have recently been nearly defeated by Corbyn who is for the “freedom from EU rules on state aid to industry” (now guess which of them is a bigger Brexiter, hell yeah). Think that ain’t gonna reach the US? Then I’ve got bad news for you. It’s already started to do it.

And to beat a dead horse, she’s not “anti-war”- she’s against US policy in Syria. But keep up the self-delusion.

So, she’s “pro-war”, but suddenly became anti-war on Syria. Curious as to why. Fell in love with Assad or what? While I cannot deny that Middle Eastern caudillos are a typical crush for surfer girls from Hawaii, he’s a bit too old for her, don’t you think so? Seriously, stop being incoherent. I understand that, when your cherished brave new world is crumbling all around you, demagoguery is the only thing left, but at least make it rhetorically consistent.

#8 Comment By PAX On January 18, 2019 @ 11:59 am

Why did she apologize over her visit to Syria? She wanted to know the facts. Being a veteran of wars started by neocons and watching her friends be maimed and slaughtered as well as being in harm’s way – she just wanted an objective view – not the propagandized filtering of our yellow journalism (mainstream media). As a deep threat to Deep State’s hitherto accesses to unlimited use of the military – she must expect that the mud slinging will be near fanatical. What happened to Kerry will be dwarfed by what Tulsi may expect. We must pray and hope she fights back. Endless wars must end.

#9 Comment By JohnInCA On January 18, 2019 @ 2:06 pm

@Janwaar Bibi

[…] ought detest a belief system that considers her to be an inferior human being.

I’m an unbaptized gay heathen married to a gay heathen. The Bible and Koran both literally call for my death.

Which of these “ought” I detest, and which of these “ought” I overlook? And if the answer isn’t the same for both, why should one be given more grace then the other?

#10 Comment By Jeeves On January 18, 2019 @ 2:43 pm

Frank Meyer call home. The fusionists are back. But it never worked for libertarians and conservatives and won’t work here. Convergence reappears as the perennial solvent of antagonisms that in the end are irreducible. Where does a Trump-Sanders-Gabbard coalition go after interventionism has ended and we’re all good little anti-terrorists?

#11 Comment By BobS On January 18, 2019 @ 4:52 pm

“Islamic societies are organized as three-tier apartheid societies”
Like Israel?

“Looks like you’ve got no idea as to who voted Bernie at all.”
You mean the 90% of Sanders voters who didn’t vote for Trump?

“Ever assumed that your understanding of “left” and “right” is a tad outdated?”

“So, she’s “pro-war”, but suddenly became anti-war on Syria.”
If that’s as good as your reading skills get, ok. But what I wrote is that she’s anti US policy in Syria. Not “pro-war”, not “anti-war”.

It seems I struck a chord with the Hindu nationalists and angry old white men in the audience.

#12 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On January 18, 2019 @ 5:20 pm

Jeeves, even a temporary coalition that achieves such a goal will be the most positive thing that happened to the country in half a century within the field of foreign policy and not only.

#13 Comment By Antiwar7 On January 19, 2019 @ 11:58 am

Once people realize what a pointless, venal atrocity “our” wars are, it’s hard to ignore.

And then the anti-war majority can take over.

#14 Comment By Jeff Davis On January 19, 2019 @ 12:04 pm

I’m delighted to stumble upon this article. Hardly surprising. I expect to see more like it, since Tulsi Gabbard is such a star.

I too am a Trump supporter, and see in Gabbard a serious problem for any chance at re-election for Trump. As another Trump supporter said, I will vote for Trump again,… unless Gabbard is the other choice. I feel the same way. And yet, this is a serious problem for me.

Why is that?

