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Today's Stunted Oil Prices Could Cause Oil Price Shock In 2020

By Haley Zaremba for

As oil prices remain unsteady and OPEC continues to make headlines every hour, the world is focused on oil's immediate future. As Saudi Arabia announces plans to slash production and move their economy away from oil dependency, many industry insiders are predicting that the now over-saturated market will reach an equilibrium with higher commodity prices by 2018 and U.S. shale production will continue to grow along with global demand.

Robert Johnston, the CEO of one of the world's biggest political risk consultancies, is unconvinced. In a speech made at the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators' 2017 International Petroleum Summit, Johnston laid out his concerns for the future of oil.

"What I don't hear people asking is, ‘then what?' Are the Saudis going to maintain these production cuts forever, or at some point do they have to start reversing that? I think in 2018 they will be reversing those production cuts," he said. These important questions aren't getting enough attention according to Johnston, whose firm Eurasia Group foresees a fast-approaching supply gap that Saudi Arabia and U.S. oil may not be able to fill.

Eurasia Group forecasts about 7 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) of new crude supply by 2022. This includes about 5 MMbbl/d of U.S. shale growth and about 2 MMbbl/d from oil sands and deepwater extraction. But by the year 2022, another 15 MMbbl/d of new supply may be needed, as demand trends predict an annual growth rate of about 1 MMbbl/d. With this kind of impending discrepancy between supply and demand, the industry needs to start looking for new sources of oil, and quickly.

Despite the recent dip in oil prices, industry experts have been predicting a supply-gap and rising oil prices for years. This is due in large part to an oil investment drought marked by two year of consecutive decline, a statistic that has no precedent in the oil industry. This year a report by the International Energy Agency concluded that if oil investment remains stagnant over the next few years, by 2020 we will see a significant increase in the price of oil as global demand continues to climb.

The IEA's Executive Director Fatih Birol addressedthese findings in a keynote address at the Atlantic Council Global Energy Forum in Abu Dhabi in January, announcing that no major oil projects were started in the last year and there were zero large oil discoveries "because there is no money for exploration. You find something if you look for it," Birol said

The potential supply gap has far-reaching implications that we are not ready to combat. Gas and oil are still fundamental to much of the world's infrastructure, despite a steady increase of research and utilization of renewable energy resources. While electric cars continue to show a promising future, especially in the light of ambitious new green car policy initiatives in India and China, they still account for less than 2 percentof the world's cars. And, as the global middle class continues to grow and exercise their buying power, the demand for oil will continue to grow alongside them.

The oil industry desperately needs new sources of oil, and they need new investors and technologies to find those sources quickly. There are currently a wide variety of techniques employed to find new deposits (seismic prospecting, well logging, gravity surveying, magnetic prospecting, and geochemical prospecting, etc.) but these are all methods with significant limitations in their ability to accurately estimate the size of new oil and gas deposits.

Many companies, including oil giant BP, have begun efforts to develop of artificial intelligenceprograms with algorithms that will allow them to find and drill with unprecedented accuracy in the future, but the technology is not yet ready. We can only hope that it will be ready by 2020 or that the IEA is wrong in their predictions.

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Brazil’s Political Rupture and the Left’s Opportunit

By Alfredo Saad-Filho. This article was first published on Socialist Project.

Fora Temer – eleições diretas já!

"Out with Temer – direct elections now!" Amid meltdown in Brazil, the left calls for democracy, while the right must find ways to deny the people a voice.

The Brazilian Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT) won the country's presidential elections four times in a row; first with Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-06, 2007-10), then with his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff (2011-14, 2015-16). During its 13 years in office, the PT changed Brazil in many ways; four are principally worth mentioning, as they would come to play key roles in the elite conspiracy to impeach Dilma Rousseff and destroy her party.

Fora Temer - Out with Temer

First, the PT democratized the state. It implemented the social and civic rights included in the 1988 ‘Citizen's Constitution’, and advanced Brazil's emerging welfare state across several fields of social provision.

Second, the PT changed the social composition of the state through the appointment of thousands of leaders of mass organizations to positions of power. For the first time in Brazilian history, millions of poor citizens could recognise themselves in the bureaucracy and relate to close friends and comrades who had become ‘important’ in Brasília.

Third, PT policies contributed to a significant improvement in the distribution of income, through the creation of millions of unskilled jobs, a rising minimum wage, and higher transfers and benefits.

Fourth, although the government never abandoned the neoliberal macroeconomic policy framework imposed in the 1990s, it gradually introduced, in parallel, neodevelopmental (that is, expansionary Keynesian) policies that helped to secure faster growth, higher profits and wages, and distributional gains.

Successes and Failures

Yet the PT failed to reform media ownership, which secured the space for a virulent opposition aligned with the country's neoliberal elites. The party also endorsed a model of distribution based on financialization, consumption, low-paid jobs, and transfers: essentially, both the rich and the poorest gained, while millions of skilled jobs were lost through the ‘globalization’ of production, privatizations, the simplification of managerial structures and new information technologies. They sliced not only the number of ‘good jobs’ in manufacturing, but also middle management posts, and increased precarity even for relatively senior jobs.

The Workers’ Party elicited mounting opposition by the neoliberal elite and the upper middle class both because of what it did do, and because of what it failed to do. PT economic policies irked finance and most of the bourgeoisie; they suffered losses because of greater state intervention, the reduction of interest rates and the economic downturn since 2011; they also resented the perceived loss of their control over state policy under Rousseff.

The upper middle classes were alienated from the PT because of their ideological commitment to neoliberalism, and because the party supported the economic and social ascent of the working class. The upper middle classes were also tormented by losses in their income and their dislocation from the outer circle of state power.

Rousseff repelled most professional politicians because of her unwillingness to conform to the established principles of pork-barrel politics. The government lost the support of large segments of informal workers, notably the flocks of Pentecostal churches that opposed the expansion of civic rights and progressive values, with flashpoints around Dilma's opening toward the liberalization of abortion and citizenship rights for homosexuals.

Finally, the expansion of the courts, the Attorney General's Office and the federal police – in terms of size, resources and powers – enabled them to launch a devastating attack on the PT.

These elite groups converged around an aggressive ‘alliance of privilege’ that was cemented ideologically by the mainstream media. The weakness of the political parties of the right enabled the media to take up the mantle of the opposition, hunting down the PT systematically, drawing upon a discourse which incorporated right-wing values, neoliberal economics, and strident allegations of corruption.

The Revolt of the Elite

The revolt of the elite was triggered by Dilma Rousseff's re-election in 2014. Her victory came as a surprise to the alliance of privilege, who underestimated the capacity of the PT and the left to mobilise a progressive coalition drawing upon the working class and the poor.

