Buttigieg: Would put my mayoral, military experience up 'against ... any competitor'

On the campaign trail in New Hampshire, ABC News' Martha Raddatz sat down with 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg for an interview for "This Week."
11:56 | 05/26/19

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Transcript for Buttigieg: Would put my mayoral, military experience up 'against ... any competitor'
elections, and in exactly one month, Democrats will assemble for their first debate, making the case for why they should lead their party, an attempt to break the stalemate in Washington. On Friday we traveled to new Hampshire to talk to one of the most surprising contenders vying for the democratic nomination. Mayor Pete buttigieg has been outpacing more established candidates in the polls and has raised enough money to appear on the debate stage. He's appeared on the cover of some of the biggest magazines in the country and he's taking on president trump directly. I began by asking him what he makes of the dysfunction in Washington. It's a continuing horror show right now in Washington and you have a president who has turned the entire thing into a reality show. We've got to completely change the channel and make sure that we respond to all of the distractions and the nonsense coming out of the white house, not just by calling him to account but by returning consistently to the question of how American lives are shaped by those decisions. You talk about changing the channel. How do you do that with president trump? It works for him. It does but part of how it works for him is he provokes us in ways that make it very hard for us to do anything but respond in kind. The nicknames, the tweets, the insults, and what we've got to remember is the more we're talking about him, the less we're talking about voters. When the conversation is about voters, we're going to win. Voters want a raise, they want health care. On almost all of the issues, the American people are with us. It is precisely for that reason that the only way the Republican party can retain power in the white house is if the conversation is about something completely different like the shenanigans of the cur president. You said this week that while the president deserves to be impeached, you leave the decision about launching those proceedings up to the house, but house Democrats aren't unanimous on this issue so who should make that decision? The leadership of Nancy Pelosi or the more vocal wing of the party? What's interesting is the case for impeachment is being made most emphatically by the president himself. It seems like every day or two there is another affront to the rule of law. I'm just trying to be respectful of the fact that the best thing I can do to get us a new president is to win the nomination and defeat the president who's there. I think Democrats are underestimating, despite his unpopularity, we're underestimating the chance that he could win. I want to move to foreign policy. The Pentagon is sending 1,500 more military personnel over to the Middle East deter Iran. Is that a good idea, something you would approve? This is not a good sign. Escalation is the last thing we need in the Middle East right now. When you see what's been happening, it appears that the administration driven by the way by John Bolton, one of the architects of the Iraq war, is continuing to try to prosecute a case to lead to higher tensions, escalation and perhaps conflict with Iran as though we learned nothing from the last 15 years of conflict in the Middle East. This is also based on intelligence and the military, central command -- and you know central command very well. They asked for these are troops for force protection based on intelligence about missiles in some Iranian boats. This is not John Bolton asking for this, this is the military. Look, there is clearly a pattern of misbehavior and provocation by the Iranians that goes back in different ways across my entire lifetime. Let me stick to this because it's based on intelligence. Do you believe the intelligence? Well, I can't weigh in on intelligence that I haven't seen. What I do see is -- But you've heard people in the military, commanders in the military today saying this was the intelligence they found. I think our national security policy has to be to avoid escalation in the persian gulf. How do you do that if you're under threat? So if they think their forces need to be protected more and you don't send more -- I think that we have the means to protect our assets in the Middle East and the way this is being talked about makes me wonder whether this is driven as much by domestic politics as it is by national security. Another fight still going on, Afghanistan. You served in Afghanistan. We're approaching the 20-year mark. You've talked about your generation ending the endless wars. Would you end that war if you were president? Would you pull our troops out? When I left Afghanistan five years ago, I thought I was one of the very last troops turning out the lights as I went. We need to leave and the reality is we are leaving. This is pretty much the only thing that the American left and right and the Afghan government and the Taliban and the international community all agree on is that it's time for us to go. Do you have a plan for how we can get out? What we've got to do is isolate the threats that are specifically related to the homeland, establish whatever intelligence and special operations capability is needed to head off those threats and remove any ground presence that goes beyond that. And I think that pattern -- That sounds like Joe Biden's plan from many years ago. Many years ago would have been the time to make good on the idea of leaving. But that's the kind of plan you would want to do, counter-terrorism in other words? Yeah but not just a blanket counter-terrorism mission. Look, I was part of the counter-terrorism mission. Our responsibility is not to establish peace, security, democracy and prosperity in Afghanistan. Our responsibility is to make sure that Americans cannot be attacked and anything that is not directly related to that is not a good