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Buttigieg’s Foreign Policy Vacuity

Pete Buttigieg on 'Meet The Press' yesterday (NBC News YouTube)

Gil Barndollar notes that Pete Buttigieg avoids foreign policy substance all the time:

When the New York Times asked Democratic candidates about regime change wars and U.S. support for coups, “Mr. Buttigieg did not answer this question.” Ditto for all of the Times’ questions about Afghanistan, the war upon which Buttigieg’s claims to foreign policy expertise hinge. Buttigieg remains essentially a cipher on foreign policy, sensible words about the AUMF aside. He sounds the right progressive notes but refuses to be pinned down on much of substance. It is hard to imagine him diverging much from the bipartisan foreign policy consensus that has wreaked so much havoc, in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Buttigieg’s aversion to substance is not limited to foreign policy, and his rhetoric frequently tends towards the platitudinous. He proudly tweeted out a recent statement he made at a town hall in New Hampshire, “The shape of our democracy is the issue that affects every other issue.” The real talent that Buttigieg has is that he says nonsensical things like that with a straight face. He can repeat the phrase “end endless war,” but he never wants to say when or how exactly he is going to end any wars. In that respect, he may be the Democratic candidate most like Trump.

When he is pressed to give specifics on foreign policy, his answers range from vague to terrible, and when he does get pinned down he ends up sounding more and more hawkish. He delivered one underwhelming speech on the subject last year, and we still know little more about his foreign policy views today than we did then. His campaign website section on foreign policy includes nothing except a copy of that same speech.

It is probably because they assume that he poses no threat to conventional foreign policy that he has hundreds of foreign policy professionals rushing to endorse him when he has no qualifications. Buttigieg’s lack of foreign policy substance and experience make him the perfect vessel that his advisers can fill with their own ideas. The former mayor rails against “old failed Washington,” but his entire career has been aimed at becoming part of it, and to that end he fails to attack our government’s many foreign policy failures.

Buttigieg’s weakness on foreign policy reflects the larger problem with his candidacy. There doesn’t seem to be any particular reason why he is running for president except his own overweening ambition, and there isn’t any compelling reason why voters should prefer him to any of the other alternatives. He probably ducks so many questions on foreign policy because he doesn’t know what he wants to do or because he fears that he will drive away most Democratic voters if he tells them what he intends.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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