Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Gary Johnson on Foreign Policy, National Defense, Intervention, and Long-Term Alliances

Gary Johnson is a 2012 candidate for the Republican Party's presidential nomination with an impeccable record as a small-government libertarian while governing the state of New Mexico for eight years. I daresay that absolutely no one in this country has an executive record as good as Gary Johnson's of limiting the size role and influence of government-- even while battling a majority Democratic legislature in a very blue state.

But some of his statements on U.S. foreign policy have a few libertarians worried that he won't take a hard line on controlling the size, role, and influence of government the way we could expect Congressman Ron Paul to should he become our nation's next president. Others disagree. AntiWar.com founder and editor Justin Raimondo had some harsh criticism for Johnson in a recent piece entitled, "Gary Johnson: Caveat Emptor." Raimondo wrote:

...what’s the problem?

Well, frankly, it’s this:

"Johnson is open, in principle, to waging humanitarian wars. ‘If there’s a clear genocide somewhere, don’t we really want to positively impact that kind of a situation?’ he says. ‘Isn’t that what we’re all about? Isn’t that what we’ve always been about? But just this notion of nation building—I think the current policy is making us more enemies than more friends.’"

At a time when the Obama administration has, in effect, announced a new foreign policy doctrine which avers that we have a "responsibility to protect" the victims of alleged "genocide" all over the world, Johnson’s devotion to the libertarian principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations is really questionable. Especially now that the Libyan adventure is well underway, and we find ourselves sliding down that slippery slope into full-scale support for the Libyan rebels, Johnson’s position is rather too close to the Obama Doctrine.

And it has to be asked: is saving the world, or even a small portion of it, really "what we’re all about"? Maybe over at the Weekly Standard, where Johnson gave this interview, it is, but not in the libertarian precincts where he hopes to garner support.

Yes, Johnson is against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: and yes, he wants to bring the troops home from Europe and other places where they have no business being, but he is clearly tailoring his campaign to suit the softcore sensibilities of the Beltway crowd. For example, he’s supposedly against foreign aid – except, perhaps, when it comes to Israel. It’s not clear if, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), he would end that particular boondoggle, but in this interview he was clear that maintaining our military alliance with Israel is "key" – although key to what, he did not say.

Furthermore, he went on to say that our military alliances is general are also "key" in fighting the "war on terrorism" that he believes we must continue to wage, albeit not in Afghanistan and Iraq. The vagueness of all this is disconcerting, especially when one senses the echo of Obama-ism in this "libertarian" version of multilateralism.

The problem with Johnson’s benign view of military alliances is that they are a tripwire for US intervention: after all, what does a military alliance mean if not joint defense – or offense – against a common enemy? Johnson emphasizes our alliance with Israel, and yet what does this alliance mean other than a guarantee that the US will come to Israel’s assistance in case of war — and that is not to say who will start the war.

Asked what he would do if Iran acquired nuclear weapons, Johnson blithely replied that surely Israel wouldn’t just stand idly by and let that happen. So Johnson’s position is that the IDF will take care of the problem. That he followed this up with the observation that the Israelis are known to possess nuclear weapons I find macabre. Would he approve if the Israelis nuked Tehran? As President, sitting there in the Oval Office – his feet up on the desk, toking on the presidential pipe – what would he say when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu informs him of the imminent strike?

You can read the entire article here at AntiWar.com. Over at the Republican Liberty Caucus, in a piece entitled, "Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Awesome," Aaron Biterman takes issue with several of Raimondo's points, writing in defense of Gary Johnson:

“Humanitarian Wars”

Is stopping genocide the same as a humanitarian war? Is it possible to stop human rights abuses via government action without engaging in a war?

Author Justin Raimondo claims that Governor Gary Johnson supports humanitarian wars. However, nowhere does Johnson mention the word humanitarian, the word war, or both words in conjunction with each other.

Instead, Johnson says that “in principle” he would try to “positively influence” or “stop” genocide in foreign nations. He doesn’t say he would intervene in ALL foreign nations where genocide is occurring, but he does say that he does not support nation-building in any form or fashion. Couple this with his principled opposition to the wars in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and you have a candidate who is a non-interventionist with the possible exception of using government to aid people being oppressed in foreign nations.

