The messenger matters

A few days ago CATO’s Emma Ashford wrote a piece for Foreign Policy called “Gary Johnson’s ‘Aleppo Moments’ Don’t Undo a Smart, Libertarian Foreign-Policy Platform.” And, I mean, of course they do, but I appreciate the argument she’s trying to make here:

The big tragedy here is that the foreign-policy approach offered by the Johnson-Weld campaign is not only a compelling alternative to the current orthodoxy, but is increasingly popular among Americans. A more restrained approach to foreign policy would see the United States involved in fewer unnecessary conflicts around the world, and a much stronger emphasis on diplomacy and other nonmilitary solutions to global problems. In contrast to Clinton’s liberal interventionist approach, it would avoid getting bogged down in civil wars like Libya and Syria. In contrast to Trump’s curiously aggressive isolationism, a restrained foreign policy sees trade as a positive, security-enhancing factor.

Polling throughout the election campaign suggests that many of these ideas resonate with voters. In one recent Chicago Council survey, only 27 percent of Americans believed that the United States does too little around the world, while 41 percent of respondents think the United States does too much. More than half of respondents think that other countries should solve their own problems rather than relying on the United States.

“I may not know where Jamaica is, but I do know that you’re JAMAICAN ME CRAZY WITH ALL THESE QUESTIONS HA HA GET IT”

This is something I didn’t consider when explaining that Johnson’s abject ignorance about the world beyond America’s borders doesn’t matter because, you know, he and I have nearly the same chance of being elected president next month. It is true that American voters might respond to a restrained foreign policy, though we should never underestimate the American public’s ability to psyche itself up for war. At the very least it would be wonderful if a competent, thoughtful candidate who was able to really articulate that position were given a chance to articulate it to voters. But Johnson was never going to be that candidate. Ashford is right on when she writes this:

But even if most libertarians are as skeptical about interventions abroad as they are about government intervention at home, in order to make a coherent case for restraint in America’s foreign policy, you have to explain why it will work better. Johnson, it turns out, is generally correct in his approach to Syria: U.S. intervention to alleviate suffering, in Aleppo or elsewhere, is unlikely to work and may well make the situation worse. It’s the same approach the White House is taking today. But without knowledge of detail, he struggles to explain why.

The only place I’d disagree with Ashford is that she seems to think Johnson could, or at least wants to, articulate the case for foreign policy restraint, and I would argue that it’s patently obvious that the guy doesn’t give a rat’s ass about foreign policy and never really has. Some of his miscues could be explained if he were some neophyte to presidential politics, but the fact is that Gary Johnson has been running for president pretty much non-stop since 2009, he’s already been through the 2012 campaign, and this is still the best he can manage on foreign policy. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to talk about foreign policy, he doesn’t want to learn about foreign policy, and he wouldn’t want to have to deal with foreign policy if the unthinkable happened and he were actually elected–which, now that you mention it, wouldn’t bode very well for his ability to actually restrain the very proactive foreign policy establishment he’d be inheriting as president. Gary Johnson isn’t tripping over himself to bring his foreign policy case to the American people; he never bothered to learn the case in the first place.



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