Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, likely appeared on MSNBC on Tuesday in hopes of mopping up some of the embarrassment stemming from not being able to name a living world leader whom he admired.
Instead of taking the opportunity to demonstrate a basic grasp of foreign affairs after last week’s gaffe, however, Johnson argued that such knowledge is a superficial metric for judging a candidate’s fitness to serve as commander in chief.
“I still can’t think of a world leader that I respect,” Johnson said. “I held a lot of people in this country on pedestals thinking that they were role models. I got to meet them up front and personal and found out that they were empty suits, that they weren’t about issues, they weren’t about doing what was best, they were about getting re-elected.”
Johnson went on to say that being asked to pick a favorite world leader was just playing “politics,” and that he wasn’t going to partake in the exercise.
When MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell pressed Johnson, noting that foreign policy is an integral part of the presidential portfolio, he responded by appearing to suggest that his disregard for the finer points of the subject could somehow make him a better president.
“The fact that somebody can dot the I’s and cross the T’s on a foreign leader or a geographic location then allows them to put our military in harm’s way,” Johnson said. “We put our military in this horrible situation where we go in and support regime change. They get involved in civil wars where hundreds of thousands of innocent people are in a crossfire. We’re literally shooting at ourselves because we support both sides of conflicts.”
“It’s because we elect people who can dot the I’s and cross the T’s on these names and geographic locations as opposed to the underlying philosophy, which is, let’s stop getting involved in these regime changes,” he continued.
Many news outlets quickly pounced on the comments, claiming Johnson had literally said presidents are better off not being able to recognize people or places, because that means they can’t go to war with them. Johnson’s “what is Aleppo?” fiasco and general goofiness in recent weeks may have made such mocking assessments believable.
But they’re also unfair reading of Johnson’s remarks, which seemed more like an effort ― albeit a ham-fisted one ― to convince people that his worldview matters more than his bumbling responses to foreign policy questions. Later in the interview, Johnson outlined his isolationist stance, saying he’d only support military action in the case of an attack on the United States. He also argued that foreign intervention, even in response to genocide, only makes things “worse.”
Still, Johnson is running to be president of the United States. That office calls for deep and measured thought about the nation’s engagement in the global arena, regardless of what a candidate believes its role should be. Basic knowledge of foreign affairs and attention to detail should be prerequisites for the job. Johnson has shown interest in neither. Although some people may be quick to dismiss these qualities in the age of Donald Trump, many who might consider voting for Johnson seemingly haven’t.