Build, Don’t Bomb: A New American Foreign Policy — Tulsi Gabbard

As a veteran, Tulsi Gabbard’s experience has profoundly shaped her as a person and her approach to American foreign policy. She discussed the need for a military that is ready and capable of protecting our nation’s security, but should not be supporting counterproductive, interventionist wars that cost countless lives and trillions of American taxpayer dollars. She discussed how these savings can be used to reinvest in our country’s future.

Aloha. It’s great to see everybody. Thank you so much for coming out today, and thank you, Ed, for your kind introduction, inviting me here to join you today, to talk about some very serious issues, that we face in this country, and that we face as a generation.

We gather here today during a time of crisis. This is both a crisis, instability, and divisiveness that we experience here at home, as well as crisis, instability, and divisions abroad in our foreign policy. But here at home, unfortunately, we are in a place; whereas we look at our everyday lives, and we look at how disconnected leaders in Washington are from the experiences and the challenges that people in this country face; we see how unfortunate it is that the vision that the founders had for us in this country, of a government that is truly of the people, by the people, and most importantly, for the people, is lost.

Tulsi Gabbard

The reality that we see, too often, on issue after issue after issue, is that we really have a government that is of the powerful, by the powerful, and for the powerful. Or of the corporate special interests, by the special interests, and for the special interests. And so what is the result? The result is that we, the people, get left behind. We, the people, end up suffering as a result of these policies that are made, of these laws that are passed that serve those very few but often have a detrimental impact on the rest of us.

So, what is at the heart of this crisis that we face is: that we are being divided as a country. We are being torn apart by self-serving politicians, and those greedy corporations that seek to profit off the backs of the American people, who seek to gain or further their own interests by dividing us, by pitting us one against the other, whether it be based on our political party or how we worship, or the color of our skin, or where we come from, or who we love. This is a travesty, and it undermines the vision that our founders had for us; it undermines these values that are at the heart of our country, these values that speak to the concerns, really, that are shared across this country.

Concerns about healthcare, concerns about the fact that we have sick people in this country who cannot get the care they need because they don’t have enough money in their bank account. Concerns about our crumbling infrastructure that threatens our safety and well-being. Concerns about our environment. The threat of climate change. The fact that we have so many people in this country who are being poisoned by the water that they drink. There are people in Flint, Michigan, who — even as they were in the headlines, a little while ago, they’re no longer in the headlines — but people in Flint are still not able to shower in their own homes, otherwise, they’ll be sick. Concerns about the cost of higher education, and a generation of people who will be burdened and saddled with student debt loans. Concerns about a dwindling middle class and a growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. Concerns about the need for urgent immigration reform, criminal justice reform.

As I travel the country and I visit people in different communities, people from all ends of the political spectrum, these are the concerns that I’m hearing from them about. But too often, their voices are not heard in Washington. Too often, we see those needs are not addressed, once again, as I said, because their interests are not at the forefront of those who are making decisions in this country about how our limited resources are being used. We have limited resources. And we have great needs. But unfortunately, we continue to see self-serving politicians who waste those resources and ignore our needs. So we could speak for a long time about every one of those concerns that I raised, and these are issues we need to focus on solving as a country. But there’s one issue that is central to the rest, there is one issue that is central to our ability to address those needs, and that issue is the cost of war. Ongoing regime change wars, this new cold war that we’re in, and the nuclear arms race.

Now, I’m running for president to end our long-standing policy of overthrowing one foreign government after another, to work to end this new Cold War and nuclear arms race, and redirect the trillions of dollars that are being taken out of our pockets to pay for these wars and weapons, and instead keep those dollars in our pockets, and make sure that we are using these limited resources that we have to meet the needs of our people, to meet the needs of our communities. Because the reality is, that as long as we are wasting trillions of dollars preparing for a nuclear war, whether it be with a country like Russia or China, as long as we continue waging one regime-change war after another, we will not be able to provide healthcare for all. We will not have the resources we need to make sure our kids are getting a good education, we will not have the resources we need to make the kind of bold investments in green renewable energy that we need to make. We will not have the resources that we need to protect our environment, to protect our air, to protect our water, to invest in our middle class. So that’s the decision that’s before us, it’s before every single one of us, as voters in this country. We need to decide whether we want to continue, as a country to be the world’s police, intervening in one foreign country after another, toppling one dictator after another, or focus on taking care of our people and rebuilding our own communities. We cannot afford to do both. We cannot afford to do both.

