Gary Johnson – “Libertarian” Candidate – is Out of His Element

In an interview with the Daily Caller, presumptive Libertarian Party nominee for president Gary Johnson tries heartily to describe his foreign policy…or at least a foreign policy. Plainly put, the man is confused.

He says he supports U.S. military intervention in Uganda to root out the Lords Resistance Army and kill its leader, Joseph Kony. He thinks the drone war in Pakistan and Yemen creates more enemies than it eliminates, but doesn’t want to take drone strikes off the proverbial “table.” He wants to “completely withdraw our military presence” from Afghanistan, but wants to keep our military bases there. In fact, U.S. military bases should be maintained throughout the Middle East, he says, even though America faces “no military threats.” He supports “humanitarian intervention.” He wants to cut military and defense budgets by 43 percent, but only reduce national security spending to 2003 levels, “and just wring out the excess.”

Johnson is putting forth an image of himself of a former New Mexico governor who is outside the political establishment and serious about cutting spending. But evidently, the man hasn’t a clue what he is talking about with regards to foreign policy. His musings about war and intervention are little more than guesswork, wading his way through what he supposes is the libertarian position, while making clear he is no non-interventionist.

There is a strange habit the public and the reporting politicos perform when it comes to presidential candidates. They seem to assume that, since candidate X is running for president, surely he has studied the issues carefully. They don’t question candidates on their knowledge, only their “positions” (assuming they have been formed more than a millisecond before the question was asked). This was evident with Herman Cain’s blank-slate talk of “trusting the generals” and his embarrassing reveries about how to pronounce Uzbekistan. Mitt Romney has similarly shown himself cutely untaught on foreign policy issues by claiming Russia is America’s greatest foe, apparently never before hearing of the MeK, and doing a bit of guesswork of his own on Iran. But it seems Johnson has spent too much time on his 43-percent-spending-reduction talking points and far too little gaining any knowledge or developing any principled position whatsoever on foreign policy.

Responding to the Daily Caller interview, Brian Doherty at Reason’s Hit & Run wrote “he seems to lack either the systematic thinking or moral fervor that makes me trust him to reliably come to truly libertarian conclusions on many issues.” Ah, “systematic thinking” …such a lost art.

One thought on “Gary Johnson – “Libertarian” Candidate – is Out of His Element”

  1. Great points, especially since it's early days in the Libertarian presidential primaries. There's still time for one of the other Libertarian candidates to gain traction on this issue, which would either force Governor Johnson to arrive at clarity on the issue, or lose ground. I agree, Governor Johnson's foreign policy is muddy at best, and is certainly suspect. Ron Paul stands head and shoulders above Governor Johnson on this issue.

    However, as context is everything, I think that it would be helpful if you compared Governor Johnson's positions with those of Governor Romney, and the actual record of President Obama. Governor Romney would almost surely continue the status quo Republican hawkishness. President Obama's foreign policy record has been a disaster (countless zero-due-process assassinations including those of AMERICAN CITIZENS, none of which the administration has not bothered to justify — not that there can be a justification of assassination; flipping his position repeatedly on Guantanamo Bay, occupation of Iraq, and occupation of Afghanistan). When you contrast Governor Johnson with the leading Republican and Democratic candidates, he starts to look really good, even in his muddled, incomprehensible state. The problem is, if you merely attack Governor Johnson, most readers will assume that you're encouraging them to support either President Obama, or Governor Romney, either of which would be a mistake.

    And, since it's always preferable to suggest alternatives when pointing out short-comings, whose positions would you support? Who's got it right?

    You could probably tack on three or four sentences and cover all of this, and would provide a more complete picture for readers, and hopefully not lead them to think that Governor Johnson is less preferable than President Obama or Governor Romney on this issue, because he's certainly not. As a FAR greater lover and advocate of liberty and freedom than either of the establishment candidates, he'd be superior to either of them. His foreign policy positions have slowly been evolving, and as best as I can tell they've always changed for the better (as opposed to either Governor Romney or President Obama). He'd eventually come around to the position that you and I share, but, I agree, let's get his thinking clear now rather than after a costly failed foray or two.

