By Dr. Alan Ned Sabrosky*
The announcement last week by four-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) that she was entering the 2020 presidential sweepstakes caught many people by surprise. What was equally surprising was the virulence of the opposition to her candidacy that erupted across the political spectrum – well, almost across, so far the Anarchist International and Aryan Nation have not (yet?) made their positions known.
She has been assailed variously as a Kremlin stooge, a Syrian puppet, an anti-Semite and homophobic for not immediately supporting same-sex marriage (she reversed that position in 2012) – all of which taken together makes me really, really despair of what is becoming of this country, and wonder why anyone should even want to be president of such a moral and ethical ship-wreck in the first place. Who knows when candidates should be required to do to prove their commitment to “equality” (or whatever) once necrophilia becomes a civil right – don’t laugh, transgenderism is only marginally less psychotic – maybe call for open cemeteries and be seen in one doing grave things?
But if one’s character and potential grow with the list of one’s enemies, as the old saying goes, then Tulsi Gabbard ought to be a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination for President, and an odds-on favorite to win the 2020 general election. Now, I expect she realizes that her candidacy is a very long shot, and may simply be intended to position her for a later run for a Senate seat from Hawaii, or perhaps a shot at being the successful Democratic presidential candidate’s running mate. Both of these make better strategic sense. But it isn’t unprecedented for someone to enter from left or right field to win, and stranger things have happened in American politics.
Still – deliberately or not – it has thrown a real monkey wrench into the 2020 primaries for both parties, especially if she garners support – and having both brains and beauty, plus an impressive speaking ability and a real skill at debating – she may well do. Trump loyalists notwithstanding, Republicans looking for an alternative to Trump in 2020 that will let them keep the White House and the Senate, and perhaps regain the House of Representatives, will review their list of likely contenders with something approaching dismay. Democrats generally will be even unhappier, anticipating just what will happen in a debate with her, while contenders like Senator Elizabeth Warren (with or without her feather) can only picture in their nightmares how they will look and sound standing next to her.
But image and impact alone are not enough. We do have enough hard information about Gabbard to assess what she is, and what we might expect from her – concentrating here on defense and foreign policy (my areas). One thing that is absolutely clear is that she does not fit comfortably into any of the conventional boxes – one reason talking/writing heads across the political spectrum have been attacking her. We have not quite come into the era when “true believers” completely dominate politics and commentary, but the center in both has been shrinking for decades and “moderation” is close to being an anachronism. Whether her unsuitability for the standard array of pigeon-holes reflects a lack of focus or an eclectic pragmatism remains to be seen.
Second, her willingness to step outside of the preferred party mainstreams – both parties, let it be known – has been amply demonstrated in her dealings with Syria and on Russia during both Obama’s and Trump’s years in office. She doesn’t completely break ranks, of course, but she has entered enough discordant notes to the preferred narrative out there to be noticeable. This is especially the case with the seemingly endless misnamed “war on terror” in which the United States largely has become the world’s principal “evil empire,” not so much envied as feared and hated. Younger people might neither notice nor care, but I do.
My only real concern about Gabbard in this respect is that she might not survive politically any serious effort on her part to say, “Enough!” There are more than enough forces out there with vested interests in continuing things the way they are going. It isn’t simply a coincidence that the owners of almost all of the mainstream media, the principal financial donors to both major parties, and the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill – AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) – have gleefully watched the U.S. and its “allies” rampage across the Middle East trashing all of Israel’s enemies except – so far – Iran.
And third, of course, is Iran itself, which along with dealing with AIPAC would be the acid test of Gabbard’s candidacy and (if elected) her presidency. A bit of perspective here is helpful. In 1956, President Eisenhower could order Britain, France and Israel to stop attacking Egypt and withdraw – and all three complied. Less than a dozen years later, following the assassination under highly suspicious circumstances of John F. Kennedy – the last U.S. president, incidentally, to openly defy Israel – Israel’s influence in and over the U.S. government had increased so greatly that it could deliberately attack and nearly sink an American naval vessel – the USS Liberty – killing or wounding over 200 American sailors and Marines, and get away with it.
AIPAC’s influence has only grown since those days, as evidenced by the level of support it enjoys on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. The most recent vote in the House of Representatives pushed by AIPAC was approved 411 to 1 (Gabbard voted for it) – given the stalemate in the Senate, it isn’t clear what will happen to it. But it certainly isn’t going to go away, despite nagging issues like violation of 1st Amendment rights – the definition of “anti-Semitism” having been broadened to include criticism of Israel.
The final test will come on the issue of war with Iran. Israel and its adherents in the U.S. have been pushing that for years, and I expect if the Iraqi and Afghan resistance had been less determined, they would have gotten their war – not necessarily the outcome they expect, but the war nonetheless. How would Gabbard deal with these issues? Can she deal with them? She has enormous potential and many good qualities, and I spent too many years in Washington and around the Hill to be a purist, but I cannot really feel the pressure someone like her must be under steadily. The problem is that folding on small issues like this recent House vote makes it harder to avoid folding on larger issues, and she knows – I hope – that there is no issue larger than another of these needless wars. Perhaps she’ll surprise us all – but she had better be damn-all careful to watch her back if she tries.
*Dr. Alan Ned Sabrosky (PhD, University of Michigan) is a ten-year US Marine Corps veteran. He served two tours in Vietnam with the 1st Marine Division and is a graduate of the US Army War College. He can be contacted at [email protected]