Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson's Radical Foreign Policy Moment: Accused of "Moral Equivalence" Over Condemning U.S. Bombing of Civilians

The New York Times may think this will wound Johnson, but a similar moment of "unpopular" truthtelling regarding American foreign policy was the making of Ron Paul in 2007.

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One of the things that fans of Ron Paul, the former congressman and antiwar GOP presidential candidate in 2008 and 2012, tended to admire about him was a bracing willingness to actually point out that the U.S. was not always a good actor in the world when it came to their foreign policy interventions. This is not something considered polite or sayable in most respectable thought, so seems especially refreshing, or shocking to some, when it is said, or even suggested.

Gage Skidmore

The New York Times seems thrilled tonight to have "caught" Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson doing the same sort of thing, actually seriously questioning the moral propriety of our foreign policy interventions and their often fatal effects.

This sort of thing had not previously been front and center in Johnson's foreign policy pronouncements.

The headline: "Gary Johnson Equates Syria Deaths Caused by Assad and West."

The fuller context, in which reporters Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns insist that Johnson:

drew a parallel on Wednesday between the Syrian government's targeting of noncombatants in that nation's civil war and the accidental bombing of civilians by United States-backed forces.

Attacking Hillary Clinton over what he criticized as her overly interventionist instincts, Mr. Johnson pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition, and said Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, bore at least partial responsibility.

But when pressed four times on whether he saw a moral equivalence between deaths caused by the United States, directly or indirectly, and mass killings of civilians by Mr. Assad and his allies, Mr. Johnson made clear that he did.

"Well no, of course not — we're so much better than all that," Mr. Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, said sarcastically. "We're so much better when in Afghanistan, we bomb the hospital and 60 people are killed in the hospital."

Given the admitted badgering and that the actual quote out of his mouth the Times presents in fact is discussing the larger question of whether U.S. actions anywhere rise to the level of condemnable murder of civilians, by bringing in Afghanistan, and not just about Syria, that headline could just be one more in the media's very lively practice lately of misrepresenting the meaning of what public figures say in order to gin up controversy.

Someone not blinded by a sense that American amour propre requires never saying we are to blame for anything we do when it comes to our foreign policy missions, or what atrocities or even highly fatal "accidents" are caused by those we arm and fund, might find it not that shocking that someone might think civilian deaths caused by decisions made by the U.S. government, or even, as their only direct quote makes clear, actually committed by U.S. forces, might be blameworthy.

One may decide in their total moral calculus that particular means, or particular motives, or particular end goals, make one set of people blown to bits a moral monstrosity (by them) and the other just something sort of regrettable (by us and ours).

But it shouldn't be considered idiotic or disqualifying for serious policy discussion to actually have enough of a sense of responsibility, especially for someone vying to lead the U.S. military machine, to actually worry, and worry a lot, about innocents killed in our foreign policy adventures.

Johnson went further, as the Times quotes:

"Because Hillary Clinton can dot the i's and cross the t's on geographic leaders, of the names of foreign leaders," he said, "the underlying fact that hundreds of thousands of people have died in Syria goes by the wayside." He charged that Mrs. Clinton "bears responsibility for what's happened, shared responsibility for what's happened in Syria. I would not have put us in that situation from the get-go."

More than 400,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war, according to the United Nations.

But Mr. Johnson complained that presidential candidates were expected to talk tough about dealing with dictators like Mr. Assad or risk losing support.

"This is what happens in this country right now — unless you're willing to say that you're going to get tough on this stuff, on these atrocities — and these atrocities are horrible — but unless you as a politician are willing to do something about these atrocities then we're not going to elect you," Mr. Johnson said.

It may be the will of the American people that any politician has to say what Johnson fears they must. Or it may just be that people like New York Times reporters want to behave as if all politicians must say that.

At the same time it could be that the American people may find it worth hearing from someone willing to frankly discuss and frankly be bothered that U.S. decision making overseas causes innocent deaths. Maybe the electorate is less certain that American destructive and yes often murderous power needs to be expressed as much as the D.C./New York consensus would have it. Maybe that headline, designed to harm Johnson, might not.

