During his round of interviewing potential job applicants, Donald Trump had one meeting with a Democratic politician: Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a leading antiwar figure, an Iraq war veteran and Bernie Sanders ally and former rising star in the party.
The Monday meeting is important because of what Gabbard said about foreign policy: screw the neoconservatives and dump the idea of regime change in Syria, which Hillary Clinton had supported. The meeting thus contains seeds of ideological convergence between the antiwar left and right. It has been read as misguided, tragic, or hopeful– depending on the observer’s point of view. Here’s a short tour.
First off, Gabbard filed her own report, titled “My meeting with Donald Trump.” She said the meeting was all about Syria; and she called out the neoconservatives and others advocating intervention.
This was an opportunity to advocate for peace — and I felt it was important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect to counteract neocons’ steady drumbeats of war, which threaten to drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government.
This war has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families. It has also strengthened al-Qaeda and other violent, extremist groups in the region. It would have been irresponsible not to accept this invitation. I feel it is my duty to take every single opportunity I get to advocate for peace, no matter the circumstances of those meetings.
I shared with him my grave concerns that escalating the war in Syria by implementing a so-called no fly/safe zone would be disastrous for the Syrian people, our country, and the world. It would lead to more death and suffering, exacerbate the refugee crisis, strengthen ISIS and al-Qaeda and bring us into a direct conflict with Russia–potentially resulting in a nuclear war. We discussed my bill to end our country’s illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government and the need to focus our precious resources on rebuilding our own country, and on defeating al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other terrorist groups who pose a threat to the American people.
The New York Times published a report that characterized Gabbard as defensive and delusional. “The report was slanted and pejorative, in a way so easy to penetrate you wonder if they’ve lost their wits,” David Bromwich writes. “How deeply she has offended against the new Cold War consensus.”
Bromwich revised the Times piece by putting its prejudicial phrasing in double brackets, and including his amendments and commentary in boldface:
Ms. Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran [[and former Bernie Sanders supporter]] whose endorsement of Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton partly stemmed from her rejection of Clinton’s interventionist foreign policy, [[defended her visit Monday to the office of the president-elect, saying she needed]] said that she felt it was imperative to talk foreign policy with Mr. Trump “before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government.”
Jonathan Tasini, former Sanders surrogate, slammed Gabbard for normalizing Trump’s bigotry and racism.
Neoconservative Bill Kristol at first had a hopeful reading of the meeting: “Tulsi Gabbard for VA?”
Then when reports came out he reversed course and had a similar take to the Times. Not very happy.
He added, “Because listening to the drumbeats of peace has worked out so well in Syria.”
Robert Parry, the former AP reporter and realist, had a hopeful reading of the meeting, at Consortium News.
By inviting in Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat hostile to “regime change” wars, President-elect Trump may be signaling a major break with Republican neocon orthodoxy and a big shake-up of the U.S. foreign policy establishment
Parry revisited Gabbard’s antiwar rise:
She starred in one of the strongest political ads of the campaign, a message to Hawaiians, called “The Cost of War.”
“Bernie Sanders voted against the Iraq War,” Gabbard says. “He understands the cost of war, that that cost is continued when our veterans come home. Bernie Sanders will defend our country and take the trillions of dollars that are spent on these interventionist, regime change, unnecessary wars and invest it here at home.”
In the ad, Gabbard threw down the gauntlet to the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks, by accusing them of wasting trillions of dollars “on these interventionist, regime change, unnecessary wars.” Her comments mesh closely with Trump’s own perspective…
Parry said that Hillary Clinton might well have appointed Victoria Nuland as Secretary of State, Nuland whose husband Robert Kagan was one of the neoconservatives who flocked to Clinton. And he reads even Trump’s Mike Flynn national security adviser nod as a hopeful departure from a policy of drone attacks.
Taking on this Saudi-Israel nexus has long been regarded as political suicide, given Israel’s extraordinary lobbying power and Saudi Arabia’s exceptional wealth. But Trump may be assembling a team that is “crazy” enough to take on that mission.
So, while the fight over the future of U.S. foreign policy is far from over – the neocons will surely flex their muscles at the major think tanks, on the op-ed pages and inside the halls of Congress – the Trump transition is showing some creativity in assembling a national security team that may go in a very different direction.
Here is more on Gabbard’s track record, from NBC:
Gabbard abruptly resigned her spot as vice-chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee in February to endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for president, accusing party leaders of rigging the presidential primary process for its eventual nominee, Hillary Clinton…
Tim Vandeveer, a Sanders supporter elected this year as chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, defended Gabbard’s decision [to meet with Trump].
“Given the reality that we’re facing now with President-elect Trump, and an administration that we’ve already seen is going to lean heavily on neoconservatives who are going to rattle the sabers of war, I think it’s a good idea for Democrats to engage and stand up for our values
CNN reported that Gabbard was under consideration for Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. The NYT said she was under consideration for Ambassador to the U.N.