It’s a serious problem because Trump’s work is not done, and at the same time, Gabbard’s presidential bid is premature. What I mean by that is, if Gabbard wins and Trump exits the scene, the Republican party will revert to what it was before Trump was elected. And then Gabbard will find herself opposed, as Obama was opposed, by a recidivist Republican Party. Meanwhile, the internal split in the Democratic Party will either drag Gabbard down, or force her to join the “Clintonian” establishment and be corrupted/sucked-in to the Democratic, donor-servile, corrupted establishment party partisanship. This would mean the end of the Revolution that Trump began, and that the American people needed, and we’re enthusiastically in favor of. Trump, for all his faults, was and is well-suited to take the lead in the second, much-needed “American Revolution”.

When I heard that Gabbard had thrown her hat into the presidential ring, I grasped the problem immediately, and was saddened and conflicted, but then in an instant, I had a nifty little idea…

Dream The Impossible Dream. A solution to the problem came to me.

President Trump should invite Tulsi to the White House for a little discussion. He should ask her if she would be willing to accept the position of Secretary of State. That he was prepared to fire Pompeo and Bolton, make her the new Secretary of State and Colonel McGregor the new National Security Advisor. He could further explain that he had more work to do fixing what was wrong with the country, and that he needed 6 more years to do that. Whip the Republican Party into shape, re-configuring it and pulling it to the populist center. Revising National Security policy by scrapping interventionism — get the American jackboot off of the world’s throat — and initiating a new era of detente and global comity.

Trump could lay out this new American National Security policy for Ms Gabbard, ask her to help him implement it, and through her involvement, set the stage for her to (switch parties and) run for the Presidency in 2024, and continue to build on the work the two of them had accomplished in those preceding six years.

Now, I’m a person of no importance. But perhaps there is someone out there who has the juice to set this notion in front of the Prez.

#15 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On January 19, 2019 @ 1:27 pm

Islamic societies are organized as three-tier apartheid societies”
Like Israel?

One can detest all forms of bigotry. Loving Islam because you loathe Israel is like cutting your nose off in spite of your face.

You still haven’t told me why it is “Islamophobic” for Hindus like Tulsi Gabbard to detest a belief system which has no respect for their faith and which values their lives at a small fraction of the lives of “believers.” Tolerance is a two-way street.

#16 Comment By Gio Con On January 19, 2019 @ 1:36 pm

Tulsi Gabbard is not anti-war…she is only anti-certain types of war. People must understand that Gabbard herself distinguishes between the war on terror, which she fully approves (complete with drone strikes), and regime change wars, which she rejects. While this dichotomy is naive, nevertheless, as president, Gabbard will continue the “war on terror.” Just check out her website and speeches.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 19, 2019 @ 2:34 pm

“Both were right, but Tulsi put her life on the line.”

What they were right to be in Vietnam and Syria . . .?

We were within our moral and political boundaries being in Vietnam. Not the case in Syria. But her presence has nothing to with her, unless she requested said station, her post was decided by the branch.

Vietnam was an invitation to defend a young non-communist state seeking its right to self determination. The other was a violation of the sovereignty of another state in order to change it’s government.

One of these things is not like the other.

#18 Comment By Extra_Terrestial_Observing_You_Earthians On January 19, 2019 @ 6:41 pm

Not mentioned is that the Dems are also hawkish on Russia, hysterical in fact.

#19 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On January 20, 2019 @ 8:09 am

Bob S,

You mean the 90% of Sanders voters who didn’t vote for Trump?

How sweet. Care to explain how this concept from the fictitious world of the progressive media gets along with what happened to the “blue wall” in 2016?


You’d better. The later you wake up to the reality, the more painful that awakening is.

If that’s as good as your reading skills get, ok. But what I wrote is that she’s anti US policy in Syria. Not “pro-war”, not “anti-war”.

Nope, that’s as good as your logical thinking is, which, I’m afraid, is far from being good. If she’s against US policies in Syria, which are pro-war policies, she’s either anti-war or anti-US. Since possible accusations that someone who defended this country with a gun in her hand is anti-US expressed by progressives who cannot always tell the stock from the barrel would be risible to the core, only one option remains: she’s anti-war. She might not always have been, but today she is. And that part of Democrats which opposes her does so only because their party is increasingly becoming the new home for neocons who were shown the door in the GOP. Now, that’s your choice to shelter these poor millionaire orphans. Just remember that they are anti-Midases: every policy they touch turns into a substance with much less pleasant odour than that of gold.

