Pete Buttigieg became the latest Democratic 2020 hopeful to call for the repeal of the war authorization passed by Congress in the wake of Sept. 11 and used by two subsequent administrations to prosecute the sprawling war on terror.
In his first major foreign policy speech, at Indiana University on Tuesday morning, Buttigieg delivered a stinging rebuke of lawmakers, accusing “a Congress asleep at the wheel” of “[abdicating] its responsibility on issues of war and peace.”
“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. “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 mayor of South Bend, Indiana, thus joined several other Democratic hopefuls calling for a new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, to replace the 2001 legislation, although no candidate has yet put forth a detailed proposal. Still, all seven of the current sitting members of the Senate vying for the Democratic nomination voted in favor of a failed 2017 effort by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to repeal the 2001 AUMF.
Buttigieg’s wide-ranging foreign policy speech — which he said was not “a full Buttigieg Doctrine” — drew attention for its advocacy of Congress’s warmaking powers over the executive’s. He also echoed the other early front-runners, Sens. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who have framed economic security at home as a national security issue. “Our legitimacy abroad relates to our democracy at home,” he said. So let’s improve and revitalize our democracy with ambitious, structural reforms.”
And while he hammered President Trump for conducting foreign policy by tweet, Buttigieg also criticized Democrats and sought to separate himself from the dense field on that issue.
“For the better part of my lifetime, it has been difficult to identify a consistent foreign policy in the Democratic Party either,” he said.
Congress has tried and failed multiple times since Sept. 11 to update the AUMF, which authorizes military action against al Qaeda and its “associated forces.” Both the Obama and Trump administrations have argued that ISIS qualifies as an “associated force,” despite the fact that the group formally splintered off in 2014 and the courts have yet to weigh in on the distinction.
“That law was barely two pages long, yet it has been used for two decades to wage wars and launch military strikes from the mountains of the Hindu-Kush to the African Sahel,” Buttigieg said.
Past presidential candidates have run on a platform of empowering Congress only to have flexed the executive’s institutional muscles after taking office. “The biggest problems that we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all,” then-candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. “And that’s what I intend to reverse when I’m president of the United States of America.” Yet in 2014, the Obama White House announced its theory that it did not need Congress’s approval to fight the Islamic State in Syria — even though the group was only formerly aligned with al Qaeda — in part because of “the administration’s perception that Congress was unable to function as a competent governing partner,” according to Charlie Savage’s 2017 account, Power Wars.
The issue of America’s “forever wars” also brings Democratic candidates in line with one of President Trump’s core appeals to voters in 2016: to disengage U.S. troops from military entanglements overseas, like the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, Buttigieg called for “a high bar on the use of force, and an exceedingly high bar on doing so unilaterally,” but maintained that there are appropriate uses of force to advance American values overseas.
“The lesson of the Iraq disaster is not that there is anything wrong with standing for American values, but rather that action in the name of such values must be strategic, legitimate, and constrained by the premise that we use force only when left with no alternative,” he said.
The 37-year-old has become one of the first high-profile candidates to put foreign affairs and national security at the forefront of his bid. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Seth Moulton, D-Mass., have both centered their campaigns around the issue, but neither are polling anywhere close to Buttigieg. A Navy intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan, Buttigieg’s insurgent campaign has skyrocketed him to 14 percent in an early Iowa poll — a statistical tie with Warren.