  2. This is a brand-new criticism of Libertarians – that on foreign policy, they are not absolutist, but rather calculate and assess each situation independently, weighing costs and benefits. More typically, Libertarians are chided for advocating a Swiss-style stay-out-of-all-conflict-no-matter-what policy. I think Gary Johnson has been pretty clear that he advocates generally bringing home the troops, unless there are specific, identifiable goals (like Killing off Kony). I think he’s indicated a willingness to differentiate between putting troops in real problem areas, and posting troops in, say Japan. I think he's been pretty clear that – except for a dire emergency – he would put the question of armed conflict to the Congress and respect the decision of Congress. If that's "confusing," what possible word describes Republican and Democrat candidates' thinking . . . "chaotic,” “insane,” “expensive”?

    1. Sorry but Gary Johnson is little more than a semi-neocon on foreign policy. A person is either a complete non interventionist or an interventionist. It's like saying a woman is sort of of a little bit pregnant.

      Gary, kiss my behind.

      1. That's just a stupid comment. The statement you said makes no sense. Nearly all people are in the middle between interventionist and isolationist. Johnson is close to the isolationist pole, where Paul and Switzerland (in a way) are, but still supports some intervention for real issues. As he said himself, he would not sit and let something like the Holocaust go by without action. I don't think Ron Paul would ever.

        Being pregnant is COMPLETELY different from someone's political views. . . I'd advise you reconsider your statement. Politics is not as extreme as you think it to be.

        1. so the US has the moral obligation to invade countries where people are mass murdered and imprisoned? doesnt that seem even remotely hypocritical considering the amount of people the American police state murders every year? and would China and Russia not have the moral authority then to invade the US and "liberate" the minorities being imprisoned and murdered for owning vegetation?

          this entire concept of the US being the policeman of the world must be throughly stomped out of politics if we are to ever end the warfare state.

      2. Hmmn? So, your definition of a "NeoCon" is someone who is an interventionist on foreign policy, 'eh? Has nothing to do with how that person feels about welfare, or legalizing drugs.

        Call me crazy, but when the word NeoCon started appearing in the 1980s, it was used to describe Jack Kemp, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Tommy Thompson and their urban Republican agenda, of school vouchers, and welfare to work. Had nothing to do with foreign policy.

        Funny how the label has evolved in 30 years.

        1. Uhh no, Edward Abbey called out the neo-cons on war mongering 30 years ago.

          How has betraying Ron Paul with untrue slander worked put for you Eric?

    2. How do you maintain military bases with no military presence? Why maintain military bases in the Middle East "at least"? Is there a clearer stance than Dr. Paul's, that IF this country were invaded, he'd have Congress actually take up their responsibility and declare war, rather than unilaterally decide to throw bodies, machines, munitions, and money at a (personally) perceived enemy and thus simply engage in war — as our last several presidents have?

      The point of the article is that Johnson isn't consistent, and doesn't seem to have thought about at all, the international issues. Switzerland isn't "isolationist," nor is Ron Paul. They believe in freely trading with peaceful partners wherever they may be in the world; this is non-interventionism, not "isolationism." There's nothing non-interventionist about keeping drone attacks on foreigners "on the table." There's nothing non-interventionist about keeping military bases in the ME — even if they could conceivably be "empty." (Really?)

      "Killing off Kony" isn't up to anyone but the Africans involved. And despite the propaganda of Kony 2012, the Africans are handling it. Regardless, Africa is not the 57th state of the U.S., therefore there is no American goal to identify there — or anywhere else outside our own borders and coasts. There are no "problem areas" to put our troops into for any reason outside defense of our own borders and coasts. That's the point.

      Johnson is not responsible libertarian POTUS material. He has made that painfully plain by exposing his untenable positions on the U.S. role in the "global community."

      The first principle of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle. When you forcibly interfere in — intervene in — someone else's affairs — individuals or foreign nations — you are aggressing against them. This is unacceptable. A libertarian knows that. Gary Johnson apparently does not. This is the issue.