However, Rousseff's triumph was fragile, and coincided with the continuing deterioration of the economy, which has plunged the Brazilian economy into the worst crisis in its recorded history. The distributional improvements that had legitimised the PT administrations stagnated. Repeated policy failures, the media onslaught, and the disorganization of the government's base within the most right-wing congress in decades, combined to create a generalised dissatisfaction that focused on the state.

Since 2005, the mainstream media and the judiciary launched successive waves of attack against the PT, with corruption emerging as the ideal tool to fell the Rousseff administration. The lava jato (carwash) operation, pioneered by the federal police since 2014, revealed that a cartel of engineering and construction companies had bribed a group of politically-appointed directors of the state-owned oil conglomerate Petrobras, in order to secure a virtual monopoly over oil and other contracts. Those bribes allegedly channelled funds to several political parties, among them the PT.

The federal police and public prosecutors made overt political use of these investigations. They disregarded evidence that right-wing parties were involved in similar cases, selectively leaked compromising information to the media, and sought to implicate the PT wherever this was possible. Prominent politicians and the managers of several large firms were routinely arrested in order to extract plea bargains. Those refusing to co-operate were imprisoned indefinitely. When they finally surrendered, the aspersions cast on the PT were blatantly used to fuel the scandal mill. Accusations against the other parties were normally ignored.

The unfolding scandal catalysed the emergence of a mass right-wing movement populated by the upper middle classes, whose grievances included a laundry list of deeply felt but unfocused dissatisfactions articulated as demands for the ‘end of corruption’ and Dilma's impeachment. Their excitement was misguided, for three reasons.

First, the anti-corruption discourse of the alliance of privilege was selective. It targeted the institutions and parties aligned with neodevelopmentalism, suggesting that their most important goal was to change government policy, rather than eliminate corruption.

Second, chatter about corruption provided a convenient figleaf, obscuring meaningful debate on economic policy. For example, the neoliberal bourgeoisie would find it difficult to campaign to curtail labour rights, cut pensions, weaken domestic industry and cripple Petrobras. However, if these goals were disguised as a ‘struggle against corruption’, policy changes could be smuggled in later, regardless of the interests of the vast majority.

Third, the coordinated attack by the judiciary and the media disconnected the PT from its sources of funding and its mass support. The loss of millions of jobs and billions of dollars in output and investment were merely collateral damage.

Lava jato was remarkable for another reason, unrelated to corruption: it was indicative of a severe distortion of Brazil's constitution, by which guarantees of the independence of the judiciary supported the emergence of a self-appointed group of ‘pure’ investigators, in fact aligned with the political right, who called upon themselves to clean up the political system.

Their mission was fortuitously supported by elites’ mounting animosity toward the PT, the sensitivities of the middle classes, the deepening economic crisis, and the paralysis of the Rousseff administration. In the mêlée, the economic crisis, rising unemployment, gargantuan corruption and a torrent of scandals became thoroughly enmeshed.

The mainstream media began trumpeting a message that the PT was at the centre of a web of thievery without precedent: Lula and Dilma were robbing the republic by day and at night, they conspired to turn Brazil into a satellite of Venezuela. Rousseff lost a voter on her impeachment in the Chamber of Deputies by 367-137, on 17 April 2016, and by 61-20 in the Senate, on 31 August.

Dilma Rousseff's impeachment was a grotesque spectacle. Her trial was overtly political, all legal niceties having been abandoned long ago, and it was transparently orchestrated by a cabal of thieving politicians. They claimed the right to impose an unconstitutional vote of no confidence on a President who had made mistakes, but committed no crime.

The impeachment process was driven by an unholy coalition between the leadership of the opposition, bitterly regretting their four consecutive defeats in Presidential elections, leading figures in the judiciary, Rousseff's traitorous Vice-President, Michel Temer, and the Machiavellian speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, who was struggling with heavy corruption charges in Brazil and in Switzerland (he would end up in prison soon afterwards, his usefulness to the coup overwhelmed by the heavy political cost of the allegations being made against him). They were trailed by a motley crew of minor characters, many of whom were accused of egregious crimes – not least corruption – and by a parade of business leaders whom the media fêted as if they were the nation's saviours.

After the Impeachment

In the following months, the administration led by Michel Temer engaged in a fully-fledged attempt to restore orthodox neoliberalism, undermine employment rights and internationalize the economy. The government's attack was impeded only by its own venality, incompetence and endless tribulations, as Temer stumbled against the law, emerging mass resistance and the ongoing threat that his parliamentary base of support would disintegrate.

This was expected. What came as a surprise was the recent split in the alliance of privilege. The main interest of capital as a whole was the restoration of orthodox neoliberalism, relying on the judiciary to continue dismantling the PT.

But by now the judicial attack had already gained its own momentum, and it has been strongly backed by the upper middle classes, which treat the judges and public prosecutors as major celebrities. In the country of football megastars, soap operas and Carmen Miranda, this is important. And indeed the media has harnessed huge revenues from popular interest in the investigations.

On 18 May, the owners of JBS, the world's largest meat processing conglomerate, agreed a plea bargain. They revealed JBS funding to 28 parties and almost 2,000 politicians, and produced evidence of large cash payments to the leader of the right wing PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party) and runner-up in the 2014 presidential elections, Aécio Neves, against whom multiple accusations had already emerged but were never investigated seriously. Finally, JBS produced the recording of a conversation between one of its owners and President Temer, suggesting that JBS would pay Eduardo Cunha for his continuing silence while in jail, in order to avoid incriminating his old friend Temer.

The reaction in Brazil was explosive. Temer, already tainted by multiple allegations of corruption and other misdemeanours, and facing difficulties pushing his neoliberal agenda in congress, was abandoned by parts of the mainstream media, who spotted a lame duck and called for his resignation or, failing that, impeachment. His political allies are jumping ship. Temer is probably doomed.

The problem for the remnants of the alliance of privilege is what to do next: the constitution suggests that congress should elect an interim president to steer the ship until the 2018 elections. The left is calling for direct elections now. Elections are unacceptable for the alliance of privilege, because the political right is divided and has no readily viable candidate.

In contrast, the left could field Lula, who is leading in the polls in spite of the attacks he has been enduring for several years, and despite the fact he is facing investigations that are certain to find him guilty of something: in a few months, he is likely to be unable to run for public office.

Despite the political chaos, the Brazilian left finds itself in a good position for the first time in several years. The genie has not only escaped from its bottle; it has gone berserk. Temer is damaged goods rather than a statesman; it has become incontrovertible that Dilma Rousseff was overthrown by a criminal gang; the alliance of privilege is split, and the left is calling for elections while the right must find ways to deny the people a voice.

The left can win this battle, and upend the conspiracy of the elites. Now is the time to fight, on the streets, in the offices, factories, and neighbourhoods: Fora Temer – eleições diretas já!

Alfredo Saad-Filho is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London. This article first published on the openDemocracy website.

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Yet Another Video Shows U.S.-Funded White Helmets Assisting Public Executions in Rebel-Held Syria

By Ben Norton, Max Blumenthal / AlterNet

The shocking regime change scandal mainstream media refuses to touch.

