Political Animal

Why the Right Supports Tulsi Gabbard

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an opinion piece titled, “Why Are Democrats Jilting G.O.P. Voters Who Want to Like Them?” When I saw the headline, I took a pass on reading it, assuming that it was merely another example of conservative concern-trolling about progressive Democrats. That is, indeed, how the article begins.

Under President Trump, a small slice of America’s electorate seeks a reason to call the Democratic Party home for the very first time. But without adequate hospitality to welcome them, they will disappear quickly.

With a few exceptions on particular policies, the Democratic presidential field neglects abundant pools of potential Democrat converts, leaving persuadable audiences — like independents and Trump-averse, anti-abortion Christians (some of whom are white evangelicals) — without options.

I was therefore a bit surprised when the piece turned into a argument in favor of the candidacy of Tulsi Gabbard, the same one who quit her position on the DNC executive committee in order to endorse Bernie Sanders in 2016. The author, Ericka Andersen, is identified simply as “a freelance writer in Indianapolis.” But Steve M. might have tracked down some further information about her. National Review lists an author with the same name who is also described as “the digital-marketing director at the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF).” Joan Walsh wrote about the group in an article titled, “Meet the ‘Feminists’ Doing the Koch Brothers’ Dirty Work.”

That adds some credence to a piece in the New York Times by Lisa Lerer titled “What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To?” She laid out some of the same ties to far right groups that I pointed out a few weeks ago. While there is no direct evidence that Gabbard is courting those groups, it is important to note the question and examine why she is a favorite among them.

The central message of Gabbard’s campaign is that she stands against the foreign policy establishment as the anti-war candidate. But as Shikha Dalmia points out, that is deceptive.

Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, has made opposition to war her signature issue…But that doesn’t make her a peacenik; it makes her an America-Firster, just like President Trump. Indeed, although she went out of her way to condemn Trump as a “warmonger,” there isn’t much daylight between her position and his — which is no doubt why the former White House aide Stephen Bannon, the notorious architect of Trump’s America First campaign, interviewed her for a position in the administration.

In describing herself, Gabbard says that “when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk. When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.” Evan Hill notes how far she’s willing to go on the former.

Gabbard is a staunch supporter of the United States’ counter-ISIS campaign, but her view of the fight goes much further. During a visit to India in 2014, she told an interviewer that the United States had failed in its “very clear” mission to defeat “Islamic extremism”—the fight she said led her to enlist after the September 11 attacks—and that we needed “to focus all of our efforts and energy” and “root out this evil wherever it is.” When pressed on whether torture could be part of those efforts, Gabbard didn’t reject it, saying some believed it worked. Invoking the fantastical scenario of a ticking nuclear time bomb, Gabbard said that if she were president, she “would do everything in my power to keep the American people safe.” If there was a gap between Gabbard’s philosophy and the forever war, it was hard to spot.

That provides some context for Gabbard’s criticism of the Obama administration for failing to use the term “radical Islam” to describe ISIS and her embrace of the right wing talking point that we would be unable to defeat the enemy unless we called them by the right name. Her statements echo a view that is often linked to Islamophobia.

During the Democratic debate on Tuesday night, we are likely to hear a lot about what is happening in Syria. Back in 2015, when Russia began its bombing campaign against the rebels in northwestern Syria, Gabbard was asked about it by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. Rather than condemn what others have called a war crime, she spouted the Putin-Assad talking point that the bombs were targeted against terrorists and condemned the Obama administration for seeking regime change in Syria, saying that it would lead to terrorists in control of Syria. We should note that at the time, Secretary of State John Kerry was in the process of launching peace talks, which he described by saying this.

“The truth is that nothing would do more to bolster the fight against the terrorists than a broadly supported diplomatic process that would begin to de-escalate the conflict, and that would give the Syrian people a real choice — not between Assad and Daesh — but between the status quo and something,” Kerry said, using another name for ISIS.

These are the kinds of positions Gabbard should be questioned about during the Democratic debate on Tuesday night. But I seriously doubt that will happen. The role she will play is more likely to be that of disrupter. That is precisely what Gabbard signaled when she put out this video last Thursday.

Just as she did in 2016, Gabbard says that the DNC and corporate media have “rigged” the election. She claimed to be seriously considering the idea of boycotting Tuesday night’s debate. It is hard to comprehend how anyone would have taken that announcement seriously. If she intended to boycott the debate, she would have simply announced that. Instead, she tweeted this four days later, with no further explanation.

