In debate, Gabbard again keys on anti-war message

  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) speaks to a reporter after the close of the first Democratic presidential debate in Miami on Wednesday night, June 26, 2019. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

HONOLULU — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard again issued her dire warning of a new war looming in the Middle East during her first national prime-time debate with nine of the other Democratic presidential candidates on Wednesday, and her campaign issued a bulletin criticizing the format of the forum even before it was over.

“Is it just us, or does it seem like every other question has gone to Elizabeth Warren?” said the fundraising notice sent out by the Tulsi 2020 campaign while the debate was still underway. “And at times, the debate has devolved into a dramatic shouting match.”

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A technical glitch involving an open mike in a control room briefly interrupted the debate, and the Gabbard campaign opined that “technical problems aside, it’s clear where the corporate-backed mainstream media stands.”

Allegations that the media treats Gabbard unfairly have become a staple of her long-shot campaign for president, but some observers who watched the debate at the Hawaii Democratic Party headquarters in Kakaako agreed Warren got more than her share of the spotlight. That left less time for Gabbard to shine, they said.

“I thought this was her chance to really break out, and they didn’t give her much of a chance,” said Paul Klink, director of a medical marijuana card clinic. “I was really disturbed that they didn’t give Tulsi a fair shake, I don’t feel at all.”

Gabbard shared the stage in Miami with a squad of other candidates, including Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee and John Delaney.

Gabbard sparred briefly but sharply with Ryan, an Ohio congressman, when Ryan said that the United States needs to “stay engaged” in Afghanistan. That war is now the longest in U.S. history, and Ryan was asked about a report that the Taliban claimed responsibility Wednesday for the deaths of two U.S. servicemen.

Gabbard interrupted Ryan to demand, “Is that what you will tell the parents of those two soldiers who were just killed in Afghanistan, ‘Well, we just have to be engaged?’ As a soldier I will tell you that answer is unacceptable,” said Gabbard as the audience cheered.

“We have to bring our troops home from Afghanistan,” she said. “We are in a place in Afghanistan where we have lost so many lives, we’ve spent so much money, money that’s coming out of everyone of our pockets, money that should be going into communities here at home, meeting the needs of the people here at home. We are no better off in Afghanistan today than we were when this war began.”

Ryan replied that “the reality of it is that if the United States isn’t engaged, the Taliban will grow and they will have bigger, bolder terrorist acts. We have got to have some presence there …”

Gabbard interrupted again to retort that “The Taliban was there long before we came in, and will be there long (after) we leave. We cannot leave U.S. people in Afghanistan thinking that we’re going to somehow squash this Taliban.”

When the candidates were asked what is the greatest geopolitical threat to the United States, Gabbard replied, “The greatest threat that we face is the fact that we are at a greater risk of nuclear war today than ever before in history.”

While the other candidates mostly discussed domestic issues such as immigration, gun control and economic inequality, Gabbard turned repeatedly to her signature issue of ending U.S. “regime-change wars.”

When Gabbard had her first opportunity to speak, she was asked what she would do to assure equal pay for men and women, but she immediately launched into a description of her military service and her two deployments to the Middle East.

“I know the importance of our national security as well as the terribly high cost of war, and for too long our leaders have failed us, taking us from one regime change war to the next, leading us into a new Cold War and arms race costing us trillions of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars, and countless lives,” she said.

“This insanity must end. As president, I will take your hard-earned taxpayer dollars and instead invest those dollars into serving your needs, things like health care, a green economy, good-paying jobs, protecting our environment and so much more,” she said.

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Most of the 50 people gathered at the Hawaii Democratic Party headquarters to watch the debate indicated they have not yet settled on a favorite candidate, and party Chairwoman Kealii Lopez urged them to keep an open mind during the debates Wednesday and tonight.

“Fall in love with all the candidates,” she said. “In the end, the key for us is whoever becomes the final nominee, is for all of us to get behind her or him, and not repeat what happened … two years ago. We can’t afford (President Donald) Trump any longer,” Lopez said.

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