So, as we talk about the cost of war, there are many different costs that we have to consider. As a soldier, I served in the Army National Guard for sixteen years. I’ve deployed twice to the Middle East. And I’ve seen firsthand the high human cost of war. During that first deployment to Iraq in 2005, we were based in a camp that was about forty miles north of Baghdad at a time where it was the height of the Iraq War, there was a lot of casualties. I served in that medical unit for our brigade combat team that had nearly 3,000 soldiers from Hawaii and across the Pacific. And the very first thing that I did every single day, the very first thing that I was tasked with every single day, was to go through a list of names of every single American casualty that had occurred in the previous 24 hours. And I had to go through that list, looking to see if there were any of those soldiers from our brigade; who were there, who were injured, who were hurt, to either make sure they were getting the care, in-country, that they needed; or to get them evacuated as quickly as possible, make sure that they got the care that they needed until they finally made their way home. It was heart-wrenching, every single day, to see those names of my brothers and sisters in uniform, and to know behind every single one of those names were loved ones, family members, husbands, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters back home. Stressed, and anxious, and worried for their safety. In every one of those names were service members who had eventually come home, with wounds both visible and invisible, wounds and scars that would stay with them for many years to come. What to speak of those who never made that trip home, friends of ours who were killed in combat, friends of ours who, our final goodbye; our sudden, final goodbye; consisted of saluting their empty boots and their rifle and empty helmet. People who were there with us one day and gone the next.

This cost of war is paid for by these men and women. It is paid for by our families, families who stay home, seeing their loved one deployed often multiple times, to see the stress that’s caused as our troops are spread thin. Just a few weeks ago, the first week of April, I said goodbye in Hawaii to a couple of hundred National Guard soldiers who are from the unit that I deployed with during my second deployment around ten years ago. This time they’re off to Afghanistan. And there were a number of them who were younger soldiers, who have never been deployed before, but there were a lot who had, who I served with, who I deployed with, who have been deployed now three or four or five times in the Army National Guard. And, as I talked with them, I asked, “How’s your family doing? How are your kids doing?”, and we talked about the hardship, the great hardship that’s placed on their family. A friend of mine talked about his fifteen-year-old daughter, who said, “Daddy, who’s gonna teach me how to drive? When I turn sixteen, I can get my learner’s permit, who’s going to teach me how to drive?” And for him, it broke his heart, that he would have to go away. He has five kids, the youngest is three years old, and how much of his life he’d be missing. And they’re going off to serve a war in Afghanistan that is going off now in its eighteenth year. Already over 2,300 Americans killed. Over 20,000 Americans wounded, and for what? For what?

We’ve spent over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan alone. We continue to spend 4 billion dollars in Afghanistan, dollars that are coming out of our pockets every single month. Four billion dollars a month. We’ve seen countless lives lost, both American lives and Afghan lives, only to find ourselves in a place where we are no closer to so-called “victory” than we were eighteen years ago, in a place where only the Afghan people can determine their future. So, I’ve seen that high human cost through my service in the military, and as one of the first female combat veterans ever elected to Congress, serving for over six years on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, I’ve seen our foreign policy establishment and military-industrial complex in action, and seen the direct effects of our ongoing destructive policies that they continue to push. The impact on the people where we wage these regime-change wars. The increased death and destruction and suffering that occurs as a result. The homes and the infrastructure that’s destroyed. We see the cost in our resources. It’s something that people don’t often realize, yes, it’s our troops and our veterans who often pay the price for war in this country, but it is actually every single one of us, through the trillions of dollars taken out of our pockets. Have you ever wondered how it's possible that this country, the wealthiest country in the world, can’t afford to maintain our roads and bridges? Have you ever wondered how it's possible that this country can’t afford to make sure that every American has clean water to drink? How is it possible that this country cannot provide healthcare for its people. We look to the cost of war, and how since 9/11 alone, we spend anywhere from to 6 to 8 trillion dollars on regime change wars. Which doesn’t even include what we know we will continue to spend in taking care of those who served in these wars, taking care of our veterans, not for the first year they are back, or for their first initial hospital stay, but for generations? In my congressional office in Hawaii, we do constituent services and people call and say, ‘Hey, I need help with a federal agency.’ Any federal agency. Can you guess the #1 agency people call and request help with? Anybody? It’s the V.A. By three or four times. And these are not primarily post 9/11 veterans — these are Vietnam veterans, people still fighting the bureaucracy just to get the basic care and benefits they’ve earned. Right now the US leads the world in military spending, accounting for about ⅓ of all money spent globally on military activities. And for this next fiscal year, the Trump administration has submitted its budget to Congress with the request of about 720 billion dollars in military spending with cuts across the rest of the federal budget. 720 billion dollars, which is almost twice what the rest of the world spends all together.