Between her foreign policy views and the fact that she has embraced the roll of disrupter in the Democratic primary, right wingers have several reasons to support her candidacy.

It Looks Like Giuliani Took Russian Money

I don’t know how anyone familiar with the English language can think it is a good branding ploy to name their company Fraud Guarantee. But that is exactly what Lev Parnas and David Correia did back in 2013. As the chief executive officer and chief operating officer they somehow attracted strategic advice and possibly seed money from Philip Reicherz who runs a venture capital fund called Magnolia Ventures. The company began with $1.5 million in the bank.

But their website indicates a defunct enterprise premised on vague promises of protection against investor fraud. The screenshot below is current as of October 15, 2019. It shows that they are promising to roll out their primary product, InvestSafe™, in the Spring of 2016. Either that never happened or they have a very lazy person running their website.

You can see that they were also saying they could provide a technology that would be an improvement on standard background checks. So, here we can see where they might be in need of some technological consulting work. Maybe back in 2015 or the winter of 2016, they might have hired someone for that purpose. Maybe a genius could figure out how to get a “technology” to listen for people “talking about fraudulent activity” by “scour[ing] the internet” and “crunch[ing] the data.” That’s certainly something some law enforcement and intelligence agencies are capable of doing. Why not two dudes in Boca Raton?

So, this is what Fraud Guarantee looks like. And here is what Rudy Giuliani has to say about it:

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges, Giuliani told Reuters on Monday…

…Giuliani said [Lev] Parnas’ company, Boca Raton-based Fraud Guarantee, whose website says it aims to help clients “reduce and mitigate fraud”, engaged Giuliani Partners, a management and security consulting firm, around August 2018. Giuliani said he was hired to consult on Fraud Guarantee’s technologies and provide legal advice on regulatory issues.

Maybe it’s me, but August 2018 seems far too late to be offering technology advice to Fraud Guarantee. And this is a company that started with $1.5 million in seed money and never seems to have developed a product. How can they afford to pay Rudy Giuliani $500,000?

The New York Times reported last week that Parnas had told associates he paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for what Giuliani said was business and legal advice. Giuliani said for the first time on Monday that the total amount was $500,000.

Giuliani told Reuters the money came in two payments made within weeks of each other. He said he could not recall the dates of the payments. He said most of the work he did for Fraud Guarantee was completed in 2018 but that he had been doing follow-up for over a year.

It would be fascinating to see Giuliani explain to a prosecutor or congressional committee what kind of work he performed in 2018 and the nature of his follow-up work in 2019.

As for those two wire transfers Giuliani received, he says we shouldn’t worry about them.

According to an indictment unsealed by U.S. prosecutors, an unidentified Russian businessman arranged for two $500,000 wires to be sent from foreign bank accounts to a U.S. account controlled by [Igor] Fruman in September and October 2018. The money was used, in part, by Fruman, Parnas and two other men charged in the indictment to gain influence with U.S. politicians and candidates, the indictment said.

Foreign nationals are prohibited from making contributions and other expenditures in connection with U.S. elections, and from making contributions in someone else’s name.

Giuliani said he was confident that the money he received was from “a domestic source,” but he would not say where it came from.

“I know beyond any doubt the source of the money is not any questionable source,” he told Reuters in an interview. “The money did not come from foreigners. I can rule that out 100%,” he said.

I’ve been saying that this is the biggest scandal in American political history, and this is just a small piece of it. Even John Bolton, of all people, wanted nothing to do this operation.

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by [Ambassador to the European Union] Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and [White House chief of staff] Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition…

…It was not the first time Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

It’s amazing that Giuliani is still talking and still spinning. He says he’s 100% certain that he was not the recipient of two wire transfers totaling a half a million dollars that were sent by “an unidentified Russian businessman” to “gain influence with U.S. politicians and candidates” even as he freely admits that was paid exactly that amount in two wire transfers by the very same people.

As you might expect, and as the Wall Street Journal is reporting, federal prosectors are hot on Giuliani’s trail. They are not going to be any more satisfied with his answers than I am, and they have the tools to prove he’s a liar.

