TWS: So, you think that the United States, even if it weren’t in its own narrow national interest, even if we weren’t threatened by the [other] country, but there was a genocide going on—a clear genocide—it would be the right thing to do to go in and stop that?
GARY JOHNSON: Yes. Yes, I do.
Other than Jack, I’m not sure that anyone doubted that this is exactly what he meant when he talked about intervening in the case of a “clear genocide.” As I said in the previous post, Johnson’s view is straightforward enough. What still doesn’t make much sense is how he reconciles his belief that the U.S. should wage war to prevent genocide with his opposition to nation-building, his obvious aversion to interfering in the affairs of other nations, and his apparent interest in dramatically cutting military spending. His support for intervention in the case of a “clear genocide” doesn’t match up very well with his other views. My puzzlement about Johnson’s answer remains unchanged, but I don’t doubt that he meant what he said.
Coming back to speculation about his presidential bid, it’s worth adding that Johnson’s answer on this puts him on the same side as a broad majority of the public. According to the survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs earlier this year, Americans are generally turning against hegemonism, but significant majorities apparently support just the sort of military interventions Johnson is endorsing here. As the survey report states:
In terms of humanitarian crises, Americans support many measures, including using U.S. troops
in other parts of the world to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people (72%), creating an international marshals service through the United Nations that could arrest leaders responsible for genocide (73%), and providing food and medical assistance to people in needy countries (74%).
This comes from the same survey in which a majority wants a hands-off approach to conflict in Korea and wouldn’t want to intervene in a war between Iran and Israel, so Johnson’s combination of positions might be very representative of most Americans. One of Johnson’s political problems is that the Americans who share his views tend not to be members of his party and they are least concentrated among Republican primary voters. One of the other problems is that the public may theoretically support humanitarian interventions, but they sour on them just as quickly if anything goes wrong and Americans begin getting killed. Of course, they should sour on them under those circumstances, but that suggests that their support for these interventions is superficial. This may represent a case where people give the answer they think they are expected to give rather than the one they really hold.
I’m not going to assume that Johnson was taking the easy way out and providing the less controversial answer. After all, if Johnson had tried to make an argument for non-intervention in this case, the headline would not have been about his relatively recent marijuana use, but probably would have focused instead on his “isolationist” indifference to the suffering of innocents, etc. Evidently, he believes that humanitarian interventions are not only justifiable, but also desirable, but I would want to press him on specific cases. Is he really articulating a blanket principle in favor of intervention, or would he support intervention on a case-by-case basis? Was intervening in Kosovo prudent? How does Johnson distinguish between a “clear genocide” and a civil war in which all parties are guilty of atrocities? Are allied governments fair game, or are these interventions going to be aimed at the clients of rival powers as they mostly have been in the past? What are the implications for international stability if separatist groups assume that they will receive foreign backing against their governments by provoking massacres of their civilian population? These are the questions I would be interested in hearing Johnson answer.