In a presidential nominating contest dominated by domestic policy issues, one candidate stands apart.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii visited Iowa City last week as part of her bid for the 2020 Democratic nomination. She mentioned a wide range of issues, but most of her 15-minute monologue was dedicated to foreign policy.
“There is an issue that is central to all of these, that’s important for us to focus on — we must end regime-change wars, we must work to end this new Cold War that we find ourselves in because of increasing tensions between the United States states and Russia and nuclear-armed countries like China,” Gabbard told about 100 people gathered in a downtown restaurant.
Among about 20 confirmed or likely candidates, Gabbard is the only one I have seen place war and peace at the center of her campaign message. After almost two decades of broad bipartisan support for aggressive military interventionism, it’s a message Americans need to hear.
Gabbard is a National Guard member who served in Iraq and Kuwait. And as a Hawaiian, she serves constituents who are at elevated risk of a nuclear attack, as we were reminded last year when a false missile alert caused panic throughout the state.
Gabbard warns that our nation’s vast influence over other countries’ affairs is needlessly inflammatory and grossly wasteful.
By no means has Gabbard shunned domestic policy discussions. As a supporter of democratic socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, she’s committed to the prevailing priorities of the Democratic base — Medicare for all, greater investment in education and a jobs program for renewable energy projects.
Yet even on these issues, Gabbard frames the debate in foreign policy terms. To finance the progressive wish list, she would advocate for repurposing some of the
$600 billion military budget, now accounting for about half of non-discretionary federal spending.
To the extent that foreign relations has been a 2020 campaign issue, it has largely been used as material for rebuking President Donald Trump, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not. As the most notable example, Democrats cling to allegations that Trump conspired with Russians to fix the 2016 election, and hint they would reignite tensions with Vladimir Putin’s government.
Asked by an audience member in Iowa City last week to address Russia investigation, Gabbard passed up an opportunity to pile on. Instead, she suggested it’s inappropriate for elected officials to take sides until they’ve seen the results of the inquiry.
“I think it’s important that the Mueller report come out and tell the truth. I think any time you have investigations and reports that seek to achieve a predetermined outcome, the public isn’t served,” Gabbard said.
As a Republican onlooker, I am in no position to say whether Gabbard is the candidate most aligned with Democratic caucusgoers. What I can say is Gabbard offers real expertise and a substantive foreign policy platform that her competitors largely lack.
Win or lose, Gabbard is making peace a 2020 campaign issue.
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