Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Gary Johnson's Refreshing Foreign Policy Skepticism

The Libertarian presidential candidate offers a cogent critique of Clintonian warmongering.

One of the few appealing aspects of Donald Trump's presidential campaign has been his criticism of Hillary Clinton's reckless interventionism. But the bellicose billionaire combines that criticism with promises of a gratuitous military buildup, a casual attitude toward the use of American weapons, and a disturbing tendency to view trade and immigration as acts of war.

To get a sense of what a more disciplined, consistent, and thoughtful critique of Clintonian warmongering sounds like, listen to Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for president. Notwithstanding the popular portrayal of Johnson as a foreign policy ignoramus based on his embarrassing "Aleppo moments," the former New Mexico governor offers a bracing alternative to Clinton's supposedly sophisticated yet consistently careless embrace of violence as a tool for reshaping the world.

Again and again as first lady, senator, and secretary of state, from Serbia to Syria, Clinton has supported military interventions that had nothing to do with national defense. Mindful of the damage done by the promiscuous use of America's armed forces, Johnson promises a different approach: When in doubt, stay out.

"As president," Johnson said in a recent speech at the University of Chicago, "I would not need to be talked out of dropping bombs and sending young men and women into harm's way. I would be the president who would have to be convinced it is absolutely necessary to protect the American people or clear U.S. interests. I will be the skeptic in the room."

Like Trump, Johnson bemoans the disastrous consequences, in squandered lives and resources as well as instability conducive to terrorism, of the Clinton-supported war in Iraq. The fact that Clinton voted for that war and took more than a decade to admit it was a mistake—a mistake from which she apparently learned nothing, given her subsequent support for regime change in Libya and Syria—demonstrates that foreign policy knowledge is not synonymous with wisdom.

Johnson's criticism of unnecessary foreign entanglements goes beyond Trump's by highlighting the folly of the never-ending war in Afghanistan. "We were attacked, and we attacked back," he says. "But seven months after we sent our troops to Afghanistan, Al Qaeda had scattered to the winds and the Taliban had been removed from power. Al Qaeda was gone, but we stayed." Fourteen years later, thousands of U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan.

While Trump thinks the U.S. should be reimbursed for the cost of defending other countries, Johnson argues that defending other countries is not the U.S. military's job. "The U.S. military exists, first and foremost, to defend the United States and U.S. vital interests," he says. "We should expect other countries to defend themselves and their interests."

Unlike Trump, Johnson does not think the U.S. government spends too little on the military. "U.S. military spending accounts for roughly one-third of total military spending of the entire world, exceeding the combined total of the next seven largest military budgets," he notes.

That bloated budget, which Johnson wants to cut, reflects and reinforces an excessively broad vision of the U.S. military's role in the world. "Our foreign policy and military actions must support clear U.S. interests," Johnson says, as opposed to "a desire to shape the world in our own image or to pick winners and losers in civil wars on the other side of the globe."

Congress encourages intervention not only by keeping so-called defense spending unjustifiably high but by abdicating its constitutional responsibility to decide when the use of military force is appropriate. "As president," Johnson says, "I will honor the War Powers Act without hiding behind dubious legal opinions from my own lawyers."

That's a reference to President Obama's laughable arguments for waging war without congressional authorization, including claims that dropping bombs in Libya did not constitute "hostilities" and that Congress approved military action against ISIS before ISIS existed. If Hillary Clinton is elected, we can expect more such devious dissembling in the service of a crusading foreign policy that knows no limits.

© Copyright 2016 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    While I admit I will be happy if Johnson reaches 5% the popular vote, and ecstatic if he beats the spread between dumb and dumber, in a sane world he should be trouncing the big party losers.

    Purist criticisms about gay cakes aside, the guy is so much better than the competition on every issue, it should be no contest.

    Maybe Bailey is wrong and estrogen disruptor chemicals actually have lowered most people's IQs. It seems something has.

  • The Elite Elite||

    Indeed. In an even halfway sane world it should be ZERO contest between Johnson and ClinTrump. Unfortunately, we don't live in a sane world. Just go over to Townhall and read the comments for Stossel's column promoting Johnson. Everyone is utterly brainwashed into the two party system. It's constant attacks against Johnson, even though he is miles closer to conservatives' supposed views than Trump. People are sheep, and don't like it when others don't choose to be sheep as well.

  • ||

    I try to remind myself that none of this is new. The revolutionary fervor/general unrest that swept the globe from the 1770s - 1850s (roughly American Revolution through Taiping Rebellion) was an aberration, a bizarre spasm that occurs from time to time. People sullenly accepting their lot in life as down-trodden cogs is the norm for most of history, and understandably so. The prime instincts of life are survival and reproduction. Survival is much more certain when you just go along to get along.

  • Tundra||

    The time period after the revolutions saw amazing growth in prosperity, though. When people's lives are improving it's not surprising they focus on going along to get along.

    But what happens if things slide the other way? When things get shitty enough, people respond. We're just nowhere near that point.

