Gary Johnson Presidential Debate: What the Libertarian Nominee Would Have Said at the Third Presidential Debate


In the third presidential debate, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney “debated” on foreign policy. Sadly, it was another disappointing debate that left one wondering if the candidates would ever actually answer the questions, or if they truly differ in foreign policy. Even though Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson wasn’t at this debate either, I wanted to include his hypothetical responses to last night’s questions as I did last week. Based on Johnson’s platform, here’s what I think he would have said.

Question: The first question, and it concerns Libya, the controversy over what happened there continues. Four Americans are dead, including an American ambassador. Questions remain. What happened? What caused it? Was it spontaneous? Was it an intelligence failure? Was it a policy failure? Was there an attempt to mislead people about what really happened?

Gary Johnson: The terror attack in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans was tragic, and those who were murdered should be mourned. However, putting our people in harm’s way should only occur when there is a vital U.S. interest to defend. What interest has been served by spending millions of dollars to bomb Libya and oust Qaddafi? We supported the Arab Spring only to have our embassy breached and our people killed. Libya was an example of our failed foreign policy that loses sight of our interests in favor of irrational intervention.

Question: The war in Syria has now spilled over into Lebanon. We have what, more than 100 people that were killed there in a bomb. There were demonstrations there, eight people dead Mr. President, it’s been more than a year since you saw — you told Assad he had to go. Since then, 30,000 Syrians have died. We’ve had 300,000 refugees. The war goes on. He’s still there. Should we reassess our policy and see if we can find a better way to influence events there? Or is that even possible?

Gary Johnson: Both President Obama and Governor Romney support the “fundamentally flawed idea that America can somehow manage the outcomes of revolutions and turmoil over which we really have no control.” Our interventionist policies and attempts to influence events in Syria and other countries have failed to support our interests. Instead, they have been counter-productive and inspired anti-U.S. attitudes in the Middle East and around the world while driving us deeper into debt. We desperately need to reassess our foreign policy. Rather than trying to police the world and repeatedly inserting ourselves into other countries’ internal concerns, our military should focus on national defense.

Question: What is America’s role in the world? And that is the question. What do each of you see as our role in the world?

Gary Johnson: America’s role in the world is not to build infrastructure in other countries, nor is it to try to manipulate revolutions in the hope that new regimes will be friendlier. Rather our role should be to lead by example rather than force. We must protect the civil liberties of all those accused of crimes or terrorism. We should bring the troops home from Afghanistan and reevaluate Cold War era deployment patterns. We should utilize our strategic alliances rather than try to intervene in every new conflict and crisis in the world.  We should use military force as a last resort, and even then, only as provided in the Constitution.

Question: Governor [Romney], you say you want a bigger military. You want a bigger Navy. You don’t want to cut defense spending. What I want to ask you — we were talking about financial problems in this country. Where are you going to get the money?

Gary Johnson: With trillion dollar deficits and the national debt over $16 trillion, we simply cannot afford to keep expanding the size of the military. We cannot afford to continue a failed foreign policy that does not protect U.S. interests. Unlike Governor Romney and President Obama, I believe we need to actually cut military spending. I propose that we decrease the military budget by 43%, which would return us to 2003 levels. That would hardly destroy our ability to defend ourselves, yet it would help get rid of some of the excess that has occurred in the past decade.

Question: Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which, of course, is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan? And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long, long time when we made that — we made — we made that promise to our allies.

Gary Johnson: Israel is an important ally, and should remain as such. If Israel is attacked, it would be naïve to think that they won’t defend themselves. However, I don’t think that attacks on our allies should necessarily be considered attacks on the United States. We should support our allies and allow them to act in their own interests rather than engage American troops abroad. That does not mean that we need to follow Israel or our other allies into wars they initiate. Interventionism is just as bad for our allies as it is for us.

Question: There are reports that Iran and the United States a part of an international group, have agreed in principle to talks about Iran’s nuclear program. What is the deal, if there are such talks? What is the deal that you would accept, Mr. President?

Gary Johnson: Iran is not currently a military threat and we must be vigilant to make sure that it doesn’t become one. Our current approach to Iran’s nuclear program has failed to seriously engage Iran diplomatically. Is it any wonder that they don’t listen to us? Any talks with Iran need to recognize reality and treat them seriously rather than try to bully them into submission. We need to develop a relationship with Iran, begin trading with them, and give them a stake in being engaged with us.