Ron Paul's foes all thought that he'd disappear from the political scene for daring to mention that U.S. actions, not always admirable, may play some role in attacks against the U.S. in an exchange with Rudy Giuliani at a GOP candidate debate in May 2007.

In fact, as I detailed in my book Ron Paul's Revolution, that moment was more or less the making of Ron Paul mania for the rest of the campaign, and he ended up trouncing Rudy Giuliani in the primaries, coming in with nearly twice as many popular votes and running actively for months longer.

NEXT: In Afghanistan, a 15-Year Failure

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  1. The New York Times may think this will wound Johnson, but a similar moment of “unpopular” truthtelling regarding American foreign policy was the making of Ron Paul in 2007.

    GayJay is no Ron Paul.

    1. And the GOP’s answer to shutting up the Paul campaign are what delivered us Trump. Nothing to brag about.

      1. And GayJsy’s appeal is exactly that he is so Cosmo. [this is not to be construed as me being anti-Paul]

    2. …but apparently Jill Stein is.

    3. The NYT looooved Ron Paul when he was standing up to GWB on the Iraq War circa 2003. I remember even my leftist dad was so impressed, he mailed me the article.

  2. Ron Swanson is “incredibly excited” for the possibility of America’s first female president, but believes Americans distrust Clinton because they “are very reluctant to see the patriarchy topple… But I also think that if she were not a woman, we would not be in this boat. I think the election would be over already.”

    Welp. Illusion ruined.

    1. Remember – actors *act*.

      1. Actors gonna act act act act act….

    2. Yeah but he isn’t adorable enough to counteract this level of stupid. Who would have guessed that in real life he is Leslie Knope’s retarded older brother.

  3. “The New York Times seems thrilled tonight to have “caught” Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson doing the same sort of thing, actually seriously questioning the moral propriety of our foreign policy interventions and their often fatal effects.”

    You cannot convince some people that libertarians aren’t right wing militia war-hawks.

    That was always part of Ron Paul’s problem–getting stuck in the middle. The necon warmongers hated him for supposedly being a pacifist, and the pacifists hated him for being a warmongering, newsletter writing, militia man.

    I remember back when the rEVOLution was happening, we used to get trolls in here from both camps, one smearing Ron Paul for being a neocon warmonger and another smearing him for being a terrorist sympathizer–both in the same thread!

    If Johnson is getting the same abuse from the liberals at the NYT, then he’s in good company.

    They will never admit libertarians are anything but militia member Klansmen.

    They wouldn’t be paying attention to Johnson at all if he weren’t sucking away so much support from Hillary.

    If the NYT is going after him, then he must be doing something right. . . . no matter what SIV says.

    1. Well, to be honest, a large contingent of so-called libertarians is not helping. I mean Walter Block is defending NYC’s stop-and-frisk policy, for God’s sake. As if forming a Libertarians for Trump group wasn’t enough to discredit his libertarian credentials. Then you have idiots like Molyneux, Cantwell, and Hoppe spewing racialist crap all over the blogosphere and youtube, and you wonder why libertarians get that reputation?

      1. …and you wonder why libertarians get that reputation?

        And a scroll through a typical Reason comment thread does nothing to counter that reputation. I often I link to reason, always with a caution to not bother with the comments.

        Irrespective of any particular issue or set of issues, Reason commenters constitute a ceiling on libertarianism.

        1. “Irrespective of any particular issue or set of issues, Reason commenters constitute a ceiling on libertarianism.”

          Saying that you don’t like people regardless of where they stand on the issues doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in you objectivity.

          Reason commenters are all over the board on a host of issues. That’s one of the great things about being a libertarian–once we agree that everyone should be free to make choices for themselves, we don’t have to agree on much else.

          Make the case for whatever–in terms of individual choice or the government’s legitimate responsibility–and you’re likely to find some libertarians around here who agree with you. You’ll still be wrong if you disagree with me, but that goes without saying.

        2. Reason commenters constitute a ceiling on libertarianism.

          Surely people who are attracted to a wide-tent, individualist philosophy …. will seek complete homogeneity of opinion.

