OPINION: Pete Buttigieg on foreign policy is light American imperialism


South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks June 11 at the IU Auditorium. “We are turning away asylum seekers at our own border,” he said. Alex Deryn

Presidential candidate and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg gave a speech about foreign policy and national security at 11 a.m. on Tuesday at the IU Auditorium. There was much to applaud.

He criticized endless wars, expensive military toys and our relationship with dictators. Buttigieg stressed the need to use restraint when it comes to American military force abroad. He outlined a future foreign policy that resonates with much of the war-weary public.

At the very least, he knew what most people wanted to hear. It is hard to judge how someone will act as president based on what they feed us on the campaign trail.

But beyond the laudable, there is cause for concern. There were many things included and excluded from his speech that should raise both questions and eyebrows. His Kissinger-esque pronouncement that “the world needs America” echoed neoconservative warmongers on the right as well as every authoritarian world leader in history.

It is as audacious as it is false. In 2013, a Win/Gallup poll asked the world who they believed to be the biggest threat to peace in the world. By a wide margin, the winner was the United States.

The reasons are not hard to find. Since 1945, U.S. foreign policy has been full of of international terrorism, illegal military operations and undemocratic regime changes. If Buttigieg grasps this, it is only loosely. He noted that America should “only use force when left with no alternative.” He contradicted this when he praised the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan which he compared to the invasion of Nazi controlled Normandy.

What’s ignored is the fact that America rejected the Taliban’s offers to extradite Osama bin Laden. The Taliban only wanted evidence of Bin Laden's involvement in 9/11, but the U.S. could not provide it at the time.

The only document offered to the public as evidence at the time was “more of a charge sheet than evidence,” the Wall Street Journal reported. Rather than follow established protocols for international crime, the U.S. opted to destroy a country. Apparently this is as noble as the fight against Hitler.

In his talk, Buttigieg left out any discussion of international law. The war in Afghanistan, like nearly all U.S. interventions, was not sanctioned by any international body and was thus a war crime. A serious discussion of international law would raise the issue of illegal economic warfare.

Crippling sanctions and similar measures have been deployed in places such as Venezuela to enact regime change. The results have been devastating. The only thing Buttigieg said about Venezuela is that we should not invade. Apparently, international law is superseded by the fact that “the world needs America.”

After condemning U.S. relations with authoritarian leaders abroad, Buttigieg focused on crimes of rival states such as China. He neglected to offer any plans on solving things we actually have control over.

He rightly called out Saudi Arabia for the murder of Jamal Khasoggi, however he said nothing of the U.S.-backed Saudi assult on Yemen. The ongoing war has already left millions on the edge of starvation in what the United Nations describes as the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” It is within the U.S. power to end our support for the deadly campaign, but Buttigieg expressed his intention to do the opposite.

“We will remain open to working with a regime like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the American people,” Buttigieg said.

A Buttigieg presidency may mean a lot more dead Yemenis. He also left out a large part of the Israel-Palestine conflict. After criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he threatened to pull support from Israel should the prime minister go ahead with his plan to annex part of the West Bank.

This is an admirable stance, but stopping there was not nearly enough. Any serious discussion of Israel should focus on the unlivable conditions in Gaza, and the United States’ role in allowing Israel to keep it that way. Buttigieg apparently has nothing to say about this state of affairs and offered no indication that the U.S. should change its current position.

Mayor Pete may be the future of the Democratic party and American liberalism in general. If that is the case, the future may look a lot like the present in some key aspects. Buttigieg may lead the American empire to a less aggressive phase in its reign, but global hegemony will remain unchallenged and millions will still suffer because of it.

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