Photo Credit: Facebook screencapture

Syria Civil Defense, popularly known as the White Helmets, can be seen in a new video assisting in a public execution in a rebel-held town in Syria. It is at least the second such execution video featuring members of the Nobel Prize-nominated group.

The White Helmets have received at least $23 million in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), a wing of the State Department. The British Foreign Office and other European governments have pitched in as well.

Frequently cited as an invaluable source of information by major Western media outlets, the group was the subject of an Academy Award-winning 2016 Netflix documentary, The White Helmets.

Endorsements from A-list Hollywood celebrities like George Clooney and Justin Timberlake, as well as Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, have followed.

Large corporate media networks have yet to report on the dark side of the White Helmets, however, and films like the widely celebrated Netflix feature function as uncritical commercials for the group, helping to keep the public in a state of ignorance about the domination of the Western-backed Syrian armed opposition by extremist Salafi jihadist groups, and about the civil conflict in general.

While CNN and other outlets rely heavily on footage taken by White Helmets members, not one major Western media outlet has reported on the latest execution video starring the group’s uniformed members.

The video, which Syrian opposition activists uploaded to Facebook, shows three men from the White Helmets rushing into the center of a crowd, mere seconds after an alleged criminal was shot in the head, and removing the body on a stretcher. A member of the White Helmets can be seen celebrating along with the crowd of onlookers.

WARNING: This video features violence that may disturb viewers.

The men in the video were clearly identified by their signature white helmets, along with vests embroidered with the Syria Civil Defense logo.

The public execution took place in the small city of Jasim, in Syria’s southern Daraa province — which is often described as a hub for "moderate" rebels. Activists posted the video on May 16 on the Facebook page Coordination of the City of Al-Harra, Mother of the Martyrs, a site for the opposition in the neighboring city of Al-Harra.

Two days later, Syria Civil Defense released a carefully crafted statement admitting its members were involved in the execution. The statement noted that a tribal council in Jasim had asked the White Helmets "to humanely dispose of the body of a person that had been sentenced to death, by the local court, for murder." The group said it had "conducted an investigation" into the execution, and in response dismissed a White Helmet leader, while temporarily suspending two other team members.

Executing an Oscar-worthy performance

This is not the first time the White Helmets have appeared as participants in a public execution.

A jarring execution filmed in 2015 in the rebel-held town of Haritan shows two members of Syria Civil Defense waiting just off camera while a member of Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, reads out a death sentence, before shooting a man dressed in street clothes in the head. Seconds later, the White Helmets team tosses the man's body onto a stretcher and scrambles away.

WARNING: This video features violence that may disturb viewers.

The 2015 video prompted a carefully worded statement by the organization, condemning the killing and claiming its members were simply fulfilling their task by performing “the emergency burial of the dead.”

A British public relations outfit called the Syria Campaign was hired by an influential British-Syrian billionaire, Ayman Asfari, to market the White Helmets to the Western public. As Max Blumenthal has reported for AlterNet, the Syria Campaign was itself the creation of a slick New York City- and London-based public relations firm called Purpose. Among the PR group’s greatest achievements was fundraising for the widely celebrated Netflix documentary.

This year, the makers of the film were awarded with an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. As he received the honor before millions of viewers around the world, director Orlando Einsiedel read a prepared statement from Read al-Saleh, the director of the White Helmets: “Our organization is guided by a verse in the Quran: ‘To save one life is to save all of humanity.’”

But the execution videos call into question the White Helmets’ claims to act as an impartial, life-saving rescue organization, and raise serious questions about the motives of its funders and promoters within public relations firms and mainstream newsrooms.

‘Hidden soldiers’ of al-Qaeda and ISIS?

The White Helmets operate exclusively within the armed Syrian opposition, working closely with al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and even ISIS. The British journalist and ISIS hostage John Cantlie inadvertently exposed the group’s relationship with ISIS when he referred to a White Helmets team as “the Islamic State’s fire brigade” in a propaganda video he was forced to participate in.

Videos and photos of White Helmets members posing triumphantly on the corpses of Syrian soldiers and joining fighters in accosting an alleged political opponent have circulated throughout social media.

In March 2015, the extremist-sympathizing opposition media outlet Sarmeen posted a video featuring the White Helmets gleefully joining a chant with Salafi jihadist fighters in Idlib, as they fire a fusillade of bullets into the air.

A member of Syria Civil Defense grabs a flag from one of the militants and begins waving it: a black flag with the shahada in white letters, a common Salafi jihadist symbol, emblazoned with the name of Jaish al-Sunna, an extremist Islamist militia that is allied with Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate and that has reportedly recruited child soldiers with the help of the al-Qaeda-linked fundamentalist Saudi warlord Abdullah al-Muhaysini.

Another upload to YouTube, posted the same day by the rebel media outlet, shows White Helmets joining the extremist militants in songs and chants.

Al-Muhaysini, the ideological leader of Syria’s Salafi jihadist rebels, has repeatedly praised the White Helmets. The Saudi warlord, who has been implicated in numerous war crimes in Syria, including mass executions of captured Syrian soldiers, insisted in an interview that there is no difference between the “mujahideen” (Salafi jihadist fighters) and the White Helmets. He even favorably described Syria Civil Defense members as mujahideen.

In May 2015, a White Helmets member named Muawiya Hassan Agha posted a grotesque video to Facebook (since deleted) that showed extremist Syrian rebels torturing two captured soldiers they later executed. Agha had also been filmed celebrating the capture of Idlib by al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Rumors circulated that Agha was dismissed from the White Helmets when his involvement in the atrocities came to light.

This March, a leader of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the powerful newly rebranded al-Qaeda-led rebel coalition in Syria, hailed the White Helmets in a special video message as the “hidden soldiers of the revolution.”

For more coverage of the White Helmets scandal, read Max Blumenthal’s two-part investigation here and here, and Gareth Porter’s expose of White Helmets misinformation.

Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet's Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.


Max Blumenthal is a senior editor of the Grayzone Project at AlterNet, and the award-winning author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah. His most recent book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.

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The Manchester Bombing is Blowback from the West’s Disastrous Interventions and Covert Proxy Wars

By Max Blumenthal / AlterNet
How the US and UK helped bring jihadists like Salem Abedi to Libya and Syria

Sens John McCain and Lindsey Graham with Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader Abdelhakim Belhaj

The heinous suicide bombing by British-born Salman Abedi of an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester was not merely the work of an “evil loser,” as Donald Trump called it. It was blowback from interventionist policies carried out in the name of human rights and “civilian protection.” Through wars of regime change and the arming and training of Islamist proxy groups, the US, UK and France played out imperial delusions across the Middle East. In Syria and Libya, they cultivated the perfect petri dish for jihadist insurgency, helping to spawn weaponized nihilists like Abedi intent on bringing the West’s wars back home.