Lev Parnas and David Correia have both been arrested, along with Andrey Kukushkin and Igor Fruman. Two of them, Parnas and Fruman, were nailed at Dulles International Airport shortly after having lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. They were scheduled to testify before Congress but had one-way tickets indicating that they had no intention of fulfilling that commitment.

And, yet, Giuliani is still insisting on his innocence. He’s still saying things that can and will be used against him in a court of law.

And Trump is still complaining about the initial whistleblower, as if half his administration were not exposing the whole thing in sworn depositions before the House Intelligence Committee.

The Attorney General Goes to War With the First Amendment

Attorney General William Barr gave a speech at University of Notre Dame’s law school on Friday that should alarm all of us who cherish the First Amendment’s guarantee against the government’s establishment of any religion.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Barr went on to lay out a host of problems that are the result of this “organized destruction.”

Barr cited the rate of American children born out of wedlock as having increased five-fold since 1965 to a national average of 40 percent. He said that figure climbs “well over 70 percent in many large urban areas” and suggested a decline in morality was responsible.

“Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic,” Barr said. “By any honest assessment the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim. Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.”

The attorney general is laying the groundwork for actions by the Justice Department that he and his ilk refer to as a protection of “religious freedom” when, in practice, they are designed to establish Christianity as a state religion and allow for discrimination against those who practice a different faith or none at all.

These kinds of statements need to be responded to on several levels. Kevin Drum does a good job of documenting that Barr is categorically wrong when he says that “virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.”

But the white evangelical Christians that the attorney general is appealing to remain convinced that, since sometime in the 1960s or 70s, the country has been on a path to moral decay spurred by “secular humanists.” These are the “nostalgia voters” to whom Donald Trump appealed because they think that in some recent past, the United States was a God-fearing country and all of these problems started when we did things like outlaw prayer in public schools. We heard something similar from Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, when he spoke at length defending Trump’s phone call to the family of Sgt. La David Johnson.

You know, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases. Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone. Religion, that seems to be gone as well.

During the 60s and 70s, when movements were successful in opening the doors of belonging a bit wider for women and people of color (eventually the disabled and LGBT communities as well), nostalgia voters viewed those changes as a disruption to the social order. Their fears were first captured as a political force by Ronald Reagan and eventually exploited by Trump.

If you want to know why white evangelical Christians stay loyal to the president no matter what he does, the crux of it is that they believe that we are in the midst of a war between the non-religious and people of faith that was captured in that speech by Barr. At the heart of that war is the belief that all of the ills of society can be traced to man’s sinful nature and the only hope for relief is adherence to the tenants of Christianity (i.e., for Protestant fundamentalists, you must be “born again.”) That isn’t simply a message for individuals, it applies to countries as well. As Barr indicated in the video clip above, they don’t believe that human beings are capable of moral behavior outside of the strictures of organized religion (read: Christianity).

As long as our government adheres to the protections enshrined in the First Amendment, these white evangelicals will be at war with the rest of us. They will continue to create battle lines out of whole cloth as Barr did with his recitation of social pathologies. Even with Trump in the White House and Barr in charge of the Justice Department, they will paint themselves as victims of abuse by the system. Lance Mannion explained why.

They like feeling persecuted. They need to feel persecuted…it feeds their self-pity and sense of entitlement, and it gives them their excuse.

It’s how they turn offense into defense, how repression and oppression become liberty.

If they are under attack, then they’re free to fight back.

To make matters worse, it’s not just the attorney general. Obviously, the secretary of state is on board too.

Our founders got the religion issue just about right. Enshrined in the Constitution is the freedom to practice the religion of ones choosing and a restriction on the government’s ability to establish a religion. They obviously had enough faith in humanity to leave those decisions up to the individual. But that isn’t good enough for William Barr, Mike Pompeo, and Trump’s nostalgia voters. They have basically gone to war with the First Amendment.

The Dangerous Door That Trump Has Opened in Syria

Barack Obama often compared the presidency to a relay race, where he took the baton from a range of people who came before, ran his best leg, and then passed the baton onto his successor. He built on that analogy while talking to Max Fisher about the Iran nuclear agreement, where the topic of Nixon’s opening with China came up (emphasis mine).

To hear him draw a connection between the nuclear deal and China’s transformation, then, was striking. It suggested that Obama, though he has repeatedly insisted he does not expect the character of Iran’s regime to change, does see it as a possibility, one potentially significant enough that it evokes, at least in his mind, President Nixon’s historic trip to China.

