One of the more enigmatic figures in Democratic politics is Tulsi Gabbard. She’s progressive on most issues and breaks party orthodoxy on others. Some argue she’s insufficiently supportive of gun control, and she unapologetically uses the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”
But she’s also a fervent environmentalist, joined protestors at Standing Rock, and endorsed Bernie Sanders during the Democratic primary. These stances place her left of center. She stepped down as DNC vice chair before endorsing Sanders, which put her at odds with much of her party.
But the area where she greatly deviates from the political establishment is in her strong stance against interventionist wars and regime change. As part of the National Guard, she was deployed to Iraq in 2004 as part of a field medical unit, and returned there in 2009. Her military experience informs her foreign policy views.
She recently wrote a piece of legislation called the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which boldly accuses the U.S. government of arming terror groups. Gabbard points to articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal to prove that the rebels the U.S. supports in Syria are aligned with Al-Nusra (re-branded Al Qaeda).
Instead of just proposing legislation and going on talk shows, Gabbard decided to travel and see Syria firsthand. Both her and Dennis Kucinich flew there on a fact-finding mission, visiting the capital Damascus and war-torn Aleppo. The reason for the trip appears to be Gabbard’s effort to uncover the truth on the ground.
After returning Gabbard posted a piece on Medium drawing conclusions from her visit. She affirmed her view that regime change does not serve either America’s interest or that of the Syrian people. The message she received was that there was no difference between the “moderate” rebels and Al-Nusra, and that toppling the Syrian state would destroy its secular tradition. She also said she had no intention to meet with Assad, but did so in order to help bring an end to war in Syria.
Predictably, Gabbard’s visit and conclusions have drawn criticism from all quarters. Right-wing blog Hot Air suggested she violated the Logan Act (an act prohibiting individuals from meeting with a foreign government involved in a dispute with the U.S.)—though her visit was approved by the House Ethics Committee. The Atlantic used the headline: “The GOP’s Favorite Democrat Goes to Syria”, and goes out of its way to point out that her foreign policy positions line up with Trump. Her meeting with Assad—a ruthless dictator—is the sort of action the riles up both sides of the aisle.
There’s no doubt that Assad is a reprehensible figure, responsible for widespread human rights abuses and war crimes. Yet the U.S. has a history of using the humanitarian excuse of toppling dictators to embark on interventionist wars, and ending up in quagmires (Saddam Hussein and Iraq ring a bell?).
Situations like Syria are complicated and have no easy solutions. But history shows that regime change destabilizes a region, and the power vacuum is often filled with extremist groups that are even worse. At least Gabbard has enough insight to recognize this, something many in Washington fail to acknowledge.
Time will tell what direction Gabbard’s political career will take. While she’s often ignored in the mainstream media’s presidential prediction game, many Bernie supporters want her to run. Regardless, I welcome any voice that questions establishment orthodoxy.