The son of anti-Qaddafi immigrants to the UK, Abedi grew up in Manchester’s community of Libyan exiles. A report in the London Telegraph indicated that he had traveled just weeks before his attack to Libya, where Salafi-jihadi militias are competing for control of the destabilized country. Abedi had also reportedly traveled to Syria to join up with the extremist rebels that have waged a six-year-long insurgency against the country’s government, with billions of dollars in assistance from the West and its Gulf allies. According to French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, it was in these conflict zones where Abedi was radicalized.

The impressionable 22-year-old returned to the UK with enough training to make a fairly sophisticated bomb that massacred 22 concert goers, many of them children. “It seems likely — possible — that he wasn’t doing this on his own,” Britain’s home secretary, Amber Rudd, told the BBC. She described the bomb as “more sophisticated than some of the attacks we’ve seen before.”

According to the Telegraph, “A group of Gaddafi dissidents, who were members of the outlawed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), lived within close proximity to Abedi in Whalley Range.” They included Abd al-Baset Azzouz, an expert bomb maker who controls an Al Qaeda-affiliated militia in eastern Libya.

When the uprising against Gaddafi began in 2011, Ramadan Abedi, the father of Salem, returned to his home country to fight with the LIFG. He was part of the rat line operated by the MI5, which hustled anti-Qaddafi Libyan exiles to the front lines of the war.

"I was allowed to go [to Libya], no questions asked," a British Libyan who had been under house arrest at the time for ties to extremist groups, told Middle East Eye.

While it is not known if Salman Abedi himself was involved with the LIFG, the group’s links to British and American intelligence are well established, and go back decades.

The West’s favorite Al Qaeda affiliate?

A rogue former officer of Britain’s MI5 intelligence services named David Shayler alleged that his government had covertly funded the LIFG to carry out the failed 1996 assassination attempt on Qaddafi. Two years later, Libyan state television produced footage of a failed grenade attack on Qaddafi that it alleged was carried out by a British agent. At the time, the LIFG was an affiliate of Al Qaeda whose members included Anas al-Libi, a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden.

In March 1998, Qaddafi’s Libya became the first country to issue an Interpol arrest warrant for bin Laden. The warrant was studiously ignored by American and British intelligence, according to French journalist Guillaume Dasquié and Jean-Charles Brisard, an adviser to French President Jacques Chirac. Five months later, Al Qaeda struck the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (Among the participants in the attack were al-Libi and Ali Abdelsoud Mohammed, a spy for Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri who had entered the US on a CIA-approved visa and managed to rise to the rank of corporal at the John F. Kennedy School of Special Warfare at Ft. Bragg, where he smuggled special forces training manuals out to Al Qaeda cadres.)

Even as the ex-agent Shayler gradually drifted towards the conspiratorial fringe, a MI6 document leaked online in 2000 lent credibility to his account. According to the Guardian, the document revealed that British intelligence was aware of a plot in 1995 to kill Qaddafi that included “Libya veterans who served in Afghanistan.” LIFG’s leader, Abdelhakim Belhaj, had been among those veterans, fighting against the Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan in the 1980’s alongside local mujahedin armed and trained by the CIA. He moved his operations to Sudan in 1991, the same year that bin Laden set up camp outside the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

It took the attacks of 9/11 and the inauguration of the so-called “war on terror” to make Belhaj a target of the West. He was captured in 2001 by the CIA in Pakistan, where he had fled after fighting alongside the Afghan Taliban, and was rendered to Libya two months later. Six years later, he was released from prison thanks to a de-radicalization program overseen by Saif Qaddafi and facilitated through negotiations with the Qatari government.

A secret 2008 US embassy cable described Qaddafi’s government as a bulwark against the spread of Islamist militancy. “Libya has been a strong partner in the war against terrorism and cooperation in liaison channels is excellent,” the cable read. “Muammar al-Qadhafi’s criticism of Saudi Arabia for perceived support of Wahabi extremism, a source of continuing Libya-Saudi tension, reflects broader Libyan concern about the threat of extremism. Worried that fighters returning from Afghanistan and Iraq could destabilize the regime, the [government of Libya] has aggressive pursued operations to disrupt foreign fighter flows, including more stringent monitoring of air/land ports of entry, and blunt the ideological appeal of radical Islam.”

The author of that cable was the late foreign service officer, J. Christopher Stevens.

“Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation”

When the Libyan uprising broke out in March 2011, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates immediately pumped arms and logistical support into the armed opposition. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saw the insurgency as an opportunity for America to assert its influence amidst the tumult of the Arab Spring. She advocated arming the rebels on the grounds that Washington could get “skin in the game,” according to her Middle East advisor, Dennis Ross.

Ignoring warnings from NATO’s supreme allied commander Adm. James Stavridis about the presence of Al Qaeda in the opposition, President Barack Obama approved shipments of TOW missiles, armored Humvees, and advanced radar systems to the Libyan insurgents.

When she learned of the newly up-armed rebels’ rapid advances, Clinton reportedly exclaimed, “Good! This is the only language that Qaddafi is understanding.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a subject of Qatari political influence and alleged bribery over the 2022 FIFA World Cup vote, urged his Western allies to “ask our Arab friends” to distribute weapons to the National Transitional Council, the official body of the Libyan opposition. When a French shipment of missiles and machine guns arrived through the port of Benghazi, the NTC’s acting defense minister handed them over to Belhaj and the LIFG.

As the insurgency gathered steam, Belhaj found a powerful ally in John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After a friendly meeting with Belhaj and his militiamen in Benghazi on April 22, 2011, McCain called on “responsible nations” to provide the Libyan rebels with “battlefield intelligence, training, and weapons.”

McCain emerged from the meeting stirred with inspiration. "I met these courageous fighters, and they are not al-Qaeda,” the senator proclaimed. “To the contrary: they are Libyan patriots who want to liberate their nation. We need to help them do that.”

“They want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe”

In the early days of the insurgency, on February 25, Qaddafi reached out to Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who had cut the “deal in the desert” that brought Qaddafi out of the political wilderness in 2004.

In a series of panicked phone calls that day, Qaddafi warned Blair that his removal would open the floodgates for a jihadist takeover. “I want to tell you the truth,” he said to Blair. “It is not a difficult situation at all. The story is simply this: an organization has laid down sleeper cells in North Africa called the Al Qaeda organization in North Africa. They don’t use Arabic words, they use Islamic [ones]. The sleeper cells in Libya are similar to the ones in America before 9/11.”

Qaddafi then mentioned rebels who had spent time in Guantanamo detainee who had joined Al Qaeda and trained at a camp run by bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was referring to Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu, a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who was captured by the US in Pakistan thanks to a tip from Qaddafi’s own intelligence services. Qaddafi complained that Qumu was now leading the forces seeking his ouster, a claim confirmed by the New York Times two months later when it described the rebel leader as "a US ally of sorts."