        3. I often I link to reason, always with a caution to not bother with the comments.

          The comments are the real gold tho. Sure there’s some derp (mostly Team Red flavor) but it’s mixed into a pile of comedy gold.

          1. what happened to Epi? At least Sugar, old Mex, mulatto, those brilliant Urkobold guys sometimes post. Fuck I love you guys. You edgitated me in this shit. About caring. Stead of giving up.

            1. You too prolib

              1. Warty. Whey is you?

          2. Agreed. I normally save a lot of my articles to Pocket to go through later. Once I read them, I delete them. Except Reason articles. Gotta take the time to go through the comments. Libertarian commenters never let me down.

      2. Every group tends to get painted by the worst of said group.

        Mexicans are lazy. Blacks are criminals. Muslims are terrorists. Whites are colonialists. Leftists are communists with a fascist streak. People on the right are bigots. Libertarians hate roads.

        1. It’s a little different with libertarians.

          Ultimately, the right doesn’t hate us because we agree with the left on any particular war or any particular issue–the right hates libertarians because we expose them as phonies on taxes, spending, free trade, etc.

          And, ultimately, the left doesn’t hate libertarians for agreeing with the right on taxes, spending, and free trade, etc. The left hates libertarians for exposing the left as phonies on everything from war opposition to free speech, the drug war, the NSA, etc.

          They attack us for being like their opposition in some way, but they hate us for exposing them as frauds on their own core issues. Like I said, if Johnson weren’t pulling so much support away from Hillary, the NYT would ignore Johnson completely.

          1. Yeah, but those damn roads, man. Fucking double yellow lines are the authoritarian mark of the beast. I will drive my unregistered vehicle without a driver’s license wherever the hell I choose. Damn you all to hell for forcing me into a specific side of the asphalt against my free will.

            AND SEATBELTS!…

            Fucking road Nazis.

            1. The only people who say stuff like that are trolls who don’t really know anything about us. They wander in from Salon or somewhere imagining we’re the anti-road boogeymen they’ve heard about.

              And then they get their asses handed to them.

              1. I’ve never met a single person who is actually against the government building roads.

                Seatbelt laws are bullshit though. If I want to die in a car crash, that’s my problem.

                1. I’ve never met a single person who is actually against the government building roads.

                  Well, there’s me. I’m against the government building roads. I’m even against the government *planning* roads other than the ones the government specifically needs – such as on state preserves (military bases, etc).

                  The state has shown it *can* build roads, but the state has not shown that it can build the roads better than the private sector nor more efficiently. And its certainly shown that there’s a huge difference between where the state thinks a road should be and where the private sector would put one.

                  1. The non-state builds better roads. It’s been proven the world over.

                  2. EcoProggies hate roads now too-probably even more than hard core libertarians do. They blame the interstate highway act now for suburban sprawl, global warming (of course), and the obesity epidemic. Perhaps if everyone had just said no to big gov’t building big roads 60 years ago, we would have our green Garden of Eden.

                2. I’ve never met a single person who is actually against the government building roads.

                  *Raises Hand* What Agammamon said.

                3. Building roads “should” be a private function but as far as important libertarian concerns its about the 17,000 most important item on my list. I am perfectly willing to let them build and maintain their pothole filled roads, pay 50 guys to stand around watching 1 guy work, and leave lanes closed with idle equipment sitting in the same spot untouched for weeks on end. People seem to like that for some reason so why make it a major point of contention when there is so much other low hanging libertarian fruit?

                  1. Regardless of whether the government builds the roads,it’s the private sector taxpayers who finance their construction. That undermines the idea that the roads wouldn’t exist if not for the government. The true source of government funds is profitable activity in the private sector–even when that money is raised by way of bonds, the money to pay interest and principal comes from profitable activity in the private sector. The government does not actually pay for the roads.

                    As a developer, I can tell you that a many surface streets aren’t even built by the government anyway. If you live in a single family housing development somewhere, the streets in your neighborhood were built by the developer that originally built those homes.

