Bernie Sanders must drop Tulsi Gabbard!

Among the luminaries at the Bernie Sanders rally in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park this Sunday, April 17, is to be Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has emerged as one of the populist candidate’s foremost partisans. Gabbard made headlines in February when she stepped down from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Sanders. Her resignation statement (video online at Facebook) railed against “interventionist wars of regime change,” winning easy applause from the peaceniks. “As a veteran of two Middle East deployments, I know firsthand the cost of war.,” she promisingly opened. But scratch the surface of her rhetoric just a little and it quickly becomes apparent that Gabbard’s politics are downright sinister…

Proverbial alarm bells were set off when Alternet reported last year on Gabbard’s “curious Islamophobic politics,” just as she was becoming an anti-war icon. Especially noted were her links to India’s ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “Since her election to Congress, Gabbard has tied herself closely to this party, which has a history of condoning hatred and violence against India’s Muslim minority. Many of her stateside donors and supporters are also big supporters of this movement, which disdains secularism and promotes religious sectarianism.” She was particularly instrumental in the 2013 defeat of HR 417, which called on India to improve the human rights situation of its religious minorities.

We’ve noted before the links of some key Democratic Party figures to the BJP, which is accused of instrumenting a genocidal pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002—where India’s now-prime minister Narendra Modi was then in charge of the state government. The BJP’s ideology of “Hindutva” has roots in classical fascism, and its followers are still implicated in terror against Muslims and secularists today.

But it gets much worse. The Facebook page of a group called the Syrian American Will Association (SAWA) features another video message from Gabbard, plugging HR 4108, which would bar any US support for the Syrian opposition:

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii, asks all Americans, including Syrian Americans, to stand together to end the illegal COUNTERPRODUCTIVE war that aims to over throw [sic] the legal Syrian government. Instead, we should, as Gabbard says, fight against the terrorist extremist Islamic groups that threatens [sic] the safety of the United States.

It takes little sophistication to recognize this as propaganda for the regime of Bashar Assad—who is now escalating to genocide in his war on the Syrian people. First, there is no “illegal COUNTERPRODUCTIVE war that aims to overthrow the legal Syrian government.” How many things are wrong just with this one statement? Here’s the top three distortions:

1. The US is not fighting Assad. Not with one single bomb. The US is now constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad, insisting they fight only ISIS. For those paying attention, it is clear that the US is actually tilting to Assad in Syria’s internal war. Gabbard’s entire schtick is predicated on a fiction.

2. The genocidal Assad dictatorship is not the “legal Syrian government.” When you repeatedly violate the Geneva Accords in a counterinsurgency war against your own people, you forfeit any claim to “legality.” And at this point, Assad controls only some 20% of the country. Assad is just Syria’s most well-armed (and bloodiest) warlord, with powerful foreign patrons—but nothing more.

3. Why is ISIS “terrorist extremist” and a “threat to civilization” (as Gabbard says in the video) but not Assad, who has actually killed far more people?

The fictional premise of Gabbard’s statement betrays that it is really about propaganda, not legislation. And it is certainly not about opposition to “intervention.” The video makes clear Gabbard supports intervention against ISIS and Nusra. Is it propaganda in support of Assad.

Nor are SAWA’s pro-regime politics difficult to discern. Thier About Us page purports to tell “The Truth about Syria,” repeatedly urging the White House to “cooperate with Assad against the IS,” and applauding Egyptian dictator al-Sisi for his “tilt to Damascus.”

As for the part about ISIS “threatening the safety of the United States​,” this is more imperial narcissism that makes the question all about “us.” The Syrians can die by their thousands, as long as ISIS doesn’t attack the West. But even this is based on a fallacy, because both Assad and ISIS are overwhelmingly fighting the Syrian opposition forces. Yes, they have also fought each other, but that is clearly a secondary priority for both of them! (Not to mention that Assad has abetted the rise of ISIS by buying their oil.)