The Libyan strongman predicted that if the rebels overthrew him, they would set up an Islamic state in the country, or what he called an “Al Qaeda Emirate.”

He concluded: “They want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe.”

Blair brushed Qaddafi’s ominous warnings aside and calmly urged him to relinquish power through a “peaceful transition.” A week later, Obama declared, “Moammar Qaddafi has lost legitimacy to lead, and he must leave.”

Qaddafi’s son, Saif, warned at the time that the removal of Libya’s government by force would lead to a refugee crisis of titanic proportions. “Libya may become the Somalia of North Africa, of the Mediterranean,” the younger Qaddafi declared in 2011. “You will see the pirates in Sicily, in Crete, in Lampedusa [the Italian island home of migrant detention facilities]. You will see millions of illegal immigrants. The terror will be next door.”

A failed state, courtesy of NATO

Almost six years after Moamar Qaddafi was sodomized to death with a bayonet in the streets of his hometown of Sirte by Western-backed rebels operating under NATO air cover, then left to rot in a butcher shop in Misrata, his most dire warnings have come true.

Libya today is a failed state, its public coffers and oil reserves looted by the foreign powers that oversaw the war of regime change in 2011. Its shores are a main disembarkation point for migrants, where women fleeing conflict and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa are beaten, raped and starved in "living hellholes," according to UNICEF. The United Nations International Organization for Migration has recorded testimony of open air slave markets in Libya where migrants from West Africa are bought and sold. The refugee crisis has propelled the rise of the far-right in Europe, fueling the demagogic politics of figures from Nigel Farage to Marine Le Pen that blame the victims of the West’s catastrophic interventions.

While Belhaj has emerged as a powerbroker of the “free” Libya, leading the Islamist al-Watan Party and operating his own private media empire with backing from Qatar, Libya has been overrun by warlords affiliated with jihadist groups like the Islamic State and Ansar al-Sharia, the Al Qaeda affiliate that participated in the notorious 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. Salem Abedi’s younger brother, Hashem, is a member of the Islamic State, according to a rival militia, and helped plan the Manchester attack from inside Libya.

The British Foreign Affairs Committee report released in September 2016 on the Libyan intervention concluded that, “Intelligence on the extent to which extremist militant Islamist elements were involved in the anti-Gaddafi rebellion was inadequate.”

Its authors added, “The possibility that militant extremist groups would attempt to benefit from the rebellion should not have been the preserve of hindsight. Libyan connections with transnational militant extremist groups were known before 2011, because many Libyans had participated in the Iraq insurgency and in Afghanistan with al-Qaeda.”

Lingering questions

In the wake of the Manchester bombing, British citizens deserve a new public inquiry. Acquaintances of the Abedi family said that neighbors in Manchester had notified an anti-terrorism hotline several years ago when Salman Abedi expressed public support for suicide bombing. But British authorities took no action.

Was British intelligence attempting to groom Abedi as an informant, as it had tried with Mohammed Emwazi, the wayward London youth who somehow wound up in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria as the fearsome decapitator known as “Jihadi John”? What did the British government know about Abedi and when did it know it?

The right-wing demagogues pouring out their wrath on Muslim immigrants and rallying for more restrictionist policies are diverting blame from where it should ultimately lie. In their pursuit of imperial delusions in Libya and beyond, Western leaders cynically sacrificed the security of their own citizens, setting the stage for the massacre in Manchester. The interventionists should be held accountable before they can strike again.

Max Blumenthal is a senior editor of the Grayzone Project at AlterNet, and the award-winning author of Goliath and Republican Gomorrah. His most recent book is The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. Follow him on Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.

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Tulsi Gabbard Is Not Your Friend

By Branko Marcetic

Tulsi Gabbard is hailed as a progressive champion. But her views on Islam and support for far-right leaders suggest otherwise.

Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard is announced at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. disneyabc / Flickr

Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard is the new progressive darling. She’s young. She surfs. She’s a “rising star” in the Democratic Party, we’re told repeatedly. She might even win the presidency in 2020.

Much of Gabbard’s elevated stature is due to her endorsement of Bernie Sanders at the end of February 2016, a seemingly principled, politically risky stand that led her to resign as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

But that wasn’t all. Before stepping down, Gabbard earned the ire of Democratic insiders when she called for more than the paltry six debates the party had scheduled under Hillary Clinton ally Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. She continued to needle the establishment on the eve of Clinton’s nomination, and offered a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of the Democratic standard-bearer in the general election (“Given the remaining choices, like Bernie Sanders, I will be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton,” she said in August). At the Democratic National Convention, she was reportedly swamped with attention from other state delegates. “They like Tulsi because she stood up to the Democratic Party establishment,” said one.

Gabbard is also a pretty reliably progressive voice in the House on a host of domestic issues. As far back as 2012, she was calling for restoring Glass-Steagall. She opposed any cuts to Medicare or Social Security under the Obama-backed Simpson-Bowles proposal. She believes Obamacare didn’t go far enough and supports universal health care. She’s against nuclear energy, pushed to curb the NSA’s bulk collection of data, and personally protested the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Yet the starry-eyed anointment of Gabbard has obscured the more unsavory aspects of her politics — so unsavory, in fact, that White House adviser Steve Bannon has reportedly spoken well of her. From her vigorous opposition to the Iran nuclear deal to her obsession with “radical Islam” to her love for the far-right Indian leader Narendra Modi, Gabbard is far from the progressive hero many assume her to be.

Conservative Beginnings

Despite her progressive image today, Gabbard has conservative roots. Her father is Mike Gabbard, a former Honolulu city councilman, state senator, and high profile anti-gay activist who led a campaign against same-sex marriage in Hawaii in the 1990s. He founded the educational nonprofit Stop Promoting Homosexuality and bought himself a show on a local radio station to denounce LGBT people.

Early in her career, Gabbard took after her father. She opposed abortion and supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. After Honolulu Magazine emailed her father to ask about his former ties to a conservative Hare Krishna splinter group for a 2004 profile, it was Gabbard who replied angrily, accusing the magazine of “acting as a conduit for The Honolulu Weekly and other homosexual extremist supporters of Ed Case [her father’s opponent].” The same year, she used her platform as a state representative to testify against civil unions, calling the claim that they were different from same-sex marriage “dishonest, cowardly, and extremely disrespectful to the people of Hawaii,” who had voted in favor of Constitutional Amendment 2 in 1998, empowering the legislature to withhold marriage from same-sex couples.

“As Democrats, we should be representing the views of the people, not a small number of homosexual extremists,” she said at the time.

Gabbard has since done a 180, citing her military service in the Middle East as the impetus for her conversion to social liberalism.