                    The cost of building those streets (along with the cost of storm drains, sidewalks, etc.) were covered by the price of the homes when they were originally sold. The cost of periodic resurfacing is generally covered by special assessments and property taxes. No reason why home associations couldn’t cover the costs of that road maintenance with home association fees instead of property taxes–just like they already do to cover the costs of maintaining other common areas.

                    The developer could just requires you to pay home association fees as part of your original purchase contract, and the general requirements in regards to association fees could be attached to the title–just like they are now with so many other things.

                    1. Regardless, the idea that we wouldn’t have roads without government isn’t usually the way I hear it. The first suggestion usually has it that libertarians shouldn’t complain about taxes–because they use the roads–which is like saying that we shouldn’t complain about the police brutally beating the shit out of us if we’re the ones who called the police. Even if using taxpayer money to build and maintain roads were appropriate, that wouldn’t justify all the other inappropriate things the government does with our tax money.

                      Meanwhile just because we use the roads we paid for with our taxes doesn’t we’re being hypocrites. That’s the most common and most bizarre version of all, the suggestion that libertarian taxpayers don’t have any legitimate right to use the roads because they’re the ones who paid for them. It’s just like libertarians accepting social security checks. Just because I opposed you stealing money out of my paychecks my whole working life doesn’t mean I’m ethically compelled to refuse what little money you send me back once I turn 65, and IF IF IF I oppose using the government to pay for roads and the government taxes me to pay for them anyway, that doesn’t mean I don’t have any right to use them.

                    2. The main reason it is necessary for governments to build the roads is not funding or construction ability, both things the private sector could handle well, but the issue of eminent domain. Without eminent domain we basically could not have a highway system, and we’d have to wave goodbye to ever expanding our roads beyond the original ones mentioned previously in this thread that the original land developer constructs. Sure, the private sector could build large roads out in the middle of nowhere where there are few property owners to negotiate with, the land has less value, and there is more room to redesign the highway to get around stubborn holdouts, but building highways or expanding large roads in a city would be nigh impossible, as a single holdout could bring the entire project to an end, and even if everyone could be induced to sell with the right price the cost overruns would be so great as to make the government look efficient.

          2. The right hates you. Get used to it.

          3. “if Johnson weren’t pulling so much support away from Hillary, the NYT would ignore Johnson completely.”

            Unless he was pulling YUUUUUGEly from Trump, in which case they’d line up to admire the Johnson.

        2. Mexicans are lazy. Blacks are criminals. Muslims are terrorists. Whites are colonialists. Leftists are communists with a fascist streak. People on the right are bigots. Libertarians hate roads.

          This is totally, absolutely wrong.

          Mexicans are short.

          1. Mexicans have amazing palates for delicious food.

          2. Mexicans work their asses off.

            1. More people should notice that when the recession hit, Mexican immigration decreased. If they came here for welfare then you would expect an increase in bad times. They returned to Mexico because there were no jobs. They come to work, unlike journalists who, by not reporting this, show that they really are the lazy parasites.

      3. Block also says you dont have a right to privacy. A lot of our perception problems come from that Rockwell crowd, on any given day you can find some stuff that is at least veiled racism. Even though I was opposed to Johnsons campaign I am glad he’s taking us away from those people. Rothbard must have been a bit senile when he came up with the “paleolibertarian” strategy it’s been a curse on libertarianism. The thing is the Rockwell types are great on foreign policy issues, I just wish we could combine that with the more cosmopolitan Reason libertarianism.

  4. the media’s very lively practice lately of misrepresenting the meaning of what public figures say in order to gin up controversy.

    For the pathetic Gulf Coast League version of media misrepresentation see almost anyReason-writer on Donald J. Trump.

  5. GayJay is stealthfully running to derail the Hitlery Kkklinton campaign in the hope President Trump names him “Secretary of Weed”.

  6. There was a hinfection, but I think the antibiotics took care of it.

    1. but I think the antibioticsalcohol took care of it

      But I repeat Playa

  7. I hate generalizing things other than progressives are evil and stop and frisk fans are fascist, but if I do it’s to comment on how libertarians hate the roads.

    Libertarians: Backing Jill Stein since roads!

