Is Tulsi Gabbard really anti-war? No, she’s pro-drone and for “surgical strikes”.

Tulsi Gabbard has been called variations of “anti-war” or “anti-establishment” because of her “positions on war” by supporters and critics alike:

  • “Tulsi Gabbard Claims Anti-War Credentials After Accepting Over $100,000 From Arms Dealers—Lockheed Martin and Boeing were two of Gabbard’s largest donors during the 2016 election cycle.”
  • “Such positions on war and U.S. foreign policy effectively make her a pariah to establishment media pundits and the political class.“
  • Jimmy Dore’s show on Tulsi Gabbard’s announcement where she says she’ll end the cold war and end regime change wars, and another episode of Jimmy Dore’s show reviewing a 2019 CNN “Presidential Town Hall” with Rep. Gabbard where you can also hear sharp criticism of the US drone program (“Did you know that our drone program is the biggest terrorist program in the world? Kills mostly innocent civilians?” at 15m05s) which left out that Gabbard endorsed using drones, and later Gabbard is called “a candidate who is principled” (16m42s).
  • “Tulsi Gabbard Interview Turns Ugly as MSNBC Hosts Assail Her Anti-War Positions: Instead of allowing Gabbard to relay her vision, MSNBC and company hounded her, opting to shoot the messenger for advocating against the designation of a foreign leader as an “enemy” of the U.S.”
  • RT’s “CrossTalk” program had a discussion on Tulsi Gabbard (formerly also at calling her a “peace candidate” and a “real antiwar candidate”.
  • Glen Ford wrote an essay rightly criticizing the Social Democrats as “hav[ing] no principled objection to the military-political-economic structures of global capitalism — a system most people in the world call imperialism” and noted that “Of the Democratic presidential contenders, only Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii anti-war congressperson who does not call herself a socialist, was emphatically anti-intervention” against Venezuela.

When describing Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, how accurate is that language—anti-war—and what does that mean she’s for?

In 2016 she told West Hawaii Today:

The congresswoman has taken a hard line against terrorist groups, but opposes military conflicts justified in part as serving national security interests down the line by installing more cooperative governments.

“In short, when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” Gabbard said. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

In January 2018 she told The Intercept starting around 28m43s: (emphasis mine)

Jeremy Scahill: I’m wondering what your position, I know that in the past you have said that you favor a small footprint approach with strike forces and limited use of weaponized drones. Is that still your position that you think that’s the — to the extent that you believe the U.S. military should be used around the world for counterterrorism, is that still your position?

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Well, when we’re dealing with the unconventional threat of terrorist groups like ISIS, al Qaeda and some of these other groups that are affiliated with them, we should not be using basically what has been and continues to be the current policy of these mass mobilization of troops, these long occupations and trillions of dollars going in, really abusing the Authorization to Use Military Force and taking action that expands far beyond the legal limitations of those current AUMFs.

So, with these terrorist cells, for example, yes, I do still believe that the right approach to take is these quick strike forces, surgical strikes, in and out, very quickly, no long-term deployment, no long-term occupation to be able to get rid of the threat that exists and then get out and the very limited use of drones in those situations where our military is not able to get in without creating an unacceptable level of risk, and where you can make sure that you’re not causing, you know, a large amount of civilian casualties.

“Quick strike forces”, “surgical strikes”, “in and out, very quickly”, “no long-term deployment, no long-term occupation”

“Quick strike forces”, “surgical strikes”, “in and out, very quickly”, “no long-term deployment, no long-term occupation” are all pro-war propaganda. This vague language (how long is “long-term”?) is indistinguishable from what any neo-con would say to make war seem more acceptable.

“a large amount of civilian casualties”

As for “a large amount of civilian casualties”: It’s hard to know what would constitute “a large amount”. The US drone war is a secret war and the US Government doesn’t keep official statistics on those it kills. But the US doesn’t know whom it is killing. As Marcy Wheeler told DemocracyNow about so-called “signature strikes”:

[A signature strike] means we’re shooting drones at people whose identity we don’t actually know. We’re shooting at them because they look like terrorists from the sky, because they seem to have certain levels of security. In other words, Brennan was not telling the full truth when he said that these are targeted killings. What they are, in fact, are not targeted. We don’t know who we’re shooting at.

Therefore estimates are all we have to go on as this Wikipedia article paragraph describes:

Leaked military documents reveal that the vast majority of people killed have not been the intended targets, with approximately 13% of deaths being the intended targets, 81% being other “militants”, and 6% being civilians.[1][2] According to a journalist at the Intercept, the source who leaked the documents stated that the 94% militant deaths included some “military-age males” only assigned the label of militant because they were in a militant facility at the time and hadn’t been specifically proven innocent, though the source offered no actual evidence of this and none of these assertions were confirmed in the documents themselves.[2] Estimates for civilian deaths range from 158 to 965.

  1. and
  2. and

What does it mean to be pro-drone war?

The drone war kills mostly innocent people (sometimes politically labeled as “militants” to help let the attackers off the hook for their murder), and everyone killed is killed extrajudicially: no charges, no evidence, no opportunity for reviewing evidence, no opportunity for debate.

According to the New York Times, one person (the US President) decides whom to kill. The President makes the decision in a Tuesday meeting (known as a “terror Tuesday meeting”) by reviewing a set of dossiers (“baseball cards”). Missiles are fired from a drone remotely-controlled by the US Government. The zone of destruction is so wide that attacks typically kill many more people than the US will admit.

The US Government is remarkably indiscriminate about whom they kill in this way. The US has killed children and US citizens in the drone war, a clear violation of their due process rights. The US citizens killed in the drone war include Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman (both killed in the Obama administration), and his 8-year-old daughter Nawar on January 29, 2017 in a drone-led Navy SEAL raid under the Trump administration. We’re told that Anwar was recruiting for al-Qaeda but this claim comes without evidence. We were given no good reason for killing Anwar’s minor children. Shortly after learning that the Obama administration murdered 16-year-old Abdulrahman in a separate drone strike 2 weeks after the drone strike that killed his father, that administration was asked why they killed the minor. The Obama administration’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs replied that children like Abdulrahman “should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children“. The Atlantic rightly added:

Again, note that this kid wasn’t killed in the same drone strike as his father. He was hit by a drone strike elsewhere, and by the time he was killed, his father had already been dead for two weeks. Gibbs nevertheless defends the strike, not by arguing that the kid was a threat, or that killing him was an accident, but by saying that his late father irresponsibly joined al Qaeda terrorists. Killing an American citizen without due process on that logic ought to be grounds for impeachment.

Who benefits from objecting to Tulsi Gabbard in this way?

It seems that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is at best against some wars, but other wars are okay. What she opposes are technical details: methods of warmaking any of which could easily be used to help the US invade countries, foment regime change, and create enemies. But the methods she approves of could be used for the same goals. The establishment media is complaining (or remaining silent about her campaign) possibly to use her as the next sheepdog for their preferred establishment candidate like Bernie Sanders was, according to Contrary to how her objections are framed Gabbard doesn’t have a principled stance against war.

Her supporters have been overwhelmingly silent on this issue so far. Whenever I could find a contact point for those who claim Rep. Gabbard is anti-war I’ve pointed them to the Intercept’s January 2018 interview asking them to cover this discrepancy between their description and the available evidence from Gabbard herself. So far nobody has replied to me and I’ve seen nobody address how this view of extrajudicial assassination squares with calling her anti-war. Exhibiting the kind of silence they eschew when Gabbard is left out of election coverage from mainstream media (such as what Jimmy Dore’s show recently released) is simply progressive hypocrisy.