Buttigieg urges caution after US strike

  • Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg answers a question during a Valley News editorial board at the newspaper's West Lebanon, N.H., office on Jan. 3, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/3/2020 10:01:26 PM
Modified: 1/3/2020 10:01:01 PM

WEST LEBANON — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Friday faulted President Donald Trump’s decision to launch an airstrike that killed a powerful Iranian military leader, saying it was “functionally, a decision to go to war.”

Buttigieg in a statement hours later said the country should act “wisely and deliberately” and added, “this must not be the start of another endless war.”

“What we’re seeing is a potentially destabilizing decision in a very unstable place,” Buttigieg said during a meeting with Valley News editors and reporters Friday morning, hours after the strike at a Baghdad airport late Thursday killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, prompting Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to vow revenge.

A Rhodes scholar, former Navy officer who served in Afghanistan and former mayor of South Bend, Ind. — his eight-year tenure just ended Wednesday with the swearing-in of a successor — Buttigieg said he worried that the decision will have “all kinds of ramifications,” including dissuading Iran from engaging in any further discussions over nuclear weapons.

Buttigieg said he’s also concerned about whether Congress and U.S. allies were consulted prior to the launch of the airstrike, adding that the decision speaks to a larger question regarding how Congress and the executive branch make military decisions.

“I think Congress has been all too happy not to be involved in a lot of these decisions,” Buttigieg said, adding that under his administration, any authorization for use of military force by Congress would include a “sunset” clause, ensuring that lawmakers would have to vote every three years on whether to continue military engagement with another country.

He also talked about the need for a president to separate foreign policy and military decisions from political objectives — he criticized Trump for failing to distinguish between the two in the past.

“He’s never been shy to mix foreign politics with U.S. politics,” Buttigieg said, noting the timing of the airstrike as Trump faces a pending impeachment trial in the Senate.

“We don’t know everything that led to this (airstrike) decision, but the president is going to continue to feel free to make decisions — even foreign policy or national security decisions — that are perhaps as much about benefiting him politically as they are about the United States of America.”

Buttigieg also described a countrywide “crisis of belonging” and spoke of a polarized political landscape.

“You can predict anything in Washington, almost anything, on party lines,” he said.

For Buttigieg, a key to winning this election — and running a successful presidency — is to bridge a gap between right- and left-leaning voters.

In the past year on the campaign trail, Buttigieg said he’s spoken with many conservatives who are “horrified” by Trump’s time as president, meaning they might be more open to a left-leaning candidate this year, especially one with his background.

“(I’m an) industrial Midwestern war veteran who can speak a little bit differently to these issues in areas where the Democratic Party is seen as having lost touch,” he said of his potential appeal to general election voters.

He added that he warns against a “shoot the middle” mentality. “The key is going to be to continue building up that healthy majority among the American people, to resist efforts to divide that.”

Buttigieg — who turns 38 later this month — said he also aims to create a “generational alliance.”

He said voters are ready for a new generation of leadership, noting that three of the four most recent presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Donald Trump — were all born in the summer of 1946.

“It’s a moment that I think can allow us to unite young people, who are ready for a change and my parents’ generation, who have a different relationship to the future but are thinking about the future.”

Buttigieg also addressed some of the biggest issues facing voters this year, such as health care, which has been one of the most hotly debated topics of the election so far.

Rather than a Medicare-for-All plan, he favors what he calls “Medicare for all who want it,” which would allow people to join a government health program, while keeping in place private and employer-sponsored insurance programs for others who want to keep that coverage.

He said his plan gives people the right to make their own decisions.

“If we’re right, and (single-payer health care) is where we’re headed, people will figure it out and move over, without being ordered to by Washington,” Buttigieg said, adding that the move should happen “organically” if it’s going to happen at all.

On other topics, Buttigieg said he favors a boost to the federal minimum wage to an eventual $15 an hour.

“The basic principle has to be that one job is enough,” he said, adding that, at the moment, there’s not a single county in the U.S. where a full-time minimum-wage worker can afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment.

When it comes to marijuana, Buttigieg said he would like to move toward legalization at the federal level, ending the “patchwork of laws” across different states as the drug reaches varying degrees of acceptance.

Buttigieg also said Friday that he would back “commonsense” gun laws.

“Most gun owners are fine with a lot of the kinds of protections that my party is proposing,” he said, adding that implementing red flag laws, background checks and restrictions on who can own assault rifles are all part of his plan.

“If more access to guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country in the world. And that’s far from the case when it comes to gun violence,” he said. A recent shooting in a Texas church, where the gunman was killed by a parishioner carrying a gun, doesn’t change his opinion on the need to take action.

“Shootouts in churches are not a problem in other developed countries,” he said.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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