“The contrast between our society and those in the Middle East made me realize that the difference — the reason those societies are so oppressive — is that they are essentially theocracies where the government and government leaders wield the power to both define and then enforce ‘morality,’” she wrote in a December 2011 post. “I began to realize that the positions I had held previously regarding the issues of choice and gay marriage were rooted in the same premise held by those in power in the oppressive Middle East regimes I saw.”

She effected a similar about-face on abortion, even receiving an endorsement from EMILY’S List during her 2012 congressional run despite her history of opposing reproductive rights.

And why not? Gabbard was only twenty-three when she expounded her socially conservative views, and it’s not unheard of for people’s thinking to evolve.

But suspicion of Gabbard lingers. Her state Democratic Party LGBT caucus, for instance, openly distrusts her, and backed her Democratic primary opponent in 2016. When questioned why the LGBT caucus, which had actually supported her three years earlier, had turned against her, the chairman cited two things. One was her less-than-stellar answers to a questionnaire the LGBT Caucus had sent. The other was a 2015 interview with Ozy, in which she confirmed that her personal views on gay marriage and abortion hadn’t changed, just her view on whether the government should enforce its vision of morality.

Gabbard’s campaign subsequently cancelled an interview with the LGBT Caucus, citing a number of private Facebook posts by its chairman and vice chairman in support of her primary opponent as evidence the group was “campaigning” for her. Gabbard’s press aide told Golojuch that “it unfortunately appears that your leadership is out of touch.”

This came on top of an earlier slight in 2013, when the caucus had asked Gabbard to send someone to testify at the legislative special session on same-sex marriage, only to be told that Gabbard “doesn’t get involved in state politics.” Gabbard’s Hawaiian colleagues in Congress all sent a representative to testify in support.

Gabbard does not actively work against gay rights. In fact, she’s cosponsored and supported numerous bills favoring the LGBT community during her time in Congress, from the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Still, her questionable loyalty to LGBT and abortion rights is disquieting considering her public reputation as a beacon of progressivism.

Gabbard's Anti-Interventionism

Much of the praise Gabbard receives is for her anti-interventionism. During her 2012 House campaign, she ran ads complaining about “endless war.” She has called for pulling out of Afghanistan, the longest war in US history, suggesting that the government invest the money instead into “rebuilding our own nation through long-term infrastructure projects.” She’s opposed US intervention in Syria since 2013, air strikes in Iraq, and arms sales to Saudi Arabia. She backed Sanders in the Democratic primary because of Clinton’s record of supporting “interventionist regime change wars.”

All of this has created the impression that Gabbard, unlike much of the Democratic Party, is antiwar.

She’s not.

Gabbard’s objections to US wars spring not from a concern for those parts of the world the US military bombs and invades, but exclusively from a concern about the Americans who fight them. As she told Truthout in 2012, her own military service in Iraq and Kuwait “changed my life completely” and revealed the “tremendous cost of war,” recounting the daily casualties and injuries to US troop she saw when she was deployed in a medical unit.

“The cost of war impacts all of us — both in the human cost and the cost that’s being felt frankly in places like Flint, Michigan, where families and children are devastated and destroyed by completely failed infrastructure because of lack of investment,” she told Glamour magazine in March last year.

This also formed the thrust of her speech at 2012’s (particularly militaristic) DNC, where she told the crowd, “As a combat veteran, I know the costs of war. The sacrifices made by our troops and our military families are immeasurable.”

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with expressing empathy for the soldiers who are sent to fight, lose limbs, and die in wars of choice launched by their political leaders. The suffering they and their families endure is heartbreaking, especially considering that many join the military because they lack any other economic opportunities. And the money spent on wars abroad would surely be better used on infrastructure at home.

But Gabbard’s almost singular focus on the damage these wars inflict domestically, and her comparative lack of focus on the carnage they wreak in the countries under attack, is troubling. It is nationalism in antiwar garb, reinforcing instead of undercutting the toxic rhetoric that treats foreigners as less deserving of dignity than Americans. (Gabbard’s brand of anti-interventionism has even received praise from former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who called for her to be named secretary of state.)

And it still produces its fair share of bloodshed. Like campaign-era Trump, Gabbard may be against miring the United States in blunderous, short-sighted conflicts that backfire, but she’s more than willing to use America’s military might to go after suspected terrorists around the world (and inevitably kill and maim civilians in the process). In the same Truthout interview, responding to a question about drones, Gabbard said that “there is a place for the use of this technology, as well as smaller, quick-strike special force teams versus tens, if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers occupying space within a country.”

It’s a point she’s repeated again and again. Responding to questions from Honolulu Civil Beat in 2012, Gabbard said that “the best way to defeat the terrorists is through strategically placed, small quick-strike special forces and drones — the strategy that took out Osama Bin Laden.” She told Fox in 2014 that she would direct “the great military that we have” to conduct “unconventional strategic precise operations to take out these terrorists wherever they are.” The same year, she told Civil Beat that military strategy must “put the safety of Americans above all else” and “utilize our highly skilled special operations forces, work with and support trusted foreign partners to seek and destroy this threat.”

“In short, when it comes to the war against terrorists, I’m a hawk,” she told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald last year. “When it comes to counterproductive wars of regime change, I’m a dove.”

In other words, Gabbard would continue the Obama administration’s foreign policy, which itself was a continuation (and in some ways ramping up) of George W. Bush’s foreign policy. She would keep up the drone bombing of seven Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa — perhaps even expand it — while also relying more on special operations forces, which are already raiding, assassinating, and gathering intelligence in 70 percent of the world’s countries.

Drones killed hundreds of civilians over Obama’s eight years, while special operations forces like SEAL Team 6 — which Gabbard specifically name-checked in her positive allusion to the bin Laden raid — are known for their fair share of brutality. It was “quick-strike special forces” conducting a “strategic precise operation,” to use Gabbard’s term, that a little less than four months ago killed thirty civilians in a botched raid in Yemen.

Not surprisingly, Gabbard has received plaudits from conservatives for her foreign policy stances. The National Review published a glowing profile of the congresswoman in April 2015, complete with a quote from American Enterprise Institute (AEI) president Arthur Brooks saying that he “like[s] her thinking a lot.”

Gabbard was subsequently one of three Democrats — the others being New Jersey senator Cory Booker and Maryland congressman John Delaney — who secured an invitation to AEI’s annual closed-to-the-press retreat, where she hobnobbed with the likes of Dick Cheney, Bill Kristol, Mike Pence, Rupert Murdoch, the DeVoses, and a host of other major conservative figures. At the AEI’s urging, she had earlier spoken at the Halifax International Security Forum, an annual gathering of national security wonks sponsored by Lockheed Martin, Canada’s Department of National Defence, and others.

Another reason Gabbard started receiving applause from the Right was her very public skepticism of the Iran deal.

The Obama administration may have continued much of the Bush approach to the “war on terror,” but it at least recognized the value of diplomacy. Not Gabbard, however, who told Fox News she was “cynical” toward the pact, and agreed with host Greta van Susteren that it was akin to Neville Chamberlain’s infamous Munich agreement with Hitler in 1938.

