Pete Buttigieg: Acting in America’s Interests Not Always Right

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg addresses supporters at a campaign event Thursday, May 9, 2019, in West Hollywood, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Mayor Pete Buttigieg believes that choosing America first is not always “the right thing to do.”

Buried in a glowing Newsweek profile of his military service, Buttigieg chose Graham Greene’s The Quiet American to dissect American foreign policy.

To me, it’s about how Americans can persuade ourselves to do all kinds of things, based on the idea that our interests by definition are good, and morally good. And it just doesn’t work that way. Even for an exceptional country like us, it is not true as a matter of course that anything that appears to make America better off is the right thing to do.

The main character in The Quiet American is a CIA agent who tries to overthrow the ruling regime in Vietnam using guerrilla tactics.

Buttigieg pointed to ongoing alliances with Saudi Arabia as an example, expressing concern that it was a “corrupt theocracy that murders dissidents.” He also cited China’s oppression of the Muslim Uighurs.

“Look, we’re going to have a lot more moral authority when we’re calling for human rights if we’re doing it in a consistent way,” he said. “We can be selective about how hard we push it and when, but we should never be at cross-purposes with our own values.”

Buttigieg also explained that deploying to Afghanistan for six months helped him feel more connected to the world.

“I don’t think you ever come back the same,” Buttigieg said. “I think it made me feel more connected to more different kinds of people, because of the range of people and styles and political values that I’ve been exposed to.”


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