TEN candidates to be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020 took to the debate stage on Wednesday night.
Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang all locked horns in Atlanta to make their pitch to be the one to face off against the Republican establishment next year.
Foreign policy was, inevitably, one of the issues on the agenda, and the most controversial candidate was one who did not shy away from addressing the most contentious aspects of the topic – Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard has routinely positioned herself as a critic of US imperialism and a proponent of progressive politics, yet her left-wing credentials may be tainted to some for her seemingly amicable relations with far-right Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
She has also been criticised for meeting with Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.
She entered this debate with abysmal polling numbers, which can perhaps be put down to the left-wing base of the Democratic Party lining up behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Gabbard took the opportunity to challenge the more neo-liberal Democrats on their foreign policy positions.
Kamala Harris, with whom Gabbard had traded blows in a previous debate, accused her of “failing to call a war criminal by what he is.”
The Hawaii Congresswoman in turn accused Harris of “traffic[ing] in lies, and smears and innuendos, because she cannot challenge the substance of the argument that I’m making.”
She added that, to her, this indicated that the California Senator would only continue to let the cogs of current US foreign policy keep on turning.
Harris’ evasive response to this charge will hardly fill any ardent progressive with much confidence.
Gabbard also locked horns with South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Buttigieg has seen favourable polling as of late, being one of the top four contenders in the crucial Iowa caucus along with Sanders, Warren and Biden.
Both Gabbard and Buttigieg are military veterans.
She accused the mayor of having “inexperience in national security and foreign policy,” citing a statement he made saying he would be willing to deploy US troops in Mexico to combat the cartels.
In response, Buttigieg said Gabbard took his remarks out of context and, like Harris, criticised her relationship with Assad.
She hit back, saying that he would lack the courage as President “to meet with both adversaries and friends.”
Gabbard cited JFK meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and FDR meeting with Stalin, while Buttigieg interrupted with “like Donald Trump who met with Kim.”
The Hawaii Representative has and will continue to be a divisive figure, both among progressive Democrats and those more to the right of the party.
Her chances of winning the nomination are slim, but, while her campaign lasts, it is likely that she will continue to challenge proponents of US imperialism with the same gusto that has defined her campaign so far.