    3. Kony's army is very small, maybe 300 absolutely tops and mostly boys. Gary Brecher aka the War Nerd did a column about Kony and co a few years back. The United States could send a couple SWAT teams in and take the entire army out. Just another excuse to take over a nation's mineral resources.

    4. This isn't a criticism of "libertarians". This is a criticism of Gary Johnson's un-libertarian foreign policy ideas.

  3. I'll agree Johnson's foreign policy seems a bit muddled. Then again, I wonder how much of that has to do with the emphasis some of us place on what he's said?

    I know that sounds nutty. I've noticed if I wrote down my own personal thinking on foreign policy, it could read like Ron Paul's, Gary Johnson's, or maybe even Obama's, depending on what points I wanted to emphasize and what points a reader might emphasize.

    1. Most people, excluding hardcore Libertarians and people blind to reality, would fall where Gary Johnson is. The hardcore groups have been doing a number on trying to bash Johnson as much as possible. Almost like they prefer only Obama and Romney on the debate stage, and another 4 years of a rapid progressive socialism. Since the GOP will not allow the great messiah (aka Ron Paul) take the nomination we are left with only one other real choice that can put the message of liberty on stage. Until a person is elected as President they have absolutely NO IDEA on what is going on around the world, what dangers we really face, and what options are actually on the table. In my opinion and in a hypothetical situation, Johnson would stop the Chinese from invading Canada and murdering all natural born Canadians, Ron Paul would close his front windows and say "If I Dont see it it doesnt involve me." I want a President that would take action and spread the message of freedom by being the best example, and helping those who ask for it (and only as according to the US Constitution).

  4. Till now, I've been thinking Ron Paul could pass the torch to Johnson for the general election. Scratch that idea.

  5. If it weren't for the fact that John Glaser wrote this article, I would take it as a Ron Paul style MSM hit piece and write it off. As it is, I must take it seriously.

    Gary has sold himself as a libertarian non-interventionist. But so did Obama if you ignored his exceptions and equivocations. And as a matter of fact, so did W Bush in 2000. Even more than Obama. Without Ron Paul's integrity, people like Gary don't deserve to be taken seriously.

  6. @John Mills

    It’s that kind of ad hoc philosophy that’s led to reversal of the enlightenment.

  7. He may be somewhat muddled on national issues but I haven't known Gary to be indecisive. What matters is what you do with the problem when it hits your desk. I would rather have Gary over any current prospect other than Ron Paul.

  8. Gary Johnson is no libertarian, and neither is the Libertarian party, as far as I can tell. It's a shame because it confuses the public and does, I believe, great damage to our movement.

    1. Yep – the LP has always been the La Brea tarpits for actual libertarians – and the last debacle with Verney the destroyer of Parties/BobBarr barebacking should constitute proof. Look elsewhere, fellow hobbits!

    2. Johnson is a libertarian. He may not be perfect, supportive of anarchy, and as extreme as you probably are, but that's because he's trying to appeal to a wider range of people, and taking pragmatic stances on issues.

    3. Did you ever stop to think that maybe you're the one who isn't a "libertarian"? The libertarian movement was founded by pro-defensers in the 1960s – Dana Rohrabacher, Dr. John Hospers, Jack Wheeler, Bob Poole, In the mid-1970s the Libertarian Party was taken over by Raimondo, Rothbard and a bunch of black arm-band wearing leftwing anarchists. That doesn't mean that pro-defense libertarians went away. Just means pro-defensers are the originalist libertarians and anti-defensers are the poser libertarian wannabees.

      1. First point: what do any of those policies have to do with 'defense'? None of them are justifiable under the non-aggression principle or even on constitutional grounds.

        Second point: Rothbard was one of the founders of the LP and arguably the founder of the modern libertarian movement itself. I think you are confused about both the history and what libertarianism actually is.

        1. I met one of the original founders of the LP at the Colorado LP Convention…Rothbard was never mentioned among the names when he spoke about the first meetings.

      2. Rothbard was libertarian before you were even born Dondero, stuff it!

        The non aggression principle is not leftist ,it's anti collectivist coercion, and yes I would know as an increasingly former left anarchist myself.

      3. "pro-defensers" or "pro offensers" Is there a difference? or is it all just the same (budgetary) thing?

