Buttigieg says he'll upend national security establishment in foreign policy address

Buttigieg says he'll upend national security establishment in foreign policy address
© Greg Nash

Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' New poll shows four top-tier 2020 candidates in Iowa The Democratic race for president may not sort itself out MORE on Tuesday cast himself as a generational candidate who would upend the national security establishment in Washington, which he described as a decades-long failure driven by Republicans and Democrats alike.

In his first major policy address as a presidential candidate, Buttigieg, who has been rising in the Democratic primary polls, called on the U.S. to “put an end to endless war” and blasted President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE’s foreign policy “by early-morning tweet.”

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The South Bend, Ind., mayor sought to highlight his own experience as a Navy intelligence officer while going after Trump, who he accused of degrading the United States's standing in the world.

“It’s hard to condemn crackdowns on the press when our own president calls our news media the 'enemy of the people,' ” Buttigieg said. “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 rule of law when foreign leaders can curry favor as cheaply as a few nights stay at the president’s hotel.”

But Buttigieg was also unsparing in his criticism of Democrats, saying that his own party had lacked imagination on the issue of foreign policy, opening the door for someone like Trump to push through his own agenda.

“Since the election of the current president, the U.S. hardly has a foreign policy at all, and lest that seem like a partisan jab, I will say that for the better part of my lifetime it has been difficult to establish a consistent foreign policy in the Democratic Party either,” Buttigieg said.

“Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s, and we should not try,” he added.

Speaking at Indiana University in Bloomington, about 200 miles south of his hometown, Buttigieg, 37, made the case that as a military veteran and a millennial he is best suited to lead the country into a new era of global leadership.

“From the beginning, my campaign for president has been driven by the awareness that we face not just another presidential election, but a transition from one era to another,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg has been criticized for not having detailed policy proposals, but on Tuesday he laid out the five principles he said would drive his administration’s national security efforts.

He said the U.S. must end its involvement in foreign conflicts, address the “rise of authoritarianism abroad,” treat climate change as an “existential security threat,” modernize the government and encourage ordinary citizens to play a more active role in formulating security policies in their own communities.

The mayor said he would reenter the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran, arguing that it “helped constrain the military threat Iran poses to Israel and Europe without leading us down a path to another Middle Eastern war.”

“Whatever its imperfections, this was perhaps as close to the real ‘art of the deal’ as diplomatic achievements get,” Buttigieg said.

He proposed replacing the 2001 authorization for the use of military force, which the Obama and Trump administrations have both used as legal justification for new military engagements abroad.

“We should never again send troops into conflict without a clear definition of their mission and an understanding of what comes after,” Buttigieg said.

Here, Buttigieg called on his own experience as a Navy reservist who was stationed in Kabul for six months, where he worked to disrupt the flow of money among terrorist organizations as part of the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell.

Buttigieg was called up as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the war on terrorism launched by former President George W. Bush after 9/11.

“As someone who deployed to that war on the orders of a president — who believed, way back in 2014, that our involvement in Afghanistan was coming to an end — 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,” Buttigieg said.

“The time for a Congress asleep at the switch must come to an end,” he added. “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.”

The surging 2020 presidential contender is seeking to plant his flag as the party’s premier national security candidate, an issue that has not received much attention in the Democratic primary but plays into a key portion of his biography.

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Two other 2020 Democratic hopefuls, Reps. Seth MoultonSeth MoultonPardoning war crimes dishonors the military The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing We still owe LGBT veterans for their patriotism and service MORE (Mass.) and Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNew poll catapults Buttigieg to frontrunner position in Iowa Deval Patrick: a short runway, but potential to get airborne Saagar Enjeti: Yang's plan to regulate big tech misses the mark MORE (Hawaii), both served in Iraq.

But Buttigieg is the only top tier candidate to have active military service overseas.

The latest Iowa Poll, conducted by veteran pollster Ann Selzer for The Des Moines Register and CNN, found Buttigieg running in a statistical tie with Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Bernie Sanders tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan If we want to save earth, we need to change how we eat MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Democrats seize on report of FedEx's Elizabeth Warren tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan Warren 'fully committed' to 'Medicare for All' MORE (D-Mass.) and within striking distance of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report Biden says he won't legalize marijuana because it may be a 'gateway drug' Impeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP MORE, the clear Democratic front-runner.

The speech also comes as Buttigieg races to keep up with his rivals on the policy front.

The South Bend mayor has been criticized for being slow to roll out new proposals, while Warren, Biden and Sanders have proposed multitrillion-dollar plans to overhaul the U.S. health care, education and higher education systems.

The issues page on Buttigieg’s website touches on a wide range of subjects, but the content there is not very detailed.

Buttigieg sees an opening on the foreign policy front.

He has focused early on building out a team of national security advisers, which his campaign says includes more than 100 experts. The team is led by Doug Wilson, former President Obama’s assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, and includes Ned Price, who served on Obama’s National Security Council.

In addition to his focus on foreign conflicts, Buttigieg also called climate change “a clear and present threat” to national security. He proposed a carbon tax and billions of dollars of government investment to update U.S. infrastructure at home.

And he warned about the rise of authoritarianism abroad, which he said Trump had “embraced and emboldened.”

But Buttigieg, the mayor of a Midwest industrial town, also said that Russian efforts to sow division in the U.S. by meddling in the election revealed societal weaknesses in the U.S. that must be addressed.

“We must also deal with the real weaknesses the Russians exploited — not just the gaps in our technology but our capacity to be too easily turned against each other,” he said. “In this sense, domestic problems from racism to social isolation have revealed themselves to be national security vulnerabilities.”

“We need a strategy,” he continued. “Not just to deal with individual threats, rivalries and opportunities, but to manage global trends that will define the balance of this half-century in which my generation will live the majority of our lives.”