Appealing message. So appealing that plenty of righties, not just lefties, were doling out virtual high-fives to her on social media yesterday afternoon when this dropped. There’s a reason why Steve Bannon “loves her” and why Trump interviewed her for a position in his administration during the transition period after the election. This message would have been pure poison to most of the right 10 years ago but in 2019 it’s apt to earn her an admiring segment on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News primetime show. Even better, it’s an opportunity for Gabbard to highlight the fact that she’s a veteran, replete with footage of her in uniform visiting a cemetery. She’s not speaking abstractly about the costs of war. She knows it firsthand.
Now, tell me this: How does her view of interventionism set her apart from literally anyone running for president next year? Which Democrat is going to harrumph and say that the world would be a better place with 150,000 American troops in Tehran? It’s not even a useful play in the general election. Trump not only agrees with her about interventionism, he’s followed through on it. We’re leaving Syria. We’ll soon be leaving Afghanistan. He talks privately about withdrawing from farking NATO, for cripes sake. In my mind’s eye I imagine a presidential debate between her and Trump where Gabbard can’t finish a sentence about the evils of interventionism because Trump keeps interrupting her with new withdrawal ideas.
“This country has spent too much blood and too much treasure trying to guarantee–”
“What if we left South Korea? It’s been 65 years. Long time!”
“–too much, uh, treasure to guarantee–”
“Why are we even in Germany? They don’t pay their NATO fee!”
“–to, to guarantee–”
“Don’t get me started on Greenland. Kellyanne — where’s Kellyanne? Find out if we have any troops in Greenland.”
This national debate is settled, for now, until the next terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Gabbard can try if she likes to make a stink about Trump’s recent recognition of Venezuela’s opposition leader as the country’s true president but that’s probably the one bit of (light) interventionism which most of the right will support. Not the Tucker contingent, the true isolationists, perhaps, but the vast majority of the party that’s spent the past decade pointing to Venezuela as an object lesson in the perils of socialism. Supporting Maduro’s ouster is practically a campaign ad against the drift towards Bernie-ism on the American left.
And. While Gabbard’s status as a vet makes her well positioned among the Democratic field to push this point, in a different way she’s uniquely badly positioned to do so. The eternal difficulty for isolationists is convincing voters that their opposition to intervention isn’t, and shouldn’t be seen as, softness towards foreign malefactors. (We’d, uh, certainly never elect anyone president who’s guilty of that.) You can think Iran’s leadership is jihadist trash and believe that a bombing campaign would be a terrible idea. Gabbard demonstrated no such finesse after she returned from her bizarre 2017 freelance visit to Syria to meet with Assad. To the contrary, she came back mouthing regime talking points; a year earlier she was the only Democrat in Congress to vote no on a resolution condemning Assad for war crimes. If the DOJ took the Logan Act seriously, they’d have had a solid case against her for her trip. And she regrets none of it, as she told Jake Tapper a few days ago. One Democratic strategist snarked to the Daily Beast after she announced her presidential candidacy, “HQ in Damascus?”
If we’re going to (re)elect an isolationist, we can and should do better than someone who’s pitching a sunny “aloha” campaign after gladhanding a guy who’s spent eight years exterminating half the population of Syria. Although good luck with Trump having to make that point against her on the trail next year in the highly unlikely event that she’s the nominee. “We shouldn’t give monsters the benefit of the doubt,” he’ll intone. “How’s Kim Jong Un?” she’ll reply. What does he say?