Truthdigger of the Week: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Who Risked Her Career to Endorse Bernie Sanders
It was remarkable to watch Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, an Iraq War veteran, defy her bosses, resign her post as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.
She did so Feb. 28 on the grounds that Sanders would make a more responsible and effective commander in chief than Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination and the party’s clear favorite.
The nation must have a president “who has foresight, who exercises good judgment,” Gabbard told NBC host Chuck Todd on Sunday’s edition of “Meet the Press.”
Gabbard, 34, is one of only five members of Congress currently endorsing Sanders. The others are Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Alan Grayson of Florida, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Peter Welch of Vermont. (Read a comprehensive list of Sanders’ endorsements here.)
“As a veteran and as a soldier I’ve seen firsthand the true cost of war,” Gabbard continued on “Meet the Press.”
“I served in a medical unit during my first deployment, where every single day I saw firsthand the very high human cost of that war. I see it in my friends who now, a decade after we’ve come home, are still struggling to get out of a black hole.
“I think it’s most important for us to recognize the necessity to have a commander in chief who has foresight, exercises good judgment, who looks beyond the consequences, looks at the consequences of the actions they’re looking to take before they take those actions, so we don’t continue to find ourselves in these failures that have resulted in chaos in the Middle East and so much loss of life.”
Gabbard was referring in part to Sanders’ opposition to President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, a decision the Vermont senator has described as “the worst foreign policy blunder in the history of the country.” The invasion and subsequent fighting killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of Americans and plunged the region deeper into a sectarian hell that birthed the D.C. establishment’s current bête noire, Islamic State.
In a debate with Clinton in early February, Sanders said that what occurred as a result of the invasion was entirely predictable and avoidable.
“We differed on the war in Iraq, which created barbaric organizations like ISIS,” he said. “Not only did I vote against that war, I helped lead the opposition. … And it gives me no pleasure to tell you that much of what I feared would happen the day after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, in fact, did happen.”
Clinton seemed to regard the point as inconsequential, saying merely that she and Sanders differed at the time and that “a vote in 2002 is not a plan to defeat ISIS. We have to look at the threats that we face right now.”
Sanders was not impressed. “I fully, fully concede that Secretary Clinton, who was secretary of state for four years, has more experience—that is not arguable—in foreign affairs,” he said. “But experience is not the only point—judgment is. And once again, back in 2002, when we both looked at the same evidence about the wisdom of the war in Iraq, one of us voted the right way, and one of us didn’t.”
Still, some voters remain unconvinced. “What is Sanders’ plan?” they ask, phrasing the concern as Clinton did. Reinforcing Gabbard’s confidence in Sanders is Lawrence Korb, a former director of national security studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Korb has advised President Obama on foreign policy and, the senator has said, is one source of advice in the Sanders campaign.
“[H]ow serious could Sanders—the socialist crusader battling the former secretary of state—really be?” Lawrence asked at the top of an article published at Politico in early February. “The answer is: serious.”
“In my dealings with him, and in analyzing his record in Congress over the past 25 years, I have found that Sanders has taken balanced, realistic positions on many of the most critical foreign policy issues facing the country.” Sanders, Lawrence wrote, “isn’t a foreign policy lightweight: In fact, given his long tenure in the House and Senate, he has more foreign policy experience than Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama did when they were running for office the first time.”
Korb presumes that a Sanders foreign policy would rest on the principles of restraint, diplomacy and international cooperation and a clear articulation of objectives when a decision is made to use force.
“Those who argue that Sanders should get more specific about foreign policy should keep in mind that some of our more successful foreign policy presidents were not all that specific as candidates,” Korb went on. “Eisenhower said only that he would go to Korea; he had no specific plan for how to end the conflict there. … Candidate Nixon said he had a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam but never said what it was.”
Because we can’t predict exactly what challenges the next president will face, Korb added, “ultimately, judgment matters more than experience for a potential president.” Korb warns against investing advisers with ultimate control over policy. Reagan, Obama, George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State John Kerry, exemplified the responsibility required of a commander in chief, he wrote, because they “all showed great judgment in considering, but not bowing to, the advice of the foreign policy establishment.”
“With the right partners in place—and, above all, the right [principles] and instincts—a President Sanders could be just the foreign policy president we need.”
That’s a message Tulsi Gabbard is helping get past a cadre of publishers, editors and broadcasters that has failed to deliver Sanders’ message of justice, economic equality and accountable governance to Americans who polls suggest would support it.
We don’t know what her endorsement might cost her in advancing up the Democratic Party ladder. But her courage is an example to all who believe in the moral necessity of Sen. Sanders’ campaign. For risking her career to endorse Sanders, we honor Tulsi Gabbard as our Truthdigger of the Week.