  9. Sadly, with Dr. Paul showing no signs of leaving the GOP despite being treated like a dog by the party and getting thrashed to boot in the primaries, the best antiwar candidate will probably be Rocky Johnson, the former Salt Lake City mayor. He is no libertarian to be sure and, as far as I can tell, is running in the spot that Nader did the last three elections. Having said that, he seems solid on international issues as far as I can tell.

    1. Yes, finally someone here admits the truth. None of you all are libertarians. You all are leftwingers posing as libertarians. Rocky Johnson DOES fit y'all's ideology. As does Ralph Nader.

      (Rocky's actually kind of an interesting guy, I gotta admit.)

  10. There's nothing incoherent or un-libertarian in Government Johnson's well thought-out foreign policy, formed in systematic consultation with defense scholars from the libertarian Cato Institute and elsewhere. Like Dr. Paul the governor would cut a trillion dollars from the budget, which would necessitate bringing the troops home and ending foreign aid.

    Mr. Johnson recognizes that defending our national security requires some forward-located bases and technology, in combination with our own intelligence and those of our allies, to remain vigilant to the risks of terrorism and nuclear threats. Like Dr. Paul the governor would expand trade to make friends of enemies, and boost diplomacy to replace the jingoism that's the first route chosen by Obama and his clone Romney. For emergencies like a genocide he'd request congressional authority first, and then invite volunteers who'd want to get in and then get out.

    The over-reaction by some libertarians to Governor Johnson's nuanced foreign policy wasn't shared by Daniel Larison of American Conservative, who sees more to like about it:

    1. Gary Johnson comes closest to a real libertarian foreign policy.

      We libertarians oppose genocide, whether it be from Communists (Cambodia, Stalin in the Ukraine, Mao, Castro murdering tens of thousands on the streets of Havana, ect…) And we oppose genocide from Islamists (what's going on right now in Mali, Muslim Brotherhood murdering the Copts in Egypt, Turkish attempted anihilation of Armenians, ect..)

      It's quite simple, actually:

      Soft on genocide – Leftist, Ron Paulist, Non-interventionists, Isolationists

      Opposed to genocide – Pro-Defense libertarians, Conservatives, most Moderates, and a tiny faction of liberals

      1. "Soft on Genocide" – typical statist thinking "everything not mandatory is forbidden"

        Don't think the govt should spend $100B a year killing drug dealers? You must be a junkie!

        Don't think the govt should spend $1000B a year killing third world dictators? You must love genocide!

        Tell us more about how you're hard on genocide, Eric….is it getting warm in here?

    2. "Mr. Johnson recognizes that defending our national security requires some forward-located bases"

      So then, would you oppose another nation having bases in America? yes you would, surely the attempt to implement such would be an act of war, an invasion of property. With that said, how would you feel if the countries with U.S bases on their land demanded they be removed and attacked if they were not?

      "systematic thinking" just utter nonsense to me.

      1. Governor Gary Johnson wouldn't locate bases outside our borders without an invitation from a host country, as he said in the Daily Caller article quoted by the Anti-War author. What Mr. Glaser conveniently excluded was this pertinent fact – that a Libertarian president wouldn't keep bases anywhere uninvited. Don't you just love selective quoting, or outright projection that totally misleads the reader?

        Even in the pre-Empire days of the U.S. our military maintained overseas coal depots for the ships. And in today's modern age with split second attacks, not availing ourselves of technology to spot threats before they reach our borders would be irresponsible. That doesn't mean we use the drones to kill without congressional authority, as Obama is doing. Opposing a "drone" makes as much sense as opposing a "gun", because it, too, can be misused.

        I don't share others' opposition to Dr. Paul, with whose staff I'm close and for whose '08 campaign I volunteered. The difference between the two of them is more nuance than substance.

        Finally, Governor Gary Johnson wouldn't use the military for humanitarian interventions without congressional authority, and then only with soldiers who self-selected themselves for the mission. The "humanitatrian" Libya attack was not subject to congressional authorization and was not supported by Governor Johnson.