  • Nativist, Racist & Xenophobe||

    even though he is miles closer to conservatives' supposed views than Trump

    Maybe that's his problem? Just what we needed - another party to repackage the same crap we're already getting from the other two parties.

  • Inigo Montoya||

    "even though he is miles closer to conservatives' supposed views than Trump"

    In what way? To the extent that he is actually libertarian, most libertarian views don't match up very well with conservative views.

    Sure, conservatives used to talk a good game (and it is mostly just talk) about limited government, but the mostly unstated belief was that it meant limiting spending on some things and not other things. And even the talk has been strangely absent of late. Even during the primaries, I don't recall anyone other than Rand Paul even bothering to mention the ballooning debt or the need for "fiscal responsibility."

    And then there's the whole so-con thing. The very notion that I should call upon the power of government to force other people to follow my own rules of behavior/morality even when their behavior has zero impact on me or my property violates the very essence of the NAP. It also empowers government even more.

    Oh, and getting involved in foreign wars and playing world cop all the time? Both conservatives and progs LOVE that stuff -- they only complain when it's not their team's guy calling for more of it.

    Even on the tax issues, I don't see a lot of overlap. Saying, "Oh please, Mr. Top Man, lower my taxes -- but don't cut any of the shitty, overpriced services you provide that I actually use," is a far cry from saying, "taxation is theft."

  • DomX||

    I don't think it has to do with lowered IQs per se, but rather decades of conditioning the populace into thinking politics is a binary choice. Which leads most people to automatically reject any third option without giving it a fair assessment.

    It's almost as if trying to introduce a third option triggers some type of fight or flight response.

  • AlexInCT||

    Old time communists used to say that when people were given choices they always made the wrong ones, which is why choices, when given had to be binary, and often times not be practically identical.

  • Ayn Random Variation||

    I get nowhere when I bring up Johnson; if I dont get a blank look, it's either a vote for trump or a wasted vote. I'm beyond frustrated.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    The sad part about the upcoming election isn't that Hillary will likely win.
    It's not that the media has effectively hidden third parties.
    It's not even that some will vote for HRC and some for Trump simply because they aren't each other.
    The sad thing is that some will vote for HRC and some for Trump because they truly believe in what they are promising, even if those promises cannot be fulfilled.
    Ask not what your country can do for you ...
    I told a co-worker I was voting for Gary Johnson. She asked, "who's that?" so I explained a bit. She became very interested. Of course, inclusion in a SINGLE DEBATE would have informed tens of millions of voters at once.

  • Wearenotperfect||

    The Clinton/Trump trainwreck up to this point has been nothing more than two clowns wacking each other over the head with rubber hammers. Hillary Clinton's obvious neglect of our country's security was a deal breaker and the expectation of the media that Trump may somehow make a change to attract voters is like going to a shitty restaurant and getting food poisoning then you continue to go in hopes that the food will get better, not going to happen! Johnson/Weld is the only honest, smart and safe choice!

  • tarran||

    Johnson/Weld is the only honest, smart and safe choice!

    I disagree. Johnson has given plenty of evidence that he is temperamentally unsuited for the job.

    If you want safe and sane, only "None of the Above" is left.

  • Tundra||

    Or me.

    I promise to do nothing but shut down federal agencies.

  • R. K. Phillips||

    Funny, but I don't see that evidence, given how Johnson ran things while governor. You'll NEVER get the perfect candidate - probably not even close - and you aren't obligated to vote. In fact, you should not, if you don't believe that HRC or The Donald or Johnson or Stein can do the job. I believe otherwise.

  • ||

    On paper, Trump's foreign policy is a lot better than Hillary's. I'm just saying, I don't expect that he would actually follow anything he's saying.

    OTOH, Hillary really has no strategy besides more of the same.

  • juris imprudent||

    Aside from the few deranged souls in these parts, you might notice that most Americans expressly or tacitly agree with Team America: World Police.

  • ||

    Murika, Fuck Yeah!

  • Inigo Montoya||

    I wish more people actually did agree with that movie.

    The movie is brilliant in that it ruthlessly satirizes both the neo-con world police idiots and the stupid Hollywood-led progressives pretty much equally.

    And then you throw in the funny songs, the send up of both Broadway musicals and action movies, and add a gratuitous sex scene that is, as far as I'm aware, the only example of marionette porn -- and you basically have one of the greatest movies ever, IMO.

  • ||

    That and the "end all immigration now!" stances were where my traditional conservative father and I had the most disagreement. He would always trot out, "Nature abhors a vacuum" as if it's an argument. His beliefs were, 1) that America is the greatest thing that has ever existed, 2) somebody is going to be/has to be in charge of the Earth, and 3) if it isn't us, it's going to be somebody evil (which is everybody but America).

    Ergo, if you don't want to be ruled from Moscow/Beijing, we must show the incipient challengers that we are willing and able to use overwhelming force in pursuit of any objective anywhere on the globe at any time.