It’s the cost on our resources, there’s a cost that undermines our national security. We’ve seen how these regime-change wars have created the greatest refugee and immigration crisis since the Second World War across Europe created a rift between Eastern and Western European countries. These regime change wars have exacerbated the problem of nuclear proliferation and stood in the way of our abilities to do things like denuclearize the Korean peninsula. The leader of North Korea has cited ‘Look at what the United States did with Libya’. So, you wonder, why is it that we have not been able to make a deal to denuclearize North Korea? Look to Libya. Where the United States made a deal with Ghaddafi, at that time, saying, “If you give up your nuclear weapons program, we won’t come after you”. So he did. And what happened next? The United States went after him and toppled Ghaddafi. So the leader of North Korea points to that example, saying, “They have developed nuclear weapons as their deterrent against regime-change”. So, as this administration continues to wage more regime-change wars and regime-change efforts, it is directly undermining our ability to make this agreement with North Korea to denuclearize.

Al-Qaeda is stronger than ever before today. They presently are in control of an entire city of Idlib in Syria. Our regime change war in Syria is continuing, and leaders in our country today are preparing us for new regime change wars against Iran, in Venezuela, and Cuba, Nicaragua. This cost of these regime-change wars is not a thing of the past, this is happening now. As we hear these war drums being beat, beaten to go to war with Iran, we have to take into account the reality that going to war with Iran, a regime change war in Iran will prove far more costly from anything we saw in Iraq. We hear quotes from National Security Council director John Bolton, Secretary Pompeo, who talk openly about how the United States is ready to take on Russia, China, and Iran. And Bolton asking leaders in the Pentagon for military war plans against Iran. They’re undermining our national security. They’re putting us in a greater risk and danger of conflict with especially high stakes, as we look at the prospects of conflict with nuclear-armed countries like Russia and China increasing. I can say this as a soldier that it’s tragic that the primary mission of our military is to protect the American people, and yet, our leaders have not only failed our country, they have failed our troops by continuing to send them on reckless, counter-productive regime-change missions around the world, spending trillions on those regime change wars, undermining our military’s readiness, stretching our troops very thin, placing great stress on our military families and undermining our national security.

These costs are great. But the most serious and potentially costly threat to our country, and to our people and to our planet, is this new Cold War and nuclear arms race. Unfortunately, you’re not hearing about this if you turn on the news. You’re not reading about this in the headlines. Leaders in Washington and the media are completely ignoring these most important issues that we face. There will be many costs to this new cold war and arms race, the most serious of which is that it poses an existential threat to all of us. To our country. And to our planet. This is an issue that no other Presidential candidate is discussing: this issue of the threat of nuclear war. So not only will this new Cold War and arms race cost us trillions of dollars, it will undermine our democracy and civil liberties in the way that the previous Cold War did. We have to remember that the first casualty of war is often our constitutional rights, our civil liberties, and privacy. We saw how in the previous cold war, suspicion and government surveillance of American civilians increased. We remember the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. We got a glimpse of how our society changed when we look back to that McCarthy era, and we see the invasive activities of the FBI at that time. And then we look today with technology, the broad reach of surveillance in our country, that risk is even greater now.

But the ultimate cost of this new cold war, and nuclear arms race is where it will inevitably end. Nuclear war between the US and Russia and/or China. It will cost us trillions of dollars, and in this arms race that’s already been escalated by this president, doing things like withdrawing from the INF treaty: everyone loses. This arms race can go on for decades, but there is an inevitable outcome, and that outcome is a nuclear war: a war that no one can win. A war where everyone loses. Many strategists believe that we are at a greater risk at nuclear war now than at any time in history. The threat of nuclear war, and the new Cold War is every bit a domestic issue as it is a foreign policy issue because it has to do with our very existence. And we have to understand that a World War III would be a nuclear war and there will be no winner because it will destroy the world. It’s hard to imagine what this looks like. It seems like something that could be far away, but in fact, the threat is very real today. And we in Hawaii got a pretty real wake up call to this about a year ago.