        Mr. Johnson's foreign policy is well-thought out, libertarian, constitutional, prudent, and based on thoughtful review with scholars from various sources including the libertarian Cato Institute, whose defense scholars include Chris Preble, Ted Carpenter and other respected libertarians.

        1. Have the drones, its fine, just don't fly over others' airspace. Likewise, have guns, but don't point them in other peoples' faces.

          "without an invitation from the host country" how likely is it that that invitation would be made independently by the host country, without influence, blackmail or extortion? None really. It appears, to me at least, that governor Johnson's foreign policy is a creative attempt to marry libertarian principles with imperialism or at least to maintain military dominance. Policies like these that have loopholes as such will be exploited at some timeor another.

          "And in today's modern age with split second attacks, not availing ourselves of technology to spot threats before they reach our borders would be irresponsible"
          If the technology is for defensive purposes then fine, but surely the first line of defense is to not give anyone a reason to attack you in the first place. This would be very difficult for the U.S – given their oppression of most of the world – and so would require an exaggerated attempt at reconciliation i.e bring back ALL troops from foreign lands and close ALL foreign bases. But with U.S bases lingering around and given the history of U.S aggression these bases would just antagonize and threaten which would defeat the purpose.

          I have no doubts that johnson's foreign policy would be better then previous administrations, but their is cause for concern as i don't actually think it is libertarian policy, rather just a balancing act with liberal and statist principles.

          The real problem with Johnson is his tranparent yearning for mainstream acceptance which leads him to these daft halfway polices backed up by "thoughful review from scholars". In all fairness he is not even in the shadow of certain Doctor we know.

    3. Thanks for the sane response and informative link. I honestly believe Johnson is our best hope to correcting the errors we have been making for over 150 years. I have met and spoken with Gary Johnson multiple times, and each time I am more and more convinced that he is a Libertarian who simply was not ready to confess to the truth until he was given no other choice (such as I was). Every Libertarian, in my opinion, has to discover for themselves that they are such. They may not be purists, or anarchists, but the fact that they accept and believe in the basic ideals of Libertarians, Classical Liberals, Austrian Economics, etc means that we are that much closer to having what we want…freedom.

  11. I think all of us can agree on a few points. (1) There is very little difference between Obama and Romney, both fiscally irresponsible, warmongering, imperialist corporate stooges, (2) support for both is broad but very shallow because people are frustrated and fed up, and (3) that we need a candidate who can attract libertarians, progressives and moderates in order to gain a plurality and win. Of all on offer at present, Rocky Anderson seems the most palatable.

  12. This article and some of the comments are mostly just nitpicking Gary. Cutting defense 43% doesn’t leave much for intervention. His is a practical policy that will appeal to a majority of voters.

  13. No, all of us cannot agree. There is a huge difference between libertarian-leaner Mitt Romney (who btw, is getting slammed by the liberal media last couple days for being tied to "Ayn Rand libertarian" Paul Ryan), and Marxist Islamist Barack Hussein Mohammed Obama.

    But you're not a libertarian. So, why do you care what us libertarians thing?

    1. This is how you know someone is getting desparate: he refers to someone as a "Marxist Islamist," as if such a combination is even possible! It's also how you know you are dealing with an ignorant, slogan spouting moron.


      "Ayn Rand libertarian" Paul Ryan

      Whatever you're getting paid, it's too much.

  14. We libertarians are not "non-interventionists." I think you have us libertarians confused with America-hating leftists.

    We libertarians oppose Islamsim, and don't wish for our beautiful wives/girlfriends to be forced to wear ugly black burkas from head to toe, our gay friends hung from lampposts, our marijuana smoking buddies jailed for life, and booze and gambling outlawed by Sharia.

    1. So let me get this straight. You approve of killing millions of civilians in far away lands not because some "radicals" among them want revenge for occupying their holy land and killing their people but because you fear them forcing their religion down our throat? You hate America if you don't agree with attacking countries that pose no military threat to us, just so the elite can control what company gets their natural resources? Wow, that's a new one

  15. Howdy! Dondero:

    Out of your cage again?

