He insisted he wasn’t pitching a “Buttigieg Doctrine,” but South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s sweeping foreign policy speech Tuesday came close to accomplishing just that.
The 37-year-old mayor and Navy veteran laid out an approach to global diplomacy that put the fight against global warming at its center, taking repeated swipes at President Trump’s coziness with dictators from Russia and North Korea while subtly contrasting himself with the older candidates in the Democratic primary field like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.
Speaking on the campus of Indiana University, Buttigieg’s agenda laid out three top priorities: putting “an end to endless war,” reversing the rise of authoritarianism abroad, and treating climate change “as the existential security challenge that it is.”
His most dire warning was on global warming, an issue that a number of Democratic candidates have increasingly linked to national security in the 2020 race as its effects have begun to more viscerally ravage voters’ communities in recent years.
“The world needs America to prioritize climate security,” he said, pointing out that in a short stretch as mayor he’d had to twice implement policies to respond to major floods that in the past were once-a-generation events.
“I have seen the homeland implications of this threat. We have seen warnings of a generation ago realized today,” he said. “Despite what we hear from this administration and from far too many Republicans… climate disruption is here. It is no longer a distant and theoretical issue; it is a clear and present threat.”
Buttigieg argued that Trump had made the world less safe by embracing dictators, alienating Democratic allies, and employing “tariffs as tantrums.”
“Since the election of our current president, the United States has hardly had a foreign policy at all,” he warned.
The mayor repeatedly poked at the POTUS, promising that unlike Trump, he wouldn’t exchange “ love letters on White House letterhead with a brutal dictator” in North Korea, saying he’d treat Russia “not as a real estate opportunity” but as a geopolitical foe, and warning Trump’s bellicose and zero-sum approach to the world had weakened allies and degraded democracies around the world — while mocking the president's age.
“It’s hard to condemn crackdowns on a free press when our own president calls the news media the 'enemy of the people.' It is hard to stand for human rights abroad when we are turning away asylum seekers at our own borders. It is hard to promote accountability and the rule of law when foreign governments can curry favor as cheaply as a few nights’ stay at the president’s hotels and golf courses,” he said.
To accomplish this. Buttigieg pledged to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement, demand a new authorization of military force (AUMF) vote from Congress before embarking on other foreign endeavors. All U.S. intervention abroad since the September 11, 2001 attacks have been covered under the umbrella of the vote that authorized the war in Afghanistan.
He also sought middle ground on Israel, touting the crucial relationship between the two countries while attacking the policies of the current right-wing Israeli government as antidemocratic and harmful to the region’s long-term stability.
Buttigieg is a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. His military experience gives him heft on national security issues that could help offset his youth while contrasting himself with other candidates with more limited foreign policy chops. That's helped him maintain his surprising rise in the polls, and could keep him in the field longer than many opponents with longer political track records.
Buttigieg’s ire was aimed mostly at Trump, but he made sure to draw a subtler contrast with the people he hopes to best for the Democratic nomination.
“Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can turn us back to the 1950s,” he said. “And we should not try.”
Cover: Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg meets supporters at a community event in supporter of a parcel tax to raise money for schools, in Los Angeles, California May 9, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)