10 things Gary Johnson thinks you need to know about him as Commander in Chief

You might think a third-party candidate who in some surveys is ahead of the Democrat and Republican presidential frontrunners would be included in a conversation about veterans.

You’d think that, but you’d be wrong.

Gary Johnson

(photo by Gage Skidmore)

Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson won’t be sharing the stage with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Sept. 7 during a nationally-televised town hall meeting. The veteran service organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is hosting the so-called “Commander in Chief Forum” on NBC and MSNBC that will focus on issues affecting the military-veteran community.

And many veterans were upset when they learned Johnson wouldn’t be there.

A non-scientific survey conducted in July by the influential blogger Doctrine Man showed Johnson polling at 39 percent among active duty troops, five points ahead of Trump in the same survey. Clinton garnered just 14 percent of those surveyed.

Broken down by service, only the Navy had Johnson in second place by a slim margin.

A more recent poll conducted by NBC on the eve of the Commander-in-Chief Forum showed Trump polling at 55 percent among active-duty military and veterans, 19 points ahead of Hillary Clinton. Libertarian Gary Johnson pulls in only 12 percent nationally among all likely voters.

The head of IAVA, Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement he had invited Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein for a separate Commander-in-Chief Forum to discuss military and veterans issues. It is unclear if either will participate.

Neither candidate is polling high enough nationally to qualify for the upcoming presidential debates.

Johnson has made helping vets a cornerstone of his campaign, even banging out 22 Pushups for veteran suicide awareness on the streets of Cleveland (an admittedly small feat for Johnson, an Iron Man Triathlete who also climbed Mount Everest).

The former governor of New Mexico has a few of his military views outlined on his official website. He believes in cutting sources of funding for international terrorism but wants to end foreign intervention and nation-building. Johnson wants to “give health care choices back to veterans” and extend public-private partnerships to help veterans in their post-military careers.

So while his website does address the issues, it lacks a lot of detail.

In a thoughtful Q&A with Military Times‘ Leo Shane, Johnson discussed his views on issues affecting the military-veteran community.

1. Foreign policy

“…in my lifetime I can’t think of one example of regime change making things better. And of course that’s (affecting) our military, our men and women on the front line. I get incensed over politicians that beat their chest over going out to fight terrorism at the cost of our service men and women.”

Johnson repeated that the Libertarian platform is “non-interventionist, not isolationist.”

2. Afghanistan

In the Military Times interview, Johnson said “I would get out of Afghanistan tomorrow.”

He believes in a U.S. military response to an attack, repeating the mantra “We get attacked, we attack back,” time and again. He says he supported the invasion but does not support the extended stay — wondering if the U.S. will “stay there forever.”

3. ISIS/Iraq

“I do believe we are going to defeat ISIS, but let’s not be naive. We are going to create a void that’s going to get filled with the name of some other organization.”

4. North Korea

Johnson, in a Libertarian debate, called North Korea “the greatest threat in the world.” He says he wants to team with China to get rid of the Kim family dynasty.

According to Brian Doherty of the Hit and Run Blog, to Johnson, the move has the dual purpose of bringing down the regime and bringing 40,000 American troops off the Korean Peninsula.

5. Leadership style

“It’s not my way or the highway,” he told Military Times. “If I am presented with evidence that would say categorically, ‘this is not something we should do’ … I’ll listen. I do listen.”

Johnson also believes that combating radical Islam, like all uses of the military, is something that the chief executive should do with the collaboration of Congress.

6. Libertarian-style budget cuts

Johnson believes in a 20 percent cut in government spending. The Department of Veterans Affairs would be exempt from those cuts.

“We need to draw a line with regards to the obligation we have to those who are serving and have served,” Johnson said in Military Times. “That’s not a cut ever.”

Johnson was a part of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission in the 1990s. He recalls a Pentagon recommendation to close 25 percent more than the BRAC actually did. He would implement those recommendations. He still favors a strong national defense, but wants American allies pay for a greater share of the cost.

“I intend to honor all treaties and obligations that are in effect,” he said in the interview. “But with regard to Europe, they’ve had this free go of being able to grow their welfare programs on the back of us coming in and covering their back with our military.”

7. Nuclear weapons

The elimination of nuclear weapons is part of his plan to cut 2 percent of defense spending.

“I don’t think that anyone can argue that government is 20 percent fat in every category,” he said. “But I don’t think the military is exempt from that either.”

8. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs

“… they are taxed and they often times are not able to keep up with the demand,” the candidate said. “If that is the case, it would not be difficult to implement a health card or a health services [plan] that would go outside the VA that would make up for deficiencies.”

The Johnson campaign advocates a public-private partnership for the VA’s shortcoming, not a privatization of the department’s facilities. This means that Johnson wants to make it possible for veterans with a long wait time to see a private doctor, similar to the Veteran’s Choice program launched in 2014.

In an interview with MSNBC in May, Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld described their view of the VA in terms of the returning veterans of WWII. Where the GI Bill was a “voucher system,” using government money to pay for existing schools, the VA medical benefits were designed “the other way,” using government money, facilities, and oversight.

9. Other veterans benefits

Johnson views things like the GI Bill, military pay, and retirement benefits as “obligations to those who serve.”

10. The Defense and VA secretaries in a Johnson administration

“I’ve made a career out of showing up on time and telling the truth, because if you tell the truth you admit the mistakes you’ve made,” he said. “More than anything, I’m looking for people who are qualified and have that kind of a resume similar to my own, which is being accountable.”

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