New York, (IANS) The first Hindu elected to Congress, Tulsi Gabbard, crossed her Democratic party line to meet Republican-elect Donald Trump to discuss Syria, terrorism and national security matters and warn of the risk of a nuclear confrontation with Russia amid speculation he may be checking out the war veteran for a position in his administration.
On economic and social issues, Gabbard belongs to the leftist wing of the Democratic Party. But she is closer to Trump’s policies on waging a tough war on terror while avoiding foreign interventions. This makes her a prime candidate for the President-elect’s efforts to reach out to his opposition.
Trump’s press office characterised the meeting as one of those held to “gather ideas and speak with potential leaders being considered for positions inside the Trump-Pence Administration”.
It was Trump’s first meeting of the day and a statement from his press office said: “The two leaders had a detailed conversation regarding the situation in the Middle East including the crisis in Syria and America’s position in the world.”
In a hint of a cabinet position she may be considered for besides defence, the statement said: “They also discussed approaches to fix the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) and other veterans issues.”
The department, which deals with welfare of ex-service personnel, has come under withering criticism for mismanagement and poor treatment of wounded soldiers.
Gabbard was a major in the Army National Guard and has served two tours of duty in Iraq.
“I saw firsthand the cost of war and the lives lost due to the interventionist warmongering policies our country has pursued for far too long,” she said after the meeting Trump, who has criticised US military entanglement abroad.
During this month’s election, the Republican Party leadership had helped Gabbard by withdrawing support for their own party’s candidate Angela Kaaihue, who made a bigoted attack on Gabbard with anti-Hindu vitriol calling her a “pathetic Hindu 1,000 gods leader”.
Trump’s outreach to Gabbard illustrates the complexity of US politics, where Trump is a dove when it comes to foreign interventions while extremely tough on Islamic terrorism, whereas his Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton is a hawk advocating interventions abroad and a confrontation with Russia.
Gabbard said she told Trump about her concerns with enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria that Clinton, along with Democratic and Republican hawks, advocates to counter Bashar al-Assad and Russia.
“It would lead to more death and suffering, exacerbate the refugee crisis, strengthen ISIS (Islamic State) and Al Qaeda, and bring us into a direct conflict with Russia which could result in a nuclear war,” she said.
If the US were to enforce a no-fly zone, it could be drawn into a direct confrontation with Russia, which conducts bombing raids over areas controlled by Islamic State terrorists.
Though Gabbard, who represents a constituency in Hawaii, is not of Indian descent, she is a second-generation Hindu by religion. She is only 35 years old and is considered a rising star in the Democratic Party.
“For years, the issue of ending interventionist, regime change warfare has been one of my top priorities,” she said in a veiled attack on Clinton who has promoted an agenda of overthrowing governments from Egypt to Ukraine with disastrous results.
Gabbard made a scathing attack on Republican neo-conservative hawks like Paul Wolfowitz, the planner of the deadly Iraq War who had crossed over to Clinton’s side.
She said it was important for her to meet the “President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government, a war which has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives and forced millions of refugees to flee their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families,” Gabbard said.
She has previously expressed support for Russian bombing of Islamic State-held territories in Syria.
“While the rules of political expediency would say I should have refused to meet with President-elect Trump, I never have and never will play politics with American and Syrian lives,” she added.
During the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination race, Gabbard was aligned with Bernie Sanders, the independent socialist who defied the party leadership to run against Clinton.
Gabbard resigned as vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee after clashing with the then-Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whom she accused of unfairly backing Clinton and working against Sanders.
This could make her a potential conduit to the discontented supporters of Sanders, who emerged a strong rival to Clinton with his populist platform appealing to the disempowered, the working class and foreign policy doves.
Underlining the differences with Trump on other matters, Gabbard said: “Where I disagree with President-elect Trump on issues, I will not hesitate to express that disagreement.”
Gabbard has criticised President Barack Obama for his reluctance to label as “Islamic extremism” terrorist attacks carried out by some Muslims, a criticism Trump has also voiced.
She has advocated a tough line on Pakistan for its role in international terrorism and tried to get Congress to cut aid to Islamabad and increase pressure on it to stop this violence
By Arul Louis