Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii who supported Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, called-out Barack Obama for an inability to use the term “radical Islamic terror,” met Syrian President Bashar Assad, and slammed Israel for the use of live-ammunition to quell riots on the Gaza border, joined the crowded Democratic presidential race on Friday.
“I have decided to run and will be making a formal announcement within the next week,” she said during a CNN interview.
Gabbard, a veteran of the Iraq war and the first Samoan and Hindu in Congress, quit her job as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to support Sanders. She gained national prominence by speaking on his behalf at the Democratic national convention that year.
In May, Gabbard took to Twitter to criticize Israel following the riots along the Gaza fence on May 14.
“Israel needs to stop using live ammunition in its response to unarmed protesters in Gaza. It has resulted in over 50 dead and thousands seriously wounded,” she tweeted.
Another tweet that attracted a great deal of attention, though it did not pertain to Israel, was in November following US President Donald Trump’s refusal to take a strong stand on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. “Being Saudi Arabia’s bitch is not ‘America First,” she tweeted.
She has long been a critic of Saudi Arabia, and was among the opponents in 2016 of a $1.15 billion arms sale to the country.
“Saudi Arabia continues to spend billions of dollars funding the spread of the Wahhabi Salafist ideology that fuels groups like ISIS, al Qaeda and other jihadist groups around the world,” she said at the time. “The U.S. must stop arming Saudi Arabia, stop fueling this fire and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for their actions.”
Gabbard has established a strong relationship – and took a lot of criticism for it from US progressives – with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the head of the nationalist Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi has steered a decidedly pro-Israel Indian policy, and has a strong relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Following Netanyahu’s controversial address to Congress in March 2015 against the Iranian nuclear deal, Gabbard issued a statement saying, “It’s unfortunate that an issue as important as preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has been muddled by partisan politics. This is an extremely serious issue, at a critical juncture, that should not be used as a political football.”
The United States relationship with Israel, she said, “must rise above the political fray, as America continues to stand with Israel as her strongest ally.”
And in January 2017, Gabbard – a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee– issued a statement explaining why she voted against a House resolution condemning the UN Security Council resolution that harshly slammed Israel’s settlement policies, and the failure of the US to block that resolution.
“I know how important our enduring alliance with Israel is. My vote upholds my commitment to maintaining and strengthening this alliance, as well as my long-held position that the most viable path to peace between Israel and Palestine can be found through both sides negotiating a two-state solution,” she wrote. “ While I remain concerned about aspects of the UN Resolution, I share the Obama Administration’s reservation about the harmful impact Israeli settlement activity has on the prospects for peace.”
She stressed that she co-sponsored a House resolution reaffirming US commitment to “a negotiated settlement leading to a sustainable two-state solution that re-affirms Israel’s right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state and establishes a demilitarized democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security.”
That resolution also reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel and the US policy of vetoing one-sided or anti-Israel UN Security Council resolutions, and condemned boycott and divestment campaigns that target Israel.
Regarding Obama’s refusal to use terms like radical Islamic terror, Gabbard said in a CNN interview in June 2016 that “it’s important that you identify your enemy, you know who they are, you call them by their name, and you understand the ideology that’s driving them.”
In January 2017, on a trip to Syria and Lebanon, she met Syrian President Bashar Assad in what she said was an unplanned meeting. Asked if she had any compunctions about meeting with – and giving credibility – to a person responsible for the deaths of thousands of people and and the displacement of millions, she replied:“Whatever you think about President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria. In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him.”
She took US President to Trump to task for firing cruise missiles on Syria following Assad’s use use of chemical weapons there in April 2018, calling the strike “reckless and short-sighted.”