    Neo-conservatism, the term, was coined by an Irvin Kristol. Look it up, google is your friend. Yes, neo-conservatism has everything with being very active in the foreign interventions. You know, there are monsters out there to be destroyed. Throw cannon fodder at them.

    Dondero, have you enlisted yet?

  16. Oh thats right, you guys don't want the LP to get into the debates. No wonder you don't like Johnson or Paul.

    1. Youre correct, they hate the idea of freedom so much that they would prefer that only Romney and Obama have the stage so all the tiny little nothing of a third parties out there can once again make absolutely NO impact. They must all believe that our current policies are golden, and Obama is the Messiah Anarchist Libertarian they have been drooling for.

  17. He wants to pull us out of all the wars and promising to submit a balanced budget that includes cutting the military budget by 43%. No other candidate comes close to this.

    I'm happy he's pragmatic in the point that you leave the use of drones on the table. It doesn't mean you use them. Nukes are 'still on the table' if by on the table you mean we fund them, but Johnson is the only candidate I've heard of that is talking about substantially reducing them.

    Also Johnson has said you scale back military bases around the world, but will be based on which ones are strategic or not. They will be getting cut 43% also.

    Paul only cuts the military budget by 15% in his Plan to Restore America.

    Again… Johnson is for ending all the wars now and cutting military by 43%. Just because he thinks we need to keep our military ready doesn't make him pro-war.

    1. "cutting the military budget by 43%." &&&&&&&&&&&& keep bases in Afghanistan…. P.S. I own a big bridge with thousands of cars crossing it every day between Manhattan and another borough…. I'll sell it to you real cheap…….. But not quite as cheap as your credulity. Yeah, just put a fence around the "bases" with a "No Trespassing" sign in Pushtu…….. Sure….. We don't need any Mormons or Morons in th top job…!!!

  18. I think the real issue with Johnson is that he doesn't acknowledge the inherent conflict between the modern nation-state and liberty. As such, he thinks various functions of the nation-state, such as war, can be conducted in a just manner. Essentially, you have the voluntaryists, represented by Ron Paul, and the minarchists, represented by Gary Johnson, in this election. I cannot see myself abandoning my voluntaryists principles, even if Paul is not on the national ballot.

  19. Gary is rigorous with his fiscal analysis on every issue except this one. The debt is almost $16 trillion! The money doesn't exist for more empire and intervention even if it can be justified!!!!

  20. What has been happening to the Libertarian party is an exodus of many of them to support Ron Paul leaving the rest of the party to be easily taken over by non-libertarians. As long as there is someone in the Republican party with libertarian enough views and a chance for high office, this is likely to continue. It also happened way back in 1980 when Reagan beat Bush for the Republican Presidential nomination. Reagan talked libertarian ideas but didn't carry them out.

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  21. Gary Johnson spoke at the LPWI Convention in Eau Claire yesterday and he didn't mention any exceptions to non-interventionism and did state that the military should be used for defense, not offense.
    Glaser sounds negative about Johnson. Is there an anti-war candidate who is not out of his element whom he would prefer?

  22. Bases on foreign soil if invited?

    Uh, where in our Constitution is the Federal government authorized to do so? Heck, military bases within a member State’s border are allowed only if a State’s Legislature approves. But who cares what the documents says these days, certainly not the SCOTUS.

    Foreign bases only for the purpose of prosecuting a war duly declared.

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  24. Johnson is putting forth an image of himself of a former New Mexico governor who is outside the political establishment and serious about cutting spending. But evidently, the man hasn’t a clue what he is talking about with regards to foreign policy. His musings about war and intervention are little more than guesswork, wading his way through what he supposes is the libertarian position, while making clear he is no non-interventionist.spring holiday limousine

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  34. I wish he would do a little homework on the Kony thing but I don't think he is necessarily believes what he is saying. I feel that he may just be acting like a politician right now. Republicans have Mitt Romney, and they don't like him, so he's saying i wouldn't be as non-interventionist as other libertarians to appeal to the conservative vote. All he has to do is have enough votes in the polls to make him seem like a viable winner of the general election. Who knows maybe this strategy will work, I'd much rather have Johnson than Romney or Obama.

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