This is a guest post by Jamie Mayerfeld, and not the first. Jamie originally put it up on his Facebook page. I asked if I could reproduce it here. He kindly agreed. As he notes below, it’s difficult to see Tulsi Gabbard as a typical anti-war progressive. She’s also not in “the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and enemy is US imperialism” camp, which is where you usually find pro-Assad and pro-Russia sentiment in the American left. As best I can tell, her views on international politics include some fairly reactionary elements. Which is why, I imagine, the members of the pseudo-left who were Trump-curious in 2016 find her so appealing. Anyway, over to Jamie.
On September 30, 2015, the Russian government began a massive bombing campaign in Syria. The same day, Tulsi Gabbard tweeted: “Bad enough US has not been bombing al-Qaeda/al-Nusra in Syria. But it’s mind-boggling that we protest Russia’s bombing of these terrorists.” The next day, she tweeted: “Al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11 and must be defeated. Obama won’t bomb them in Syria. Putin did.”
Notice a couple of things. In these tweets, Gabbard does not demand a halt to violence; she does not call for negotiations; she does not denounce foreign intervention. Instead she complains that the United States isn’t bombing rebel forces in Syria, and she praises Russia for doing so.
As Josh Rogin later commented in the Washington Post: “Gabbard is wrong on the facts. The United States has been bombing Jabhat al-Nusra targets, although not as often as attacking the Islamic State. Russian airstrikes have mostly targeted opposition groups that are supported by the United States as well as civilians in opposition held areas.”
Notice, too, that Gabbard voices her enthusiastic welcome of Russia’s military intervention. It’s important to recall that Russia has been a staunch backer of the Assad regime for decades. After the start of the peaceful protests against Assad in March 2011 and Assad’s savage response, Russia ratcheted up its military, logistical, and diplomatic support. This encouraged Assad to continue his atrocities and resist negotiations.
Given this background and given the record of Putin’s butchery in Chechnya, it would be unrealistic to expect that the military intervention Russia initiated in September 2015 would be anything other than brutal. And brutal it was. Russia’s planes have attacked hospitals, bakeries, markets, schools, and civilian neighborhoods. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that over the next three years Russian airstrikes killed 18,000 people, half of them civilians. Needless to say, Russia’s intervention bolstered Assad’s brutal regime.
In November 2015, as Russian and Syrian forces continued their relentless attacks, Gabbard voted for a bill that would make it almost impossible for Syrian and Iraqi refugees to gain entry into the United States. An online petition circulated by Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign denounced the bill, stating, “In this moment, it is particularly important that we not allow ourselves to be divided by the anti-immigrant hysteria that Republican presidential candidates are ginning up. When hundreds of thousands of people have lost everything and have nothing left but the shirts on their backs, we should not turn our backs on these refugees escaping violence in the Middle East.” About three quarters of House Democrats voted against the bill.
In March 2016, Gabbard even voted against a resolution condemning “unlawful violence against civilian populations in Syria.” The vote was 392 to 3. (“H.Con.Res.121 – Expressing the sense of the Congress condemning the gross violations of international law amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict in Syria, and asking the President to direct his Ambassador at the United Nations to promote the establishment of a war crimes tribunal where these crimes could be addressed.”) The resolution is worth reading for its own sake. Ask yourself if there is any good reason to vote against it.
So to recap: Gabbard celebrated the initiation of the Russian military intervention and bombing campaign in Syria. She then voted to slam the door on Syrian refugees, and voted against a House resolution condemning war crimes and crimes against humanity on both sides of the civil war.
Tulsi Gabbard has shown little mercy to the people of Syria.