WASHINGTON ― Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is pitching herself as Democrats’ top anti-war voice and a serious progressive in her bid for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. But even as she spent years decrying American military interventions abroad and money’s role in politics, as a congresswoman she accepted donations worth more than $100,000 from the country’s biggest producers of bombs, planes and weapons systems.
Regular contributions from companies including Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and BAE Systems poured in between 2012 (the year she was first elected) and 2016, according to a HuffPost review of donations to Gabbard’s campaign account and political action committee. (Federal Election Commission filings for the two organizations are publicly available and organized by the Center for Responsive Politics.)
The congresswoman said in May 2017 that she had “recently” stopped accepting money from the defense industry and would no longer accept political action committee largesse. Her total income from the arms industry by that point had hit $111,500, with weapons producers Boeing and Lockheed Martin featuring as her ninth and 12th biggest donors, respectively, in the 2016 election cycle. (Firms cannot directly donate to candidates; the figures reported are those from the weapons companies’ political action committees, funded by their employees.)
Of course, those kinds of companies donate widely across the political spectrum, and it makes sense that they would be especially interested in supporting Gabbard: She’s a military veteran and serves on the House Armed Services Committee. But the connection is striking given her posturing as the ideal champion of a progressive alternative to traditional U.S. foreign policy for an increasingly left-leaning Democratic Party and a war-weary general public.
Gabbard has become well-known for frequently blasting political leaders of both parties over their support for militaristic moves like the invasion of Iraq and has defended Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as a victim of American bullying and subterfuge.
“Every time we launch these interventionist regime-change wars, it is not only our veterans who pay the price for that,” Gabbard said in her campaign launch video released on Jan. 24. “Every single one of us pays the price. We have spent trillions of your taxpayer dollars to pay for these wars, taking those dollars away from our communities and our people who need them right here at home.”
But her relationship to defense industry donors shows there’s more to crafting a more humane and restrained U.S. foreign policy than calling out instances of saber-rattling. And what those donors appear to know is that her selective callouts don’t necessarily stem from dovishness.
Gabbard calls herself “a hawk” when it comes to what she identifies as threats to the U.S. She supports the use of drones (a prime product for the arms industry) in counterterrorism, the deployment of special operations in countries that aren’t officially at war with America, and Russia’s often brutal bombing campaign in support of Assad.
She’s keen to bolster the U.S. military ― the chief customer of the weapons companies who have donated to her ― and she has criticized fellow Democrats, notably former President Barack Obama, for not being tough enough abroad; she initially rejected the Iran nuclear deal and frequently alleged that the Obama administration was enabling terrorists in Syria by providing support to the communities who oppose Assad.
Meanwhile, Gabbard has pushed the kinds of narratives about foreigners that create public acceptability for the idea of an aggressive America armed to the teeth.
Terrorism is a product of a version of Islam, she has repeatedly said. She justified voting with the GOP to make it harder for refugees, particularly from Syria, to come to the U.S. by claiming vetting processes were clearly flawed (despite research showing it’s almost unheard-of for refugees to be involved in terror) and reiterating that the real problem was America’s push against Assad. And she has cultivated associations with the hard-right governments of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, both of which broadly treat Muslim communities numbering in the millions as security threats to be tightly managed ― with the kind of resources America’s defense industry is happy to provide.
Two spokespeople for Gabbard did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Gabbard is expected to hold her first major 2020 campaign event this weekend amid reports of staffing and management issues on her team.