In his first major speech on foreign policy and national security, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg formally called for “an end to endless war” by repealing post-9/11 legislation that gave expansive authorization to the president to use military force overseas.
“As someone who deployed to that war on the orders of a president… the time has come for Congress to repeal and replace that blank check on the use of force and ensure a robust debate on any future operations,” said Buttigieg, a former Naval Intelligence officer who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. “We should never again send troops into conflict without a clear definition of their mission and an understanding of what comes after.”
Although he promised that the address did not amount to “a full Buttigieg Doctrine,” Buttigieg called for an “exceedingly high bar” for unilateral use of force abroad, pointing to the Trump administration’s aggressive posturing against Venezuela and Iran as falling short of that standard.
“It is the difference between the necessary response to 9/11 in Afghanistan, and the self-defeating invasion of Iraq,” Buttigieg said, comparing potential engagement in Venezuela and Iran to the Vietnam War.. In calling for the AUMF’s repeal, Buttigieg joins a host of other Democratic presidential candidates who have voted to end the authorization, including Sens. Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, all of whom voted in 2017 to repeal it.
Buttigieg’s address on Tuesday supplemented a relatively thin section on foreign policy and national security on his website, in which he says that the next president “will have to restore American credibility on the world stage, and establish a new and higher standard for the deployment of U.S. military force.”
The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), passed by Congress three days after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, authorized the president to dispatch the U.S. military against those responsible for the attacks, as well as any “associated forces,” in order to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”
The measure, passed with only a single opposing vote, has since been used to facilitate U.S. military engagements across the globe, a practice that Buttigieg said requires “correcting.”
“The time for a Congress asleep at the switch must come to an end,” Buttigieg said. “If members of our military can find the courage to deploy to a war zone, our members of Congress ought to be able to summon the courage to take tough votes on war and peace.”
In the speech, titled “America and the World: National Security for a New Era” and delivered at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington, Indiana, Buttigieg said that war “represents a kind of failure,” and that “true success lies in preventing conflict,” including with old geopolitical foes.
Buttigieg also announced that, if elected, he would recommit the United States to the Iran nuclear deal, from which President Donald Trump officially withdrew last spring.
“Whatever its imperfections, this was perhaps as close to the real ‘art of the deal’ as diplomatic achievements get,” Buttigieg said, in an oblique reference to Trump’s bestselling business memoir. “This agreement was concluded not to do Iran a favor, but because it is in our national security interest—just as a parallel policy of confronting Iran’s support for terrorism and abysmal human rights record reflects our values and security interests.”
At the same time that Buttigieg called for stepping forward to reengage Iran, he expressed skepticism of the Trump administration’s close relationship with Russia, calling the nation’s interference in the 2016 presidential election an effort “to elect an unstable administration and [to erode] confidence in our democracy itself.”
In addition to countering future attempts by the Kremlin to destabilize American and other elections, “future policy toward Russia must include a regional security framework,” Buttigieg said, calling for reinvigorating America’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a hedge against Russian military engagements in Eastern Europe.
Buttigieg mostly held back on personally hitting Trump, whose administration he called “as much a symptom as a cause” of global instability. But some of the president’s behavior, Buttigieg said, including harsh criticism of the free press, the close relationship between the Trump business empire and the Trump administration, and overall government dysfunction undercut America’s legitimacy on the global stage.
Buttigieg’s critiques primarily focused on the president’s lack of “coherent policy” and “embrace” of autocrats—including writing “love letters” to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, whose meetings with Trump the mayor criticized as lending legitimacy to a dictator.
Until North Korea makes concrete steps to undo its nuclear program, Buttigieg said, “sanctions must remain in place.”
Among the policies Buttigieg floated: reframing the debate over climate change as an issue of national security, calling climate disruption “an existential security challenge” to American interests.
“Climate instability is a threat multiplier,” Buttigieg said, calling for “climate diplomacy” like rejoining the Paris climate agreement.
With the exception of fellow veteran Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has made disengaging from foreign conflicts a centerpiece of her campaign, the issue of national security and foreign policy has not yet been put at the fore of any Democratic presidential campaign (although Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both delivered addresses on the subject last year). But as a former Naval Intelligence officer who has frequently responded to questions about his youth and relative inexperience in government by noting that he has “more military experience than anybody who’s come into [the Oval Office] since George H.W. Bush,” Buttigieg clearly sees reshaping America’s role in global affairs as a potential boon.
At a recent campaign appearance in Iowa, Buttigieg expressed surprise that “nobody’s given a real foreign policy address that I’ve seen in our field,” although he is far from the only Democrat running for president with foreign policy bona fides: former Vice President Joe Biden spent 36 years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one-third of that time serving as either chairman or ranking member. But Buttigieg hinted that Biden and other Democrats have failed to create a cohesive foreign policy—and have pretended that America’s place in the world has not shifted dramatically since post-Soviet “Pax Americana.”
“Democrats can no more return us to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s,” Buttigieg said.