It seems I struck a chord with the Hindu nationalists and angry old white men in the audience.

It seems that you’re the only one angry person in this tread. Which, seeing that a considerable chunk of progressives do not grow up until they turn fifty or sixty, is no surprise. Also, the fact that you came to hate Tulsi Gabbard – a Democratic politician – on the pages of a conservative magazine which has a positive view of her unmistakably shows that her principled and independent position had struck a chord with you. No surprise here either: she is what most young Democratic politicians secretly crave but will never dare to become. She’s an epitome of how they view themselves in their dreams and a painful reminder of what kind of meek timeservers they are in reality.

#20 Comment By Hank On January 20, 2019 @ 11:26 am

Tulsi Gabbard and anyone who opposes wars are not necessarily opposing wars in an absolute sense. It would be more accurate to call her “pro-truth anti-lie”, which I would say most people are. If a war IS merited(in this day and age it escapes me how diplomacy is a forgotten tool!) she would fight in it I’m sure! But when wars are driven by TOTAL lies and half-truths, MOST people aware of this duplicity will NOT support that war! Calling a candidate “antiwar” is a simple way to “smear” someone in militaristically-crazy America!

#21 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On January 20, 2019 @ 2:37 pm

Jeff Davis,

President Trump should invite Tulsi to the White House for a little discussion. He should ask her if she would be willing to accept the position of Secretary of State.

Interestingly enough, shortly after the 2016 election there were rumors in the Italian press that Trump might offer her the position of the US Ambassador to the UN. Eventually, a woman with much less clear vision was nominated, but, since such rumors were circulating in the foreign press, Trump may actually have some plans about her. Can’t remember which exact newspaper it was, but it must be either Milanese Il Giornale or once again Milanese Corriere della Sera.


Gio Con,

Tulsi Gabbard is not anti-war…she is only anti-certain types of war.

Well, I also think that Hitler and Pol Pot should have been beaten. Hope it doesn’t make me sound overly hawkish.

#22 Comment By Che On January 20, 2019 @ 10:48 pm

Tulsi is a hindu fascist and only anti-war in Syria where Muslims can be saved by full scale intervention. She has no problem with wars in Iraq, where she was a willing participant, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Niger, etc.

#23 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On January 21, 2019 @ 10:45 am

Hell yeah! Progressives have already started calling Tulsi a fascist. Che, are you even aware that Assad is a Muslim himself? Alwites are a branch of Shia Islam.

And, by the way, how do you see that “full-scale intervention” in a country with two (Or are there three of them already?) Russian military bases and skies controlled by their air defense systems (you may read reports of American military pilots, who, unlike you, know what the real warfare is, as to how monstrous those systems are)? Or did you want to say “a full-scale nuclear war to make one nice spheric desert out of this planet?

Jesus H. Christ, grow up already. This ain’t no video game. This is a real warfare with weapons whose destructive capacities most people out of the military can hardly even imagine. To their credit, Congressinal chickenhawks at least know how all this works in real life, so their empty rhetorics remain empty when there’s some larger force(s) behind the regime they dislike. While you, newborn progressive neocons, seem to live in some imaginary world where a war is a game which can be replayed if the result is not to your liking. It cannot. And if nukes start falling, no such (or any other) “game” will ever be played again. Not in this quantum dimension, at least.

#24 Comment By Alex (the one that likes Ike) On January 21, 2019 @ 1:53 pm

*”Alawites” it should have been. Goldarn keyboard.

#25 Comment By Shawna On March 24, 2019 @ 12:41 pm

As a veteran myself, I appreciate the honesty and respect demonstrated in this piece. It seems like veterans have been under attack since Tulsi has announced her candidacy. Dems are on a warpath that is picking up pace. Tulsi is what can save any semblance of progressive values that might remain.