The Sanders-Gabbard alliance is a part of the paradoxical leftist convergence with the paleocons—that wing of the Beltway elite that seeks “stability” under authoritarian regimes, and rejects the “regime change” hubris of the neocons. That’s another part of the imperial narcissism: seeing every revolution or uprising in the Middle East as some Washington-instrumented “regime change” conspiracy. This sheds light on Bernie’s disturbing habit of replying to any question about the Middle East by pointing out that Hillary Clinton voted for the Iraq war in 2003. Iraq in 2003 is not Syria in 2016, and it is towering arrogance—more than a hint racist—to view them as the same. Iraq was arbitrarily invaded by a superpower. Syria’s war began with a popular uprising. The school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wall in Deraa in March 2011—for which they were detained and tortured, thereby sparking the uprising—were presumably not acting under CIA orders! It was the regime’s serial massacres of peaceful, secular pro-democracy protesters that sent Syria over the edge into civil war. And despite all the sectarian terror and foreign intrigue, there is still a revolution in Syria. As soon as there was a lull in the fighting with the (partial) “ceasefire” that took effect last month, the civil resistance re-emerged to fill the streets with protests demanding the fall of the regime—reminiscent of those back in the spring of 2011.

We’re afraid all this further reveals the obvious: Bernie Sanders is totally out of his depth on foreign policy, especially regarding the Middle East. We fear that if some fluke of the system actually put him in the Oval Office, he could be putty in the hands of the paleocons just as Dubya was putty in the hands of the neocons. And contrary to much current confusion on the “left” (which conflates anti-imperialism with right-wing isolationism) that is no better.

Gabbard’s paleoconservatism is of a particularly distasteful variety, however. Check out her cloying YouTube video in which she delivers drippy New Age platitudes in an homage to the Hare Krishna cult. This kind of hippie pro-fascism is usually clueless, with peaceniks simply incapable of grasping that there can be any evil in the world not directly hatched by Washington. In Gabbard’s case, it seems worse than that. She appears to know exactly what she is doing.

Bernie Sanders needs to make immediately clear that he does not share Gabbard’s pro-Assad position—if not repudiate her support entirely. And all his supporters need to urgently call him out on this.

  1. So Bernie opposes Islamophobia? Really?

    Sanders has made much of his opposition to Islamophobia, and famously embraced a hijab-wearing Muslim American woman at a Fairfax campaign rally back in October, winning accolades from ThinkProgress.  How does he square this position with his current embrace of Tulsi Gabbard? And are ThinkProgress and their ilk going to call him on the contradiction? Was that Muslimah in Virginia just being exploited for propaganda while Bernie sells her down the river?

    Given the Zionist-Hindutva alliance against the common perceived Muslim threat, it is hardly surprising that Gabbard is a big Israel-booster. Note her participation in last year's Christians United for Israel summit in DC. 

    As for Sanders' own Syria position, the Middle East Policy page from his website reads:

    After five years of brutal conflict, the only solution in Syria will be, in my view, a negotiated political settlement. Those who advocate for stronger military involvement by the U.S. to oust Assad from power have not paid close enough attention to history. That would simply prolong the war and increase the chaos in Syria, not end it.

    In other words, we all recognize that Assad is a brutal dictator. But I think that our priorities right now have got to be destroy ISIS, work out a political settlement with Russia and Iran to get Assad out of power.

    Apart from the clunky grammar, we could point out that this again reveals the egregious double standard: Assad has killed far more Syrians than ISIS, yet the "priority" should be to destroy ISIS. Maybe a good slogan for Bernie's campaign should be "Syrian Lives Don't Matter." And the line about Assad being a "brutal dictator" is empty lip service when he invokes the fantasy of a "political settlement with Russia and Iran" to remove him from power. Moscow and Tehran have been backing Assad and his genocidal campaign to the hilt; nothing indicates they would ever accede to such a settlement. This is another big "fuck you" to the Syrians. And again, please don't defend this fantasy on anti-interventionist grounds, because Bernie is not opposing military action against ISIS.

  2. Sanders-Cruz common ground in opposition to Syrian revolution?

    Well, doesn't this say it all? AP reports today that Virginia state senator Dick Black, a Ted Cruz campaign co-chairman, "has traveled to Syria and promised support for the government of President Bashar Assad." The Assad regime's official news agency quotes him as saying, "I will be Syria's voice." (There we go again—the genocidal warlord Assad, who now controls only some 20% of Syrian territory and has been massively rejected by the Syrian people in five years of revolution, is referred to as "Syria.")