Breitbart gleefully quoted her in headlines expressing “many” and “great” concerns over the deal as it was being negotiated. On the day the agreement was finalized, she issued a statement saying, “We cannot afford to make the same mistake with Iran that was made with North Korea,” citing North Korea’s abrogation of the Agreed Framework agreement it had signed in 1994. When Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his unprecedented speech to Congress in March 2015 in an attempt to torpedo the deal, Gabbard didn’t join the significant number of Democrats who boycotted the speech. She attended it.

In light of this, the fact that Gabbard received a “Champion of Freedom” award at the Jewish Values Gala — an awards ceremony held by the World Values Network, which was founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an enthusiastic Trump supporter — in between campaigning for Sanders is less puzzling.

On Rabbi Shmuley’s Facebook page, Gabbard’s award win is recounted in the same post that celebrates making then–Secretary of State John Kerry renounce his statements that Israeli policies contribute to terrorism against Israel. A photo from the event shows Gabbard posing with Rabbi Shmuley and Miriam Adelson, the wife of Sheldon Adelson (Adelson himself is a major Trump supporter, and happens to believe Palestinians are “a made-up people”). As her Democratic primary opponent pointed out, Gabbard has introduced Adelson-backed legislation to Congress before.

Clearly liberals and leftists who admire Gabbard’s foreign policy are mistaking her anti-interventionism for dovishness. But Gabbard’s foreign policy, while an improvement on Trump’s — and what isn’t? — would continue to foment anti-American resentment and anger around the world, with its casualties, destruction, and casual violations of national sovereignty, fueling the very “endless war” she despises.

"Unfortunate and Disturbing"

Which brings us to Gabbard’s other major red flag. Given her support for drones and special ops strikes, it’s not surprising to find that Gabbard never mentions US foreign policy as a catalyst for anti-American sentiment in regions like the Middle East, despite copious evidence to the contrary.

So what is the cause of terrorism, according to Gabbard? Islam, of course.

Before she became a progressive darling for endorsing Sanders, Gabbard became a conservative darling for relentlessly hawking the idea — later popularized by Trump — that Obama’s foreign policy was failing because he refused to use the term “Islamic extremism,” or some variation of it.

From 2014 onward, Gabbard appeared regularly on Fox News to lambast the Obama administration for avoiding the phrase. In one interview, she told the host that “the vast majority of terrorist attacks conducted around the world for over the last decade have been conducted by groups who are fueled by this radical Islamic ideology,” a statement that may be technically true due to the violence and instability plaguing Middle Eastern countries, but is wildly misleading considering that non-Muslims make up the vast, vast majority of terrorist perpetrators in both Europe and the United States.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015, Gabbard complained on Fox News that by “not using this term ‘Islamic extremism’ and clearly identifying our enemies,” the administration couldn’t “come up with a very effective strategy to defeat that enemy.” She told Neil Cavuto that “this isn’t about one specific group,” but about “this radical Islamic ideology that is fueling this,” and that it needed to be defeated “militarily and ideologically.” She characterized Obama’s refusal to “recognize” the enemy as “mind-boggling” and “troubling.”

And it wasn’t just on Fox. Gabbard took her message to any network or outlet that would have her. On CNN, she called Kerry’s refusal to use the term “unfortunate and disturbing.” In an interview with the Hill, she stressed that radical Islam was at the heart of the problem, necessitating “a simultaneous ideological strategy” to defeat terrorists.

The Right was smitten. Breitbart ran article after article trumpeting her criticisms, and former US representative Allen West praised Gabbard for “dar[ing] to challenge Obama.”

In February 2015, Gabbard had the chance to question Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Vincent Stewart. She asked him (while clearly fishing for a particular answer) about the debate over “how this ideology, how this motivation, must be identified” and what “common elements” existed among different Islamic terrorist groups, including ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram. She then went on Fox and reported that Stewart had “identified very clearly that it is this radical Islamic ideology that is fueling” these groups.

But Gabbard had heavily distorted what Stewart actually said. While he did call ISIS “a radical ideology that must be countered with a moderate ideology,” he also pointed out that the common elements that had produced such groups were “ungoverned states, weak government institution, economic instability, poverty.”

This was par for the course for Gabbard, who regularly used her TV appearances to brush off, even mock, alternative explanations for terrorism. After Kerry gave a speech at Davos stressing the importance of acknowledging the various drivers of extremism — noting that some extremist fighters “are lured by basic, material considerations” like “the promise of regular meals, a paycheck,” while others are motivated by the chance “to escape boredom” and “be lured by a false sense of success” — Gabbard tore into him on CNN.

“This is completely missing the point,” she said, calling it a “huge mistake” to think “that somehow, okay, well, look if we give them $10,000 and give them a nice place to live, that somehow they’re not going to be engaged in this fighting.” She cited Osama bin Laden as an example, a “multi-millionaire who left his mansions, went and lived in the desert because of this radical ideology.” She reappeared on CNN a month later, denying that “if we just go in and alleviate poverty, if we go in and create jobs and increase opportunity,” it would help solve the problem.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before she appeared on Bill Maher’s program, where the two bonded over their mutual distrust of “Islamic extremism” and their disagreement with Kerry’s comments. After agreeing with Maher that it was “crazy” Obama didn’t want to use the two magic words, Gabbard reiterated her point: “Give them a big house, give them a skateboard, send them on their way. You think that’s going to solve the problem? It’s not.”

Gabbard’s insistence that economic factors play no role in fostering extremism, and in fueling ISIS specifically, is belied by the facts. The group pays its recruiters thousands of dollars, and Hamas officers have explicitly outlined how the promise of money has drawn Gazans to ISIS. “Those in Syria often send pictures back home showing large banknotes to lure others out,” one officer told journalist Sarah Helm.

Gabbard’s worldview also leaves out the role that European and US governments, particularly the Reagan administration, have played in bringing hardline fundamentalists to power and prominence. Bin Laden may have been a millionaire, but he was also a CIA recruit.

Gabbard’s suspicion of Islam goes beyond rhetoric. Last year, she supported legislation that would have barred those on the no-fly list — a list that makes a mockery of due process — from buying guns. Before that, in 2014, Gabbard introduced a bill that would have halted the visa waiver program for countries whose citizens had gone to fight with extremists, claiming that the program “puts the American people in danger.” Had it passed, people from the UK, France, Germany, and many other European countries would have been forced to apply for visas before visiting the United States.

In reality, foreign-born terrorists carrying out acts of violence in the United States, particularly from visa waiver countries, is virtually nonexistent. Yet Gabbard hyped the threat. “If we do nothing to close this loophole, and allow a terrorist to carry out an attack on our homeland, the impacts will be devastating,” she warned.

