The U.S. congresswoman and 2020 Democratic candidate on what the Trump administration is getting wrong on foreign affairs
AMONG the pool of Democrats vying for the White House, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is on the younger side but that doesn’t mean she’s politically naive.
During a recent call with ethnic media, Gabbard, 38, discussed her plans for the presidency, focussing on a couple of issues on which Democrats are notoriously perceived as weak: foreign relations and nuclear disarmament.
From 2013 to 2019, Gabbard was a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. In 2015, she became a major in the U.S. Army (she enlisted during the Iraq War in 2003) and continues to serve in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
Gabbard is the daughter of Samoan-American Hawaii State Senator Mike Gabbard. During the call, the 2020 hopeful acknowledged the significance of her candidacy as, not only a Pacific Islander herself, but also as a representative of the only state that has a majority-minority population.
“I didn’t know the fullness of my own ethnic background until I did an episode of ‘Finding Your Roots’ and I learned so much through that process and how my ancestors came from Southeast Asia, they came across Oceania and the Pacific Ocean. I had no idea I was 26% Asian before that,” she said.
On promoting more Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) representation in government, she praised the diversity she grew up with in Hawaii that “significantly shaped” her.
“Speaking from a personal perspective about the diversity of our country and understanding what unites us, understanding the values and principles that bring us together that cross party lines, racial divides, religious divides and all these things that our president is, unfortunately, using to tear us apart,” Gabbard added. “This is the unifying principle that we have before that exists within our founding documents and the core of our democracy.”
Two years ago, Gabbard infamously traveled to Syria on a quiet “fact-finding” mission and met with the controversial Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after which she questioned the notion that Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons on Syrian civilians. This drew outrage from Democratic leaders who criticized the Hawaii senator for meeting with a “murderous dictator.”
But that move propelled Gabbard into the national spotlight as a maverick in the foreign affairs arena and has elevated her as one of the more outspoken, daring figures in diplomacy.
On the same day as this teleconference, the United States formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), which was an arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia (then the Soviet Union). As a way to quell the growing tensions between the two nations and prevent nuclear warfare, the treaty banned land-based missiles, but in October 2018, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would be withdrawing from the treaty.
Trump reasoned that Russia had been “violating it for many years,” but foreign affairs experts have criticized Trump’s decision, including Gabbard who suggested that the move has kicked “off a new nuclear arms race.”
The congresswoman is an advocate for diplomatic negotiations, saying, “The only alternative to diplomacy is war, and that is why it is so critical to have leaders of countries with the courage to meet with adversaries or dictators with the understanding that it is only by doing so that we can reach these historic agreements to reduce the nuclear proliferation that is now kicked off by action from President Trump and keep us safe.”
Gabbard also condemned the current president’s decision in 2018 to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), the UN’s agency dealing with refugees and asylum seekers, on the grounds that it had been too reproving of the nation of Israel. She also criticized the notion and the history of the United States acting as “the world’s police,” especially in regards to the U.S. role in other countries’ regime changes (notably in Central America and Venezuela) which contribute to the refugee crisis at the border and around the world.
“This really gets to the core of why it’s necessary to learn from the mistakes of the past because regime change efforts on the part of the United States have had such a destabilizing effect on these countries — the people in these countries are suffering the consequences of short-sighted, failed foreign policy,” Gabbard said, adding that the Trump administration’s move to cut off aid to these countries is a wrong that needs to be corrected in order to “bring positive change and empower these people.”
An opponent of war and as an active duty member of the U.S. Army, Gabbard relayed her long-standing belief that “sending and deploying more U.S. troops” to the Middle East and although the Trump administration has said it isn’t looking to start a war with Iran, “every single thing it does points directly toward a path to war,” including withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal framework.
Gabbard says that at the heart of her campaign is the goal of unity and bridging the divides made by the Trump administration in both domestic and foreign issues.
“Really what’s at the heart of this is what we in Hawaii call ‘aloha,’ a word people are really familiar with as a way we say hello and goodbye, but it means so much more than that. It really means, in the truest sense of the word, love,” Gabbard said.
She acknowledged the sparring between her and Sen. Kamala Harris of California on the debate stage in July and the differences that exist between and among party lines.
But, as president, she promises to “restore” the sense of community and the power of negotiation and compromise, and for that to make an impact, it needs to come from the White House.
She said, “When you greet someone with aloha, you’re saying, ‘I come to you with an open heart and respect and love and most importantly this recognition that we’re all connected regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, orientation, where we come from and all these things that make up this beautifully unique fabric that is America, and that when we come together in the spirit of aloha it gives us the opportunity to bridge and heal the divide that is unfortunately tearing our country and our world apart.’ That’s what I hope to bring to this country as your president.”