Gary Johnson Said That Knowing Geography Endangers U.S. Troops?

The Libertarian presidential candidate was accused of defending ignorance regarding foreign affairs — again.

Published Oct 4, 2016

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson appears on MSNBC on Oct. 4, 2016.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson appears on MSNBC on Oct. 4, 2016.

On 4 October 2016, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson tried to defend himself after making some previous gaffes regarding foreign policy, and was subsequently accused of digging the hole even deeper.

Johnson made the comments during an appearance on MSNBC while discussing his apparent inability to name a foreign leader he respected:

The interview culminated with this exchange:

JOHNSON: Talking about a foreign leader that you respect, that you admire -- I have a hard time with that one. That's just who I am. And now I'm going to have to pick out a world leader and there's going to be something wrong with them. And now I'm going to have to defend them! Well, maybe I think too much.

MITCHELL: By the same token, you're running to be commander-in-chief. Foreign policy and unexpected events are part of the portfolio.

JOHNSON: Yeah, and you know what? 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. You were talking about PTSD earlier; 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 -- Syria as an example -- and we wonder why our men and servicewomen suffer from PSD in the first place.

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.

Johnson was quickly criticized by news outlets: MSNBC's MaddowBlog said that Johnson was trying to sell "the virtues of foreign-policy ignorance":

It’s an argument that’s so astonishingly bad, I’m amazed an adult would repeat it out loud. Johnson’s pitch, in effect, is that the United States would benefit from having an ignorant president, because if the Commander in Chief doesn’t know where foreign countries are, he or she won’t be able to deploy U.S. troops anywhere.

By that reasoning, maps and globes should be barred from the White House complex – since it’s a surefire solution to ensure that our military is out of “harm’s way.” (Anyone with a Google Maps app on their phone should be denied access to the Oval Office, naturally.)

I’ll look forward to the Johnson/Weld administration’s employment announcements in early 2017: “Geography majors need not apply.”

And Mother Jones said that Johnson had "stumbled into yet another gaffe":

After all, Johnson argued, you can't engage in war with a country you can't accurately locate. He also claimed that the geographical knowledge of our leaders puts "our military in harm's way."

But — even if he misidentified PTSD toward the end of his argument — the interview appears to show that Johnson was attempting to say (albeit awkwardly) that it was more important for him to keep U.S. troops away from nation-building than to name-drop foreign leaders.

Arturo Garcia is a former writer for Snopes.

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