Question: What if — what if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said, “Our bombers are on the way. We’re going to bomb Iran.”

Gary Johnson: Unless Iran had become an imminent threat, I would use all the tools at my disposal as president to stop Israel from bombing Iran. The last thing we need in the Middle East is another war and another escalation of violence. However, if Iran was able to develop a nuclear weapon and threatened Israel with it, then we would let Israel defend itself. 

Question: The United States is scheduled to turn over responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan government in 2014. At that point, we will withdraw our combat troops, leave a smaller force of Americans, if I understand our policy, in Afghanistan for training purposes. It seems to me the key question here is: What do you do if the deadline arrives and it is obvious the Afghans are unable to handle their security? Do we still leave?

Gary Johnson: Yes, we do leave. We cannot continue to keep sacrificing American lives and borrowing money to try to deal with the problems of other countries. Osama Bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda has been defeated in Afghanistan. It is time to leave Afghanistan’s issues to the Afghan people. We need to stop treating the rest of the world like children and allow them to tackle their own difficulties in a way that makes sense for them, not for us.

Question: General Allen, our commander in Afghanistan, says that Americans continue to die at the hands of groups who are supported by Pakistan. We know that Pakistan has arrested the doctor who helped us catch Obama (sic) bin Laden. It still provides safe haven for terrorists, yet we continue to give Pakistan billions of dollars. Is it time for us to divorce Pakistan?

Gary Johnson: It is far past time to divorce Pakistan. We should eliminate our aid to them, and to all countries for that matter. The U.S. cannot afford to continue printing money and debasing our currency in order to support regimes that do not act in our interests. We need to focus on fixing our own domestic problems rather than ineffectively trying to control other countries.

Question: What is your position on the use of drones?

Gary Johnson: Though we should leave all options on the table, drone strikes are a dangerous tool. There are unintended consequences from using them to kill targets in Pakistan and Yemen. We may get our target, but we can also create new enemies due to collateral damage. Drone strikes should be used with caution, and understanding that they may create more adversaries than they eliminate.

Question: It is the rise of China and future challenges for America. I want to just begin this by asking both of you, and Mr. President, you — you go first this time. What do you believe is the greatest future threat to the national security of this country?

Gary Johnson: The greatest threat to our national security is the simple fact that we’re bankrupt. With $16 trillion in debt, $1 trillion deficits, and Congress’ inability to pass a budget, we have to continually borrow money. Many of the countries from which we borrow are not particularly friendly. We have lost sight of our constitutional duty to provide for the national defense. We need to reverse course and get spending under control so that we can focus on the issues that we face at home, and restore constitutional government.

Question: If you declare them a currency manipulator on day one, some people are — say you’re just going to start a trade war with China on day one. Is that — isn’t there a risk that that could happen?

Gary Johnson: It would be highly hypocritical for the U.S. to attack China for being a currency manipulator, considering how much the Federal Reserve and Treasury have intervened in credit markets. That issue aside, however, it would be far more prudent to focus on trading with China rather than worrying about how much they may be manipulating their currency. Truly free trade, even if only on our end, would greatly benefit American consumers and workers, and would make our relationship with China more productive and peaceful. Perhaps it would even set a good example that protecting the economic freedom of one’s citizens is better for the country than restricting them.

Question: Gentlemen, thank you so much for a very vigorous debate. We have come to the end. It is time for closing statements.

Gary Johnson: Not only have my opponents had difficulty staying on topic tonight, they have also struggled to highlight the differences in their approaches to foreign policy. That’s because there really isn’t much difference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. Their policies are substantially the same, even if the rhetoric is slightly different. In contrast, I offer a true alternative. My vision is that of a world where non-interventionism is a good rule of thumb. It is a world where America is not the world’s bully or its policeman. It is a world where all countries can determine their own fates, for better or for worse, and make their own decisions. It is a world where American troops don’t die in vain and instead defend U.S. interests at home. It is a world where we don’t pour billions of dollars into broken regimes and try to build infrastructure abroad. It is a world where individuals can freely trade with each other, rather than being victims to trade wars. It is a world where peace is more than a dream.