Call me crazy, but this is hardly the least libertarian position I’ve heard on foreign policy — especially among those running for President. Most libertarian Republicans I know supported intervention in World War II, in part because the United States was attacked, but also because millions of Europeans were being slaughtered and tortured.

To rule out supporting Governor Johnson on the basis of his policy position to potentially stop genocide in a foreign nation is silly.

Unsurprisingly, Justin Raimondo misleads his readers to draw the conclusion that Governor Johnson’s foreign policy is similar to the Obama Doctrine. Raimondo’s false conclusion ignores the fact that Governor Johnson opposes the the War in Libya. How is a candidate opposed the Obama war equated to supporting the Obama Doctrine? It doesn’t add up.

Big, Bad Israel

Raimondo’s favorite topic — undoubtedly — is bashing Israel. Gary Johnson’s Our America Initiative issues page indicates that Governor Johnson supports Israel’s right to defend itself. That is a reasonable position for any libertarian to take, as I explain in my article “Rand Paul’s Stance on Israel A Lesson for the Liberty Movement to Follow.”

Senator Rand Paul (son of Ron Paul), during his 2010 campaign, defended Israel’s right to self defense, saying, “As a United States Senator, I would never vote to condemn Israel for defending herself. Whether it is fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon, combating Hamas-linked terrorists in Gaza or dealing with potential nuclear threats in the Persian Gulf, Israeli military actions are completely up to the leaders and military of Israel, and Israel alone.” More recently, Senator Paul has advocated ending U.S. aid to Israel.

In a document I obtained from Gary Johnson’s (c)(4) group the Our America Initiative, Governor Johnson says that “a clear national security interest and the fundamental defense of the United States” justifies U.S. support for Israel. “Our direct military funding support to Israel totals about $3 billion a year, and the majority of that money is spent buying equipment and technology from U.S. companies. That $3 billion is less than we gave General Motors, and the cost of not having a strong, democratic ally in the Middle East is incalculable,” Governor Johnson concludes in the document. He says the costs of the continued relationship are “paltry when compared with th(e) benefits”(3).

Gary Johnson also says that, as President, he would work to support Israel in case it is attacked “militarily.” That’s a big if, since the Arabs have lost six wars in the Middle East in the last five decades. Governor Johnson, like many others, sees the United States having a strong relationship with the one nation in the Middle East region which provides rights and liberties to its people as valuable. While most libertarians do not support alliances in any form or fashion (including this libertarian), obviously Governor Johnson does in one instance. He should explain more about why the U.S.-Israel alliance is more important than other alliances.

Fortunately, you don’t have to agree with Governor Johnson on the issue of Israel to support his candidacy in the same way that you don’t have to agree with Congressman Paul’s vote to ban gay adoptions or build a fence along the Mexican border.

Mr. Raimondo attempts to paint Gary Johnson as a statist throughout his article, but he concludes that Governor Johnson is “Ron Paul Lite” — a palatable, principled advocate of individual liberty and limited government.

Gary Johnson, says Raimondo, is “Paul Lite, Paul without the hard edges, without the ‘kooky’ end-the-Fed stuff, without the social conservatism, without the stubborn devotion to principle and to Austrian economics, specifically – in short, a hollowed out libertarianism, without any style and surely without its soul.” (Note: Gary Johnson has said he would audit and abolish the Fed and adheres to the Austrian school of economics.)

Welcome to real politics, Mr. Raimondo, where (unfortunate as it may be) kooky doesn’t win elections.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson won election in a majority-minority state — a state that is two to one Democrat — twice (1994 and 1998). In Johnson, we’re fortunate enough to have a Presidential candidate who is committed to principle, has a record to prove it, and is a willing and able-bodied standard-bearer to spread the libertarian message to the masses.

There’s simply no reason you should accept Justin Raimondo’s bid to make the perfect the enemy of the awesome.

You can read the entire article at RLC.org. The internecine struggle between these two libertarian candidates, Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, is already getting hot. I for one, hope that it doesn't destroy either candidates' chances of becoming president. Either one would be the best we've had in a century.


Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
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