Libertarian Party presidential contender Gary Johnson has been portrayed as an anti-war candidate, but that isn’t quite so clear.
Johnson sat down with reporters and editors from The Daily Caller last week, generously providing his time to answer any and all questions, no matter how difficult or ludicrous.
But when pressed on foreign policy topics throughout the interview, Johnson gave answers that didn’t always seem to add up and were often, at best, unorthodox positions for a man who has been painted as a non-interventionist.
While Johnson positions himself as a strong anti-war candidate who wants to cut the defense budget by 43 percent, he told TheDC that he supports America’s efforts to aid African troops in tracking down Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and that he wouldn’t rule out leaving behind American bases in Afghanistan.
Johnson said that while he wants to end the war in Afghanistan, that doesn’t mean he would necessarily stop drone attacks against terrorists in Pakistan or Yemen, even though he believes they create more enemies than they kill.
“I would want leave all options on the table,” Johnson said.
“But there’s an unintended consequence when it comes to drone attacks in Yemen,” he continued. “Yeah, you take out the al-Qaida stronghold, but you also wipe out the other half of the block. That makes Yemenis against the United States for the rest of their lives and all their descendants.”
But if Johnson plans on leaving Afghanistan, how does he plan to leave the option of a drone campaign against al-Qaida elements in Pakistan on the table?
“So now you have the U.S. bases that exist in those areas, do we shut down those military bases? Perhaps not,” he suggested, taking an odd position for a supposed anti-war candidate.
“I would completely withdraw our military presence,” he further expounded. “Does withdrawing our military presence from Afghanistan mean that we would still have a base open in Afghanistan if they allowed us to keep a base open? Perhaps.”
Johnson said that while he favors withdrawing or reducing American forces based in Europe and the Far East, the Middle East is a region of the world the U.S. should remain in.
“Where strategically should we be?” he asked.
“You would think that strategically we should be in the Middle East. Should we be in the Philippines? I’m just saying that this isn’t going to be a wholesale — a 43 percent reduction, in my opinion, gets us back to 2003 funding levels and just wrings out the excess.”
But despite Johnson saying he thinks that the Middle East is a region of the world the United States should maintain a military presence in, he contended that there are “no military threats” to the U.S. anywhere in the world.
“As I’m sitting here right now, there are no military threats against the United States,” he said, stipulating that America should be “vigilant” against terrorist attacks on the homeland.
Last year, The Weekly Standard reported that Johnson told the publication that he supported the concept of waging wars for humanitarian reasons despite wanting to cut the military budget by nearly half. Asked whether he stood by that, Johnson said he did.
“I don’t want to close the door that if any of us were president of the United States that we would sit idly by and watch something like the Holocaust go down,” he said.
“I don’t want to close the door on the United States involving themselves and putting a stop to that. Can we spend money on that? Yeah, I think so.”
But how would the United States be able to participate in major interventions to stop genocide if the defense budget is radically cut by 43 percent?
“When you talk about a 43 percent reduction in military spending, that’s going back to 2003 funding levels, not the end of the world,” he contended, though military planners would likely strongly disagree.
One intervention Johnson said he supports is the U.S. mission to help capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which Johnson believes is arguably the “worst terrorist” group in the world.
“Based on what I know, yes,” Johnson said, indicating his support for the mission to capture Kony.
“Based on what I understand about it, that arguably this is the worst terrorist group that’s been on the planet for the last 20 years.”
He also noted that his mission would have differed from the current one in that he would have asked for volunteers from the military to undertake it with a more belligerent plan to “wipe ’em out.”
“Well Congress passed the legislation to authorize us intervening, Obama signed the legislation and then eight months later we have an advisory force that goes in,” he said. “I think if I would have signed the legislation that I would have had plans to immediately ask for a volunteer force and gone in and wipe ‘em out.
On Iran, Johnson said that if “Iran launches a nuclear warhead they can be assured that they will no longer exist.”
“None of their country will be left to stand and that will be from Israel,” he said, confident that the threat of nuclear retaliation would prevent the Islamic Republic from using any nuclear weapon it obtained.
Johnson went on to say that he doesn’t think Iran has seriously been engaged diplomatically. So what would Johnson say that hasn’t been said to get Iran to reconsider developing a nuclear weapon?
“Look, ‘Don’t develop a nuclear weapon,’” he proffered.
You don’t think that’s been said, TheDC asked?
“’So if we open up trade with you all, we’d like to be a trading partner,’” he added.
Seriously, you don’t think that has been put on the table in negotiations, TheDC asked?
Johnson then pivoted and suggested that there wasn’t any evidence that Iran was developing, or ever wanted, a nuclear weapon.
“Am I not correct in saying that Iran has never voiced that they are developing a nuclear weapon, nor do they have any intention of using a nuclear weapon against the United States?” he asked.
“That’s never actually been voiced. I don’t know where that has come from, but it hasn’t been from Iran.”
So if he doesn’t believe Iran is developing a nuclear weapon or has any intention of developing a nuclear weapon, why is he even suggesting negotiations? Shouldn’t we just open up trade with Iran without asking for anything in return in that case?
“I would be in that camp,” he conceded.
When it comes to foreign policy, Johnson is nothing like his libertarian brother in the Republican Party, Texas Rep. Ron Paul. For all Paul’s faults, at least he has articulated a coherent foreign policy, even if it is a radically extreme one.
Johnson’s foreign policy, on the other hand, isn’t quite as easy to wrap your head around.