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Who’s Afraid of Tulsi Gabbard?

The New York Timeshit piecemasquerading as a profile of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard begins with several paragraphs that unintentionally make the case for the Congresswoman from Hawaii:

Tulsi Gabbard is running for president of a country that she believes has wrought horror on the world, and she wants its citizens to remember that.

She is from Hawaii, and she spends each morning surfing. But that is not what she talks about in this unlikely campaign. She talks about the horror.

She lists countries: Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Cuba, Vietnam, Iraq. Failure after failure, she says. To drive the point home, she wants to meet on a Sioux tribe reservation in North Dakota, where, she explains, the United States government committed its original atrocity.

“These Indigenous people have been disrespected, mistreated with broken promises and desecrated lands,” Ms. Gabbard says.
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Ms. Gabbard, 38, was a soldier in Iraq and currently serves as a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, which she cites to temper her message: Get out of foreign wars. Leave other countries alone. Not everyone wants democracy.

If you’re a regular reader, you are probably already familiar with Gabbard’s opposition to what she calls regime change wars. Her presidential campaign is primarily a vehicle for delivering a scathing critique of U.S. foreign policy failures, and that is what she has been campaigning on. She is not strictly antiwar, but she is very much against wars for regime change because she recognizes that they have nothing to do with U.S. security. She is one of the most consistent and vocalcritics of the Trump administration’s extremely close relationship with Saudi Arabia and its support for the war on Yemen. More than any other candidate, she denounces the relationship with the Saudis in the strongest terms. The other night in the debate, she correctly called out the Trump administration for lending support to Al Qaeda through our government’s support for the Saudi coalition war on Yemen. The Saudi coalition and its proxies fight alongside AQAP members, recruit them, and arm them. That has beendocumented by the Associated Press and others. Gabbard is telling the truth about this, but like everything else related to Yemen it is ignored.

If you knew nothing about her before reading the Times‘ profile, you wouldn’t have learned any of this. The title of the profile is “Tulsi Gabbard Thinks We’re Doomed,” and the profile plays up Gabbard’s supposed emphasis on “doom” while having virtually nothing accurate to say about the substance of her foreign policy views. The profile does make room for quoting Clinton Watts, who unfairly and maliciously dubs her “the Kremlin’s preferred Democrat” and an “agent of influence” for Russia, and claims that she thinks “the U.S. should withdraw from the world.” None of this is backed up by anything, and all of it is false. Whatever one thinks about Gabbard or her policy views, it is irresponsible for a major newspaper to print such unsubstantiated smears.

Like every politician, Gabbard is wrong about some things. Her embrace of Egypt’s dictatorship as an “ally” is misguided, but then so is U.S. policy towards Egypt. She has a tendency to take the anti-terrorist rhetoric of authoritarian states at face value, and that can leave her with a blind spot for the abuses and crimes those states commit. Her critics charge that she doesn’t criticize Assad and the Syrian government for their war crimes, and this is one of the only things from her record that the profile specifically mentions. But this attack requires ignoring things that Gabbard has said about Syria:

“You’re putting words in my mouth that I’ve never said,” Gabbard told McCain.

“An enemy of the United States is someone who threatens our safety and our security. There is no disputing the fact that Bashar al-Assad in Syria is a brutal dictator. There’s no disputing the fact that he has used chemical weapons and other weapons against his people,” she continued.

“This is not something that I’m disputing, nor am I apologizing or defending these actions,” the lawmaker said [bold mine-DL]. “My point is that the reality we are facing here is that since the United States started waging a covert regime change war in Syria starting in 2011, the lives of the Syrian people have not been improved.”

A fair assessment of Gabbard’s position on Syria would have acknowledged that she has addressed these attacks before, and it would have offered her or her campaign the opportunity to state what her position is instead of relying on the accusations of her detractors. There is none of that in this article.

Harry Kazianis speaks for many of us when he responded to the article:

It is strange that the Times bothered to profile a candidate polling at around 1-2% in the Democratic primaries. It makes more sense when we realize that the purpose of the article is to try to put Gabbard and other critics of U.S. foreign policy in the worst light possible. The author of the article, Nellie Bowles, tries very hard to make it seem as if Gabbard’s recognition of past U.S. crimes and disastrous wars is somehow a bad thing, but it doesn’t work. The funny thing is that a profile that is clearly intended to vilify her will just boost her candidacy and increase her visibility across the country.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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