    1. Rhodes scholars. That’s why.

  8. I really do want to buy a Somali Road Atlas and display it proudly among my books.

  9. …and he succeeded in? Maybe getting Rand elected as a Senator. Not small potatoes, but…

  10. Hey, has anyone else noticed that the NYT, and most left/liberal/progressives, really, really hate war and military action when the president is a Republican but aren’t so concerned when a Democrat is in office? Obama ended all our nasty wars and military actions about 8 years ago, right?

    1. The world has been at peace, that is why Obama got a preemptive Peace Prize

    2. Yup, that’s why they’re all lining up for Hillary Clinton’s Great WAAAGH!!

  11. Johnson does not seem to understand that US bombs are totally different from Syrian bombs

    US bombs are made by the greatest patriots in the world, the US military industrial complex under a cost plus contract

    Syrian bombs are home made barrel bombs, made by by people who have not advertised in the NYT or given any contributions to US politicans

  12. I’m drawing a moral equivalence between the collateral damage of war and Doherty’s run on sentences.

  13. I agree with Johnson here, and I’m glad he’s willing to say it.

  14. Did Gary Johnson just get dumped?

    http://www.bostonglobe.com/met…..l#comments

    The socialist war mongers in panic mode, spread more propaganda for the war monger Clinton.

  15. I’ve had my doubts about Johnson here and there, but then the progs point out this, as well as the fact that in New Mexico he didn’t believing that “governing” = approving all spending, and suddenly he sounds better than ever. Thanks liberal media, you’re helping to convince this millenial where his vote should go. Keep it up

  16. All of the media has become Rush Limbaugh, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart. Find a clip that you can make fit your narrative and surround it with your own argument. That is all.

    Bonus points if you are a lefty and instead of using ironic humor like Limbaugh you use self-important snark as a replacement for humor.

    1. I was googling GJ news every day for a while, but it got to be too much with them reporting nothing but the latest booger hanging out of his nose. I have stopped following MSM for a while and am now thinking of a total blackout for myself (except for Reason of course).

  17. That $50 million Hillary is spending to attack Johnson is smart power at its best.

    1. Are you being sarcastic, Butler?

  18. This reminds me of when a Nobel Peace Prize recipient ordered the bombing of another Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

    Obama vs Red Cross

    1. MSF, not Red Cross. But still, the point stands.

  19. Well, at least his foreign policy message is finally getting out there. Apparently his campaign strategy should have been to piss off the Democrats and steal some of the free media attention from Trump.

    1. Perhaps if he had gone after campus hate speech codes and said he would withhold fed student loans and research grants from universities that do not respect the First Amendment, he could have poached some of the millennial Trump voters.

  20. I’m glad Gary has been talking pretty good on foreign policy. Civilian deaths are civilian deaths and that’s that.

  21. I live in a new england college town, and I think fully 100% of our population was going on about bush being the biggest terrorist of them all! Between 2000
    And 2009. I wonder what changed…

    1. When democrats bomb, it is for the common good…

  22. “Gary Johnson vetoed / will veto spending programs that help minorities” will be enough to keep most lefties out of Johnson’s camp.

    The modern democrat party is all about racial tribalism, identity politics and socialist spending politics. Individual liberty, peace, and justice are incidental to the race, gender and class structure involved. So you’ll see liberals who insist Kapernick has a sacrosanct 1A right to boycott the flag, but gnash their teeth if a movie is “too white” or some white college kids prance around in a sombrero.

    Smashing the two party system accomplishes nothing. Even if there were 4,5 viable parties in America (like in Europe), the far left coalition would have 60-70% control of the government. The rest would be divvied up between right wingers and the center right conservatives.

    The nation will not turn libertarian if the rising demographic is clamoring for an Utopia where “everyone gets fair treatment and equal representation in everything and the government must pay for my rights”. People increasingly want to do what they want to do, but as long as the people are fine with the government subsidizing their choices and lifestyle, it will go broke.

  23. Johnson has said his only purpose in running is to stop Trump, the paper and he are working together which you ought to know had you cared to be informed rather than studiously ignorant.

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