In January of last year, there was a text alert sent out by our state civil defense that went across over a million phones all across our state, that was blasted on the radio, and on the news, saying: ‘Missile incoming. Seek shelter immediately. This is not a drill’. Just imagine for a minute how you would feel in getting that message, knowing you would have just minutes to live. Where are your loved ones? Where can shelter be found? “Seek shelter immediately?” — Where do you go? Where can you go to be protected from a nuclear missile that is incoming? That’s what went through our minds, and it was terrifying. It was terrifying. We had a father who lowered his little seven-year-old girl down a manhole, thinking that that may be the only place she could be safe, and recording an iPhone video saying, “If you see this, I’m probably gone, but this is where my daughter is”. We had another, who was in the middle of the island of Oahu, he had one child on one side of the island, and another on the other side of the island, and he sat there for just a moment trying to figure out which of his children he would spend the last minutes of his life with. How do you make that choice? It was absolutely terrifying, going through this, understanding that we would have just minutes to live. And while that alarm turned out to be false, we reacted the way that we did because this threat is real. This threat is real. There is no shelter, there is no safety, there is no protection. And the impacts of this are hard to conceive of.

We look back to when those bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, while many families were having breakfast early in the morning, getting ready for work. 245,000 people were killed instantly. Many others died from the bombing, injuries, and radiation, bringing the total body count to more than 400,000. We saw the impacts of the shock wave alone completely decimating entire buildings just from the change in the air pressure. Horrible atrocities for those who somehow survived. Between 1950 and 2000, survivors of those atomic bombs in Japan were 46% more likely than the general population to develop lethal cases of leukemia. What to speak of the nuclear winter that occurs, where much of our planet would turn to radioactive ash, where our soil and water would be contaminated for decades, making impossible for even those who manage to survive to grow food or find uncontaminated water to drink. So, the idea that some in our government now are propagating, that one could win a nuclear war, is false. We have some leaders in the Pentagon and foreign policy experts saying, “Sure, the United States can still fight and win two major wars with Russia and China at the same time”. Others saying, a former adviser of Dick Cheney recently said, basically, that a war could take place in Europe where American forces currently are, they’re going to be fighting on the borders of Russia, not on the Atlantic Seaboard of the United States, thinking somehow that this nuclear conflict could be contained. And that we would be just fine here at home. Then you have President Trump making statements like he did last year, saying that, “In times of war and conflict, you can blow up windmills, they can fall down real quick, you can blow up pipelines, you can do a lot of things to solar panels, but you know what you can’t hurt? Coal.” Thinking that somehow, our biggest concern in nuclear war is going to be windmills being blown up. So out of touch with the reality that we face. So out of touch with the seriousness and the cost of the threat that we face. The insanity and the madness, the inhumanity of thinking that somehow, this war is something we can contemplate doing or something that we can contemplate winning, is impossible to overstate.

The reality is, that in the event of such a war, you would have the elite and a few of the most powerful tucked away in hidden bunkers somewhere while the rest of us are forgotten about: because we don’t matter, or we don’t count. For so-called leaders to believe that we could be victorious in such a war, because we killed a few hundred million more of their people than they did of ours, can only be described as insane. So we talked about how such a war could come about intentionally, because of the increasing tensions that we have. But there is just as great a risk of a war being started by accident. And we have a number of examples from the past, of near misses, of these accidents. In 1983 the Soviet Union shot down a Korean airline, a flight that was carrying a US congressman, tensions were very high at that time. That same month the Soviet missile commander received a warning of an imminent nuclear attack by the United States. His standing orders were to launch a nuclear counter-strike. But this commander, a colonel, with the world in his hands, he saved the world by hesitating, by not launching that attack, even though he was ordered to do so, until it was learned that this imminent attack was actually a false alarm triggered by sunlight reflecting off clouds. A similar incident occurred in 1995 with Russian president Yeltsin, almost starting a nuclear war after a weather satellite coming from Norway was mistaken as an incoming missile attack. Now, Yeltsin had actually opened Russia’s version of the nuclear football at that time, was prepared to launch a counter attack, when he’s hesitated for just long enough to confirm that it was a false alarm. There are a number of other examples that we can cite about how close and how easy it would be even to launch a nuclear war on accident. And when we look at how often today, computer malfunctions are common, we see how much more complicated this threat becomes.

