I don’t have a ton of time for Mayor Pete. He is, by all appearances, the All Pro apple polisher, the woke wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing, the bankrupt status quo in the most superficially appealing package imaginable: credentialed veteran homosexual Christian small town problem solver. Pete Buttigieg is the kind of politician who makes a certain breed of Acela Corridor HENRY literally squeal over her brunch. It’s hard to think of many things worse than that.
The mayor is raising Smaugean piles of money from tech and Wall Street but for now he appears to be more of a lithe Phil Gramm than a white Obama. He will probably never win a statewide race in deep red Indiana and sewer system ombudsman doesn’t offer a competitive salary. But there are many bolt holes available for a savvy neoliberal with great degrees: Cabinet office, non-profit sinecure, another book deal, private equity perhaps. We will doubtless be hearing from Mayor Pete for many years to come.
All of that being said, let’s give credit where credit is due. Amid the elementary school raised hands and the enjoyable Delaney defenestration, the Man from McKinsey threw a good idea out there in last Tuesday’s debate. After vowing to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan in the first year of a Buttigieg administration, he pledged to repeal and replace the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that hoary, tortured abdication of power now nearly old enough to vote.
The 2001 AUMF authorizes ‘force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons…’ Yet under its authorization US troops have died fighting jihadists in Niger and ISIS in Syria – organizations that did not even exist in 2001. A week ago, a State Department lawyer told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the administration was not using the 2001 AUMF to justify hostilities with Iran ‘as yet.’ The 2002 Iraq AUMF, long obsolete, also remains in force.
Buttigieg added another good wrinkle to his AUMF pledge: a promise that any future AUMF would have a three-year sunset clause, requiring reauthorization by Congress after that time. It shouldn’t have to come to that. For the past decade Congress has simply refused to exercise its constitutional duty of declaring and funding war. Democrats and Republicans alike have trotted out the tired old AUMF to justify whatever pet project they have for American troops – when they’re even aware of where those troops are. Attempts to repeal and replace the 2001 AUMF have repeatedly been defeated in Congress. The House finally voted to repeal the AUMF in June but the Senate is unlikely to concur.
The Founding Fathers would be utterly bemused by the idea of a legislature that was not only supine in the face of executive overreach but outright derelict in one of its most fundamental duties. They primarily feared legislative, not executive, tyranny.
But here we are: governed by a horde of second-rate lawyers, their eyes fixed on post-public service profiteering and the deferred payoff, only a handful willing to take a stand on anything of substance. The executive has little need to check legislative power, the legislature is quite happy to abdicate its responsibilities on its own. America is at a point where it takes executive force-feeding to get Congress to do the bare basics of its job. Sunset it is.
Two more US soldiers died in Afghanistan last week, both apparently killed in another ‘green-on-blue’ insider attack by their supposed Afghan partners. America doesn’t do long wars well. Pete Buttigieg may not have many answers but at least he just might grasp the futility of nation-building in the back of beyond.