At the same time, the lesson Obama seemed to draw from the comparison was not that he, too, was on the verge of making history, but rather that transformations like China’s under Deng, opportunities like Nixon’s trip, can have both causes and consequences that are impossible to foresee. His role, he said, was to find “openings” for such moments.

All of that wasn’t simply a profoundly wise view of the presidency, it demonstrates the ability to put ones actions in the context of history and make decisions that open possibilities for the future.

We now have a president who is deeply ignorant about history and only considers his own immediate interests when making decisions. With Trump’s recent actions in Syria, it has become clear that a very different kind of opening has occurred—one that future presidents will be dealing with for decades to come.

We are at the very early stages of seeing what some of the ramifications of Trump’s actions might be. The message sent from our Kurdish allies in northern Syria is that they feel betrayed by the United States, indicating that we are no longer a country that can be trusted to stand with our allies. Instead, the Kurds have weighed the costs of the Turkish invasion and made an agreement with Assad.

Without U.S. backing and amid mounting chaos, the Kurds appeared to face the choice between a deadly confrontation with the militarily superior Turkish forces — or a deal with the Assad regime.

By Sunday, the SDF had opted for the second option: They announced a deal with the Syrian government to allow forces loyal to the regime to enter its territory. By Monday, Syrian government troops were raising flags in the towns close to the Turkish-Syrian border…

As Rick Noack writes, that is a move that primarily benefits Russia, given that Putin has been Assad’s staunchest ally. The fact that the Kurds are now turning to Assad and Putin for assistance demonstrates how desperate they have become.

Russia began to intervene militarily in Syria on Assad’s behalf in the fall of 2015. The siege of Aleppo, which was then controlled by rebel forces, was likely a war crime. On Sunday, the New York Times released a report documenting that the Russian Air Force intentionally targeted hospitals as part of the bombing campaign. As Max Fisher wrote, it was a calculated move on Putin’s part.

The strategy, more about politics than advancing the battle lines, appears to be designed to pressure rebels to ally themselves with extremists, eroding the rebels’ legitimacy; give Russia veto power over any high-level diplomacy; and exhaust Syrian civilians who might otherwise support the opposition.

That is how Assad and Putin “play” politics—by committing war crimes. Now, because of Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, they have been forced to make a deal with the devil and turned to Assad for protection from the Turkish invasion. Keep in mind that this is the regime that used chemical weapons on its own people—something the Kurds experienced in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

What I haven’t seen addressed at this point is how Turkey will respond to the presence of Syrian forces. If fighting breaks out between the two countries, it will present an impossible situation for NATO, given that Turkey is a member that the rest of the alliance is committed to defend. As the U.S. considers sanctions against Turkey and our NATO allies condemn their incursion into Syria, Vladimir Putin has spent time courting Erdogan, creating a potential wedge in the alliance.

But it isn’t just NATO that is affected. We could be witnessing the beginning of a realignment in the Middle East, especially considering the meetings described by Adam Taylor on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Riyadh on Monday for his first state visit to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in more than a decade, emphasizing not only coordination between three of the biggest oil producers in the world but also Moscow’s growing influence in the Middle East…

It is part of a strategy that puts Moscow at the center of Middle East politics. Putin recently announced that he intends to visit another U.S. ally, Israel, early next year. Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russia to meet with Putin last month, just days before a bitterly contested election…

Russia ultimately remains far weaker than the United States in a variety of ways. Its economy has suffered greatly under sanctions, and it has suffered a number of humiliating military setbacks in recent years; even its vaunted S-400 system remains untested in real life.

But with longtime partners Syria’s Kurds finding themselves at odds with Trump’s Middle East plans, and even those with many friends in Washington such as Israel’s Netanyahu unsure of their footing, allies such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE may see Russia as a more reliable alternative — even if it is opposed to the United States and allied with many of their own rivals.

The least damning explanation for what is happening would be that Putin is playing Trump like a fiddle in order to strengthen his own power and diminish the influence of the United States. But the deeper question is whether Putin is actually directing Trump.

Either way, the Russian president is using every means at his disposal to realign geopolitical alliances in a way that threatens our national security. Americans tend to have short memories, but it is important to note the events of the last week and recognize that the United States will be paying the price for Trump’s malevolence and incompetence for decades to come.