Pete Buttigieg’s foreign-policy speech started with a thinly veiled jab at President Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe Biden. For “the better part of my lifetime,” Buttigieg said, “it has been difficult to identify a consistent foreign policy in the Democratic Party.”
“We need a strategy. Not just to deal with individual threats, rivalries, and opportunities, but to manage global trends,” he said. And he warned that “Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s, and we should not try.” In case anyone had missed the point, he added, “Much was already broken when this president arrived.” Buttigieg offered plenty of criticism of President Donald Trump, of course, but his message was clear: I will be different from my Democratic predecessors.
But in the hour that followed, Buttigieg sounded very Obamaesque. He even began with an introduction by Lee Hamilton, whom Obama admired and embraced in 2007. Buttigieg was thoughtful in how to deal with individual threats and challenges, including climate change and right-wing terrorism, but did not offer an overarching strategic vision. He was passionate about modernizing the American system at home to prepare for the future. He spoke of living our values at home, just as Obama and Biden do. He struck a middle ground on intervention, calling for an end to the wars of 9/11 but outlining criteria that would allow for future interventions, even unilateral, if the stakes are high enough and other options have been exhausted. He made time for technocratic fixes to the national-security bureaucracy. He praised allies in general but mentioned none by name, except those with whom he had a problem. Obamaesque indeed.