  • Raven Nation||

    One of the people I worked with made the point that American foreign policy in the twentieth century tends to be reacting to the past rather than responding to the present. So, after WWI, the US largely (normal caveats here) withdrew from the world because it looked at the entangling alliances that significantly contributed to the outbreak of that war. After WWII, it committed itself to global policing because it believed a failure to do so contributed to WWII.

    I think you could make a case that the US should have stayed in western Europe for some period after WWII. But, once European economies were back on their feet it made little sense. Of course, by that time, containment had become policy.

  • ||

    I think that's a pretty good analysis.

    And you can't spell analysis without, "anal".

  • ||

    I think that's a pretty good analysis.

    And you can't spell analysis without, "anal".

  • Inigo Montoya||

    That analysis of the 20th-century is not entirely accurate, however. That unbelievably terrible president Woodrow Wilson pushed for the formation of the League of Nations (precursor to the U.N.) and America's involvement in it largely in reaction to WWI. It was born out of the notion that with some kind of "benevolent" world government, TOP MEN could make sure to prevent lesser people from making war on each other.

    There was some "withdrawal" in the sense of restricting trade (think the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill), and it was anti-liberty crap like that and the federal reserve act which ended up giving us the Great Depression.

  • Brochettaward||

    Perhaps part of the reason we stayed in Western Europe is because, despite the claims of progressives, they really aren't adults and the idea of letting them militarize again to defend themselves from the Soviets involved a large risk.

  • Bubba Jones||

    He is not illogical.

    It is difficult to maintain a strong military without using it.

    Even after the demonstration of our military industrial capacity in WWI, there were countries willing to bomb us and even consider invading.

    At some point you say, "fuck it" and vote for Trump.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    (laughing)

  • ||

    Another flies under the bus

    Another flies under the bus
    Another flies under the bus
    Another one gone and another one gone
    Another flies under the bus
    Hey, I'm gonna get you too
    Another flies under the bus

  • AlexInCT||

    They just know he had ill intent unlike Hillary, you know?

  • straffinrun||

    When "I grab them by the pussy" not "We came. We saw. He died" is what sinks a campaign, not much hope is left.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    (nodding)

  • straffinrun||

    (One hand on top of head. Other waving like a rodeo cowboy)

  • juris imprudent||

    So who's cat has Crusty's tongue?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    So who's cat has Crusty's tongue?

    These cunnilingus euphemisms are getting very un-abstract.

  • Jordan||

    OT: Thomas Friedman goes full retard in his latest column, slobbering all over Hillary because of her corruption exposed by Wikileaks. Not going to link it because fuck him.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    (snickering)

  • Jordan||

    Has anybody investigated the whole affair of Julian Assange having his internet cut off by the govt of Ecuador? It seems to me that doesn't happen without pressure from the U.S. government. So, we have the U.S. government explicitly conducting foreign policy in support of a presidential candidate.

    Also, I like what Glenn Greenwald had to say about that:

    Overnight poll of Dems would likely show instant increase in support for 1) Govt of Ecuador; 2) cutting off internet access for publishers
  • ||

    "So, we have the U.S. government explicitly conducting foreign policy in support of a presidential candidate"

    So when did this realization first come to you?

  • Free Society||

    Democrats use all the levers of power at their disposal in government, academia, media and finance. There's a reason they win elections and it's not because they make reasonable arguments.

  • straffinrun||

    Can't get over how creepy the whole Youtube Heroes program is. Mass flagging privileges, secret council meetings... It's like a little fascist Sim City.

  • Brochettaward||

    The ability of users who devote inordinate amounts of time to censoring other users to mass flag things? What could go wrong?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Holy. Shit.

  • DOOMco||

    Vid.me looks like where publishers of content are moving.

  • LittleItaly14||

    A GLARING EXAMPLE OF RIGGING OR MANIPULATING AN ELECTION

    1) Watch the interview last night with Dana Bash and Gary Johnson (Facebook)
    Gary was fantastic and so was the entire interview. Dana Bash didn't "want to talk about the Aleppo moment" but then asked if he was high. Anyways, the interview was great and Gary was sharp and on the issues.

    2) Look at what CNN posted today. Article written by Daniella Diaz. Look at the headline and look at the photo they chose. Complete manipulation with the only purpose being to smear Trump and discredit Johnson.

    I am completely disgusted with this and will never watch CNN again.

    This is not about supporting Johnson or whoever. This is about accurate, fair reporting and the complete disservice mainstream media is doing to millions of voters. Gary is too good to be president.

  • LittleItaly14||

    Link to the CNN article today by Daniella Diaz:

    http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/18/.....index.html

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Gary Johnson's Refreshing Foreign Policy Skepticism
    The Libertarian presidential candidate offers a cogent critique of Clintonian warmongering.

    One of the major reasons GJ will not get elected is because he has a sane, logical and a non-interventionist foreign policy.
    I guess the American people don't want that kind of foreign policy.
    It just makes too much sense.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online