So, as tensions continue to increase, as we find ourselves in the place that we are, the prospect of nuclear war isn’t ‘If it will happen’, it’s a question of ‘when, if we continue down this path?’. Just as important as it is to recognize the reality of this threat, we also, therefore, then we must recognize that it doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way.

That’s why I’m running for president. To bring about an end to these regime change wars, this new cold war, and nuclear arms race, and take the resources that we’ve wasted on war, and use them for our people here at home, to lead this country forward with a foreign policy that’s focused on de-escalating tensions, rather than ratcheting up this new cold war and nuclear arms race. To work towards drawing down our military expenditures, not increasing them. To create a path forward where we can live in peace with other countries, and work in cooperation, rather than conflict. And to get rid of the fossilized zero-sum mentality of our foreign policy establishment, where they believe in order for us, our country, the American people, to win, everyone else must fail. Instead, we must build relationships based on this win-win approach, remembering always that there is no winner in a nuclear war, and that we live on this planet together. And wherever possible, we have to take advantage of the opportunity to work together to make sure that we have a safe and prosperous future for everyone.

Now it’s important to understand that when I say that we need to stop trying to be the world’s police and that we need to end our regime-change policies, that does not mean we are isolationists, or that we should not be involved internationally in our global community. Our country remains the most powerful and influential country in the world. We cannot isolate ourselves. We can, and we must lead the world into more cooperation towards peace, we must be the leader that the world desperately needs right now, to ensure the survival of the human race. It is our responsibility, as the most powerful and influential country in the world to wield that power to be a force for good, and to save the world from the calamity of a nuclear war that we are sleepwalking towards. It must be our mission, to ensure that the 21st century will forever be known as the turning point in human history, that era in which the world’s great powers chose to abandon the path to confrontation and war and agreed to pursue the path of cooperation, diplomacy, and peace. Now, some may ask “How is it possible to have a positive relationship with countries like Russia and China?” After the fall of the Soviet Union, our country had a very positive relationship with Russia. That was not that long ago. We have to go back to a place where we recognize how important it is to build these cooperative relationships, because if we don’t, it is our country that is undermined, it is our economy that is undermined, our security that is undermined, our environment and our future that is undermined. So when you understand that, you understand that we really don’t have a choice. Whether we like it or not, our fates as human beings in this world are tied together. And the issues that we face, pollution of our air, our waters, oceans, the climate crisis that’s before us, the spread of disease, the existential threat of nuclear war, these are all issues that require us to sit down, to talk, and to work together. Whether it be with friends or with people who are adversaries or potential adversaries. If we in the United States do all that we can right now, for example, to address climate change, it will still not be enough. We cannot solve these problems alone. We have to work together. We have to work together to make sure that our kids today and for generations to come can not only survive, but thrive, and prosper, without fear of being obliterated by nuclear bombs, without fear of toxic and poisonous water, or polluted air, or not enough food to eat. So as President, I would immediately arrange for one on one meetings with the other nuclear powers in the world and work to reaffirm the declaration made by President Reagan, and then Secretary Gorbachev, that a nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought. I would work to bring together leaders of the world to agree upon our existential need to end the new cold war. To stop the dangerous and wasteful arms race, and negotiate a path forward to eventually rid the world of nuclear weapons.

As president, I will lead this country to bring about a bold change in our foreign policy that bends the arc of history away from war and towards peace. That stops wasting our resources, and our lives on regime change wars, and redirects our focus and energy towards the peace of cooperation of peace and prosperity for all people. The time is now, to give up the gunboat diplomacy of the past, and instead, work out our differences with communication and negotiations and goodwill. Imagine how much we can accomplish. Imagine how much we could accomplish, how many people we could help lift up out of poverty, how we could transition away from fossil fuels and towards a 100% renewable energy economy. How we could ensure healthcare for all. How we can make sure we’re providing a quality education. How we can end the homeless crisis that we face. How we can rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we stopped wasting money on regime change wars, this new Cold War and nuclear arms race, and instead, use our collective and limited resources to actually help people? So, I’m running for president to lead our country towards that peaceful and prosperous future. To put people ahead of profits. To put people ahead of politics. To bring the values that are at the heart of every soldier, every servicemember, those values of service above self, to the White House. To restore those principles of integrity and honor and respect to the presidency.

Thank you very much. Aloha.

📝 Read this story later in Journal.




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