enough justification for us to have troops on the ground in what is amounting to a forever war. Bernie Sanders said north Korea is one of the areas where he doesn't fault the president for meeting personally with Kim Jong-un. Do you -- was that the way to go? I know you've talked about more diplomacy but there hasn't been any significant progress since he met with him. When the president met with Kim, he was essentially handing North Korea something they needed which was legitimacy. The way diplomacy works, the way deals work, is you give someone something in return for something. It hasn't worked. It hasn't worked at all. And president trump was handed a pretty tough hand with nuclear weapons, with icbms, operational. North Korea is a thorny issue and I will say one good thing has come out of the changes that have happened in the regional security picture in the last couple of years and it's this. We used to believe that we had to completely resolve the nuclear issue in order for there to be any beginning when it comes to peace in the Korean peninsula. I think now the thinking has shifted a little bit to where it may be possible to pursue peace and denuclearization in a way that each might help the other. But there's an urgency now. There's always been an urgency when you have a hostile power. There's not been an urgency quite like this one because he has an icbm that he's trying to put a nuclear warhead on that can reach the united States. One thing you learn in government executive roles is that there are problems you believe you can solve right away and there are problems that you have to manage while you are pursuing a solution. Obviously we're nowhere near a solution on this issue under this president. I don't think it will be easy for the next president, but I do think that there are strategies like what I'm describing that could yield more results than what we've had today. You talk about your experience which leads us to the question you're asked all the time. You're just 37 years old and the highest office you've held is mayor of your hometown. Even if you have that executive experience which you do, you've never dealt with a Washington like we've seen today or foreign problems. How do you convince people you can actually do this at your age? I feel like I wouldn't be getting these same questions if I were a member of congress which is interesting because you can be a very senior member of congress and have never in your life managed more than 100 people. When you are responsible for everything from economic development to public safety and emergency management, when your day oscillates between managing a development deal and figuring out how to hold your community together during, for example, a racially sensitive officer-involved shooting, when you literally get the 3:00 A.M. Call to deal with a manmade or natural disaster, you have as good a preparation as an elected official can get for an office that frankly is in so many ways daunting for anybody who walks into it. I would put my experience up, aided I think by my military experience, against that of any competitor. It is memorial day weekend. The president and first lady on Thursday went to Arlington cemetery at about the same time you were saying that the president faked his disability to get out of serving in Vietnam. Pretty positive about that? Yes. There is no question, I think, to any reasonable observer that the president found a way to falsify a disabled status, taking advantage of his privileged status in order to avoid serving. You have somebody who thinks it's all right to let somebody go in his place into a deadly war and is willing to pretend to be disabled in order to do it. That is an assault on the honor of this country. I want to go to comments about -- that the president made about service members who have either been accused of war crimes or convicted of war crimes he said we teach them to fight and they get treated unfairly and he is going to look at those cases to see if perhaps they can be punished. The idea that being sent to war turns you into a murderer is exactly the kind of thing that those of us who have served have been trying to beat back for more than a generation. For a president, especially a president who never served, to say he's going to come in and overrule that system of military justice undermines the very foundations, legal and moral, of this country. Frankly, his idea that being sent to fight makes you automatically into some kind of war criminal is a slander against veterans that could only come from somebody who never served. We found this interview you did when you were only 18 years old in your local paper when you talked in detail about wanting to go into national politics. I think I could pull it off. It's a tremendous challenge, a kind of sexy challenge but I want give it a try. Seems like you knew you were going to do this your whole life. I was always interested in public service. What I would not have guessed at the age of 18 was how much I would find purpose and meaning in local work. For a while I thought I was going to be a journalist and for a while thought I was going to be a scholar. I always felt drawn in some way to public service. A sexy challenge. Has it been a sexy challenge? In a way, if you're a curious person, there's nothing like it. That challenge is about an engaging thing I could think to do with my life. While this may not be a career for me, it's certainly something that has been extremely exciting for as long as I've been involved in it and most importantly I think I can make myself useful. It's not like I thought that at the age of 37 as a mayor I would be seeking the American presidency. But what I found is that moments will sometimes find you a little bit. What I see now, there's a new generation of leaders stepping up from France to New Zealand. You see people who are the same age or younger than I would be on inauguration day. To me that's the kind of trend America should be leading, not catching up to. Thanks very much, mayor. Thanks for having me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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