Gabbard’s hardline stance carried over to the subject of refugees. She was one of forty-seven Democrats to join the House GOP in passing the SAFE Act in 2015, which would have added extra requirements to the already onerous refugee vetting process and effectively ground to a halt the admission of Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country. In a statement, Gabbard claimed she was voting for the bill to save the refugee program.

Two months before that, however, she had introduced a resolution calling for the United States to prioritize religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East — namely, Christians and Yezidis — when granting refugee status. “These persecuted religious minority groups must be our first priority,” she said. In essence, her position — throwing more roadblocks in front of Syrian refugees, while making an exception for Christians — is the same as that of the Trump administration, whose original refugee ban exempted “religious minorities.”

So it was little surprise that shortly after the election, Trump held talks with Gabbard — a meeting set up by Steve Bannon, a longtime admirer of the Hawaii congresswoman. Sources told the Hill at the time that Bannon “loves her” and “wants to work with her on everything,” and that “she would fit perfectly” in the administration because “she gets the foreign policy stuff, the Islamic terrorism stuff.” (Gabbard’s name was conspicuously missing from the letter 169 House Democrats signed last November calling for Trump to rescind Bannon’s appointment.)

Gabbard didn’t end up getting a job with the Trump administration, which might explain why she seems to have somewhat softened her stances recently. She came out against Trump’s refugee and travel bans, for example. And around the same time, Gabbard spoke at an event held by the group Muslims for Peace, in which she uncharacteristically spoke of “so-called religious terrorism” and affirmed that “the perpetrators of these horrific actions have no connection with the spiritual love that lies at the heart of all religions.”

Coincidentally, Gabbard used the speech to finally explain her long-running refrain that the US must defeat extremism “ideologically.” The answer, according to Gabbard, is confronting such ideologies with “a consciousness of love.” While promoting peace, love, and respect is undeniably admirable, it’s hard to see why Gabbard views the vague concept of “confronting” extremism with “love” as less wishy washy than the idea of preventing terrorism by fighting poverty and political oppression in war-torn countries.

Friends Like These

As her flirtation with Trump and Bannon shows, Gabbard’s hardline stance on terrorism and Islam tends to leave her with questionable friends.

To her credit, Gabbard has supported legislation to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing both the carnage the Saudis were raining down on innocent civilians in Yemen and the Saudis’ spread of Wahhabism, a reactionary form of Islam.

But Gabbard is less discerning when autocrats aren’t motivated by “radical Islam.” In November 2015, she traveled to Egypt as part of a congressional delegation and met Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, part of an effort to strengthen US-Egypt relations. Sisi may be a blood-soaked tyrant who’s killed hundreds of Egyptians and imprisoned many thousands more, but as Gabbard made clear at the time, he’s tough where it counts.

“President el-Sisi has shown great courage and leadership in taking on this extreme Islamist ideology, while also fighting against ISIS militarily to keep them from gaining a foothold in Egypt,” Gabbard said, urging US political leaders to “recognize President el-Sisi and his leadership” and “stand with him in this fight against . . . Islamic extremists.” Some of the Sisi government’s fantastic accomplishments in this fight include killing a group of Mexican tourists and quite possibly torturing and murdering an Italian PhD student.

But perhaps Gabbard’s closest friend on the world stage is India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi. It’s an ideal match in many respects — not because the two happen to share a faith (Gabbard is the first Hindu American in Congress), but because they both harbor noxious attitudes toward Muslims.

Modi began his career as an activist in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, nationalist organization that stokes anti-Muslim sentiment in the country and has been banned four separate times (one of its members assassinated Gandhi over accusations he was appeasing Muslims). While Modi eventually left the RSS for his current party, the BJP, the two are heavily connected: the RSS mobilized to get Modi elected, and several BJP officials used to be members of the RSS.

Shortly after September 11, Modi claimed on TV that Islam had tried “to put its flag in the whole world” since the fourteenth century and that “the situation today is the result of that.” As he campaigned for election in 2014, he threatened to deport undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh (who are mostly Muslim), calling them “infiltrators.”

But most appalling was his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in the western state of Gujarat, which left one thousand people dead, nearly eight hundred of whom were Muslims. Modi was the state’s chief minister at the time and has long been accused of allowing the riots to happen, with a former senior police officer testifying in 2011 that Modi said the night before the riots that Muslims needed to be taught a lesson.

Despite all of this, Gabbard has been one of Modi’s most prominent boosters in the US. “He is a leader whose example and dedication to the people he serves should be an inspiration to elected officials everywhere,” she said of Modi in 2014.

For about a decade, the United States refused to give Modi a visa to travel to the US in light of his involvement in the Gujarat riots. For Gabbard, this was a “great blunder,” and she later told the press that “there was a lot of misinformation that surrounded the event in 2002.” She personally congratulated Modi on his 2014 election, and was later involved in organizing his first trip to the US. She also met two BJP leaders who had visited the United States beforehand, and spoke alongside them at an event in Atlanta.

When a congressional panel was held in April 2014 on “the plight of religious minorities in India,” with witnesses testifying about the mistreatment of Muslims, Gabbard said she didn’t “believe the time of this hearing is a coincidence” and that it aimed to “influence the outcome of India’s national elections.” Gabbard voted against House Resolution 417, which criticized India’s record on religious violence and called for specific measures to guarantee religious freedom in the country, explaining that its passage wouldn’t help US-India relations. Yet two years later, Gabbard introduced a similar resolution that covered neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh, saying she was “particularly concerned over issues of religious freedom, and specifically, attacks against minority Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and others” in the country.

There are likely any number of motivations for Gabbard’s steadfast defense of Modi and conditions in India, but similar to her cozying up with Sisi, she specifically cited India’s role as a partner in the war against Islamic terrorists. “For many reasons — not the least of which is the war against terrorists — the relationship between India and America is very important,” she told Quartz last March. A year earlier, while visiting India and meeting with Modi, she told the press that “in order to defeat [terrorism], we (India and the US) will have to work together.”

Beyond the PR

Tulsi Gabbard isn’t all bad. In several areas, she’s further to the left than a number of mainstream Democrats. But her bucking of the Democratic Party establishment, her support from Sanders, and her consistent opposition to regime change has distracted many from the more disquieting parts of her record.

If the glowing profiles of Gabbard are right, she stands poised to become one of the leaders of the Democratic Party. If so, progressives will have to drop any starry-eyed admiration, and take a good, hard, honest look at who Tulsi Gabbard really is.

Her rhetoric about Islam wouldn’t be out of place on a Republican debate stage. Her anti-interventionism is shot through with a pernicious nationalism. Her support for Modi legitimizes a leader with a record of enabling anti-Muslim brutality.

Sanders’s seal of approval shouldn’t be taken as the final word on Tulsi Gabbard. After all, should we really champion a presidential candidate who could easily have been slotted into a Trump cabinet?


Branko Marcetic is an editorial assistant at Jacobin. He lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

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