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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Continuing John Ubaldi’s look at the 2020 Democratic candidates, we turn to Pete Buttigieg, Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Ever since the end of the Cold War, every U.S. presidential election campaign has focused on domestic policy, most notably the economy; the 2020 presidential election campaign is no exception. Always absent in these debates is how would the candidates handle a global crisis.
Buttigieg Has a Number of Firsts Attached to His Candidacy
Pete Buttigieg is completing his eighth and final year as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, having been elected in 2011 at the age of 29. If elected president, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay president, the first mayor to assume the presidency and the youngest chief executive to enter the White House.
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Buttigieg is also only one of two presidential candidates who has served in the military; Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Arizona is the other.
Buttigieg is a graduate of Harvard University, where he majored in history and literature. He was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves. He was deployed to Afghanistan, where his counter-terrorism work earned him a Joint Service Commendation Medal.
Buttigieg Lays Out His National Security Vision
During a national security speech this past June at Indiana University, Buttigieg openly criticized the foreign policy of previous Democratic and Republican administrations as being incoherent and obsolete.
Buttigieg stated that if he is elected president, he would recommit America to its international alliances and agreements. That would include the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accord. He also promised to reform the nation’s defense budget, but not necessarily reduce it.
How would adversaries respond to a reformed U.S. military? What would our allies say? All of the Democratic candidates have consistently repudiated the foreign policy of President Trump, especially when it involves Russia, China and Iran.
Regarding his stated intention to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, Buttigieg’s opponents counter that lifting the sanctions on Iran would allow Tehran to use this new source of revenue to strengthen its influence among its proxy forces throughout the Middle East. Currently, Iran has had to reduce its expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon because of the stinging effects of the U.S. sanctions.
How Would a Buttigieg Administration Treat US Allies?
Much has been made of Trump’s treatment of our allies, but how would a Buttigieg administration deal with them, especially in relation to defense spending and tariffs on U.S. exports? The Trump administration has been fighting to remove these tariffs even as it threatens to extend them on imports from China.
One of the central themes of a potential Buttigieg administration would to pursue a more progressive foreign policy, with climate change a key aspect of his national security strategy.
In his June address at Indiana University, Buttigieg outlined that strategy: “First, we must put an end to endless war and refocus on future threats; second, we must promote American values by working to reverse the rise of authoritarianism abroad; third, we must treat climate change as the existential security challenge that it is; fourth, we must update the institutions through which we engage the world to address these 21st-century challenges and opportunities; and fifth, we must do all this while involving citizens across America in a meaningful conversation about how foreign policy and national security concern their communities, and do more to include their voices and values in formulating our policies.”
Ramifications of Buttigieg’s Middle East Strategy
Buttigieg’s national security strategy is to end the “endless war” that the U.S. military has been engaged in across the Middle East by withdrawing U.S. troops from the region. Opponents worry that a terrorist organization might quickly fill the void. That is what happened when the U.S. pulled out of Iraq in 2011, which arguably led to greater Iranian influence and the rise of ISIS.
The Democratic candidates often speak of authoritarian regimes, especially Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. So how would a Buttigieg administration deal with those regimes?
Answering a questionnaire from the Council on Foreign Relations, Buttigieg said: “Where necessary and feasible, we should seek cooperation with Beijing, such as in addressing climate disruption, maintaining strategic stability, combating terrorism, and managing conflict through international peacekeeping. But the United States must defend our fundamental values, core interests, and critical alliances, and accept that this will often entail friction with China.”
But how would Buttigieg differentiate himself from Trump? How would he get China to honor the Paris climate agreement when, at the time of its creation, China did everything to undermine the agreement proposals to ensure that Beijing would not have to comply?
During the third Democratic debate held in Houston, Texas, Buttigieg openly criticized Trump for his dealings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, we don’t know how Buttigieg would prevent China from stealing U.S. intellectual properties and from forced technological transfer and currency manipulation? Buttigieg did not say.
Like most of the Democratic candidates, Buttigieg is a bit vague on his national security vision as it relates to counter-terrorism, the Middle East, Russia, China, Venezuela, and a host of other global challenges facing the United States.
Beyond “anybody is better than Trump,” how would Buttigieg be different? Perhaps he will provide some answers when he joins 11 other Democratic candidates in their next primary debate on Oct. 15 in Westerville, Ohio.