    So the "left-wing" Bernie Sanders has got Assad shill Tulsi Gabbard in his camp, while the right-wing Ted Cruz has got Assad shill Dick Black in his camp… For the life of me, I cannot figure out how the "leftists" square it… Sharing the reactionary pro-dictatorship position of their ostensible domestic enemies…

  3. More on Tulsi Gabbard’s Islamophobia

    Maui Time notes June 7 that Shay Chan Hodges, who will challenge Tulsi Gabbard for her seat in November, has assembled a dossier on her political sins. The most egregious finding:

    Finally, Chan Hodges criticized Gabbard for supporting legislation that would make it more difficult for refugees fleeing the bloody Syrian civil war to get to the U.S. "[O]n November 19, 2015, Gabbard voted with 46 Democrats and 242 Republicans to pass HR 4038 — the American SAFE Act of 2015, to institute a stronger screening process for refugees from Iraq and Syria who apply for admission to the U.S.," Chan Hodges wrote. "Previously, in 2014, Gabbard called for visa waivers to be curtailed from European countries with "Islamic extremist" populations –specifically Britain, Germany, and France. (A year later, Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the US.)"

    (Incorrect use of quotation marks in original.)

    So this is what passes for "progressivism" these days?

    1. …with neo-fascists

      Oh, this just gets better and better. Daily Beast informs us that among the members of Tulsi Gabbard's delegation to Syria were two adherents of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), "a political party and paramilitary organization founded in Lebanon in 1932, and currently actively engaged in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime."

      On its home turf of Lebanon, the SSNP is known for many things, peace advocacy not being one of them. Highlights of the party’s activities since its founding include assassinating the first Lebanese prime minister, Riad al-Solh, in 1951; and participating in the brief civil war of 1958 as well as its much less-brief successor from 1975-90, during which period they earned the distinction of recruiting Lebanon’s first female suicide bomber, 16-year-old Sana' Mehaidli, who drove an explosives-laden Peugeot into a convoy of Israeli troops in 1985…

      When the Syrian uprising began in 2011, it fell to the SSNP to violently disperse anti-regime demonstrators outside the Syrian embassy in Beirut, using "fists, sticks, and belts." Most recently, the party has dispatched an estimated 6,000-8,000 fighters to the Syrian battlefield to help the Assad regime annihilate its opponents, to whom the SSNP officially refers as the "Jews of the interior" and "an essential arm of the racist Jewish enemy."

      If those charming references to Jews seem incongruous at face value (one doesn’t typically find many in Lattakia or Homs provinces these days), they are slightly less so once one understands the SSNP’s ideology, which blends the fascism of 1930s Europe with a junk eugenical-historical theory about a "Greater Syrian" race…

      As we've noted, the SSNP was briefly in power in Syria in the 1950s, and began bringing in ex-Nazis to help run the security apparatus, in the manner of Bolivia under the right-wing generals…

  4. Tulsi Gabbard’s Syria views cost her union support

    Hawaii’s fourth-largest union announced that it will no longer support Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, citing, in part, her views on Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Hawaii State Teachers Association is endorsing Sherry Campagna, who is challenging Gabbard in the Democratic primary on Aug. 11. It's a huge boost to Campagna, a small business owner, who is being outraised by Gabbard 44 to 1. (HuffPost)

  5. Gabbard justifies Gujarat pogrom

    From India Abroad, Oct. 6:

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s apparent justification of the 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat during an Oct. 1 town hall in Londonderry, N.H. has sparked a social media furor decrying the Hawaii Democratic lawmaker and presidential candidate.At the town hall when an audience member told Gabbard during a question answer that Prime Minister Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat and that many consider him to be complicit in the deadly ’02 Gujarat riots, Gabbard shot back, “Do you know what instigated those riots?”

    Reacting to Gabbard’s question Arvin Valmuci, a spokesperson for Organization for Minorities of India, said Congresswoman Gabbard’s justification of the 2002 Gujarat Pogrom is the “most abominable form” of victim-blaming.

    Gabbard seems to have been referring to the attack by Muslim militants on Hindu nationalists that left 59 dead, and indeed “instigated” the anti-Muslim pogrom in which some 1,000 were killed.