White House fails to understand consequences of its own deeds - ex-governor

As the largest economy and the most powerful nation in the world, the US is thus involved in every major event unfolding around the globe, be that the migrant crisis in Europe or the war in Syria. American politicians like to claim that America is just fighting for the greater good - and yet nations have collapsed after Washington decided to help. It claims Europe as a closest ally - but is it helping enough? Could the US do more to fix the world - or would it be better pulling out of foreign affairs? We ask a former governor of New Mexico, who might be seeking the 2016 presidential nomination for the Libertarian party. Gary Johnson is a guest on Sophie&Co today.

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Sophie Shevardnadze:Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, who might be seeking 2016 Presidential nomination for the Libertarian party, welcome to the show, it’s great to have you with us. Now, governor, the refugee crisis in Europe is dominating the headlines, and there are politicians in Europe saying the U.S. and it’s policies in the Middle East are what has caused the refugee crisis in the first place. Should the U.S. admit to more responsibility for this? What’s your take on it?

Gary Johnson:  I think, regardless of blame for the U.S. being responsible for the crisis, I think that the U.S. should take more responsibility in taking more refugees.

SS:But do you feel the situation is putting strain on the European-American partnership? I mean, will Europe see this as correcting the mistakes of the U.S?

GJ: I don’t want to mis-speak, it’s not something that I...you know, I don’t have any contact with any European leaders, other than what I read and see in the news. But, I do believe that because of the crisis there is an overwhelming number of refugees that need to be taken care of. I think, the U.S. could be taking more of those refugees into the U.S.

SS:Now, you say U.S. should open its doors to migrants. Now, in your case, aren’t you afraid America will face the same problems as Germany: an uncontrollable instant influx?

GJ: No, I don’t think...there’s process set up in the U.S., the numbers  could be increased, you could stick with the process, so, no, I don’t see that situation existing in the U.S. I do recognize that it is a crisis in Europe currently. One of the issues, you’re taking people from halfway around the world and then putting them in the U.S. - I just feel like I understand the complexity of the issue, when it comes to the U.S. stepping up its role.

SS:So, what are you saying, that it’s just harder for migrants to get to U.S. physically, so that’s why they represent no threat for you and for your borders?

GJ: Perhaps, not so much physically - it’s just the cultural shock, if you will, in coming to U.S. in lieu of being in Europe.

SS:It’s not like Europe is saying “hey, come and I’ll take you in”. You know, if U.S. is to say “we’ll take more refugees in”, I just wonder if your country is ready to handle the flow of immigrants that may come your way. Because you already have your own immigrants from Latin America, for example. Are you ready to handle more from the Middle East?

GJ: In my opinion, it’s our responsibility to take on more of those refugees. It seems to me that the number right now of those refugees that are we are saying can come to the U.S. is too low and it isn’t doing our part, if you will in this crisis.

SS:When you say things like “our part”, “doing our part” and, you know, “it is our responsibility” - let me just clarify - why do you think America should feel responsible to take in more refugees?

GJ: I do believe that our military… first of all, I do believe that we really are at war with Islamic extremists and we need to draw a line between religious freedom and Islamic extremism. I don’t think that by addressing this issue that we have to have troops on the ground, that we need to be lobbing bombs in the Middle East...I think that we can do this by freezing assets of Islamic terrorist organizations. I think that we can be effective in doing that, so in the context of the U.S. having been involved military - I think there’s a shared responsibility by us here in the U.S.

SS:You know, the majority of refugees that we’re talking about right now, they are actually Syrians fleeing the civil war. Washington lays the blame for that war squarely at President Assad. Many wouldn’t agree with that. How can the U.S. dictate who is good and bad in the other regions of the world? I watched a Republican debate. He was called an enemy of the U.S. routinely in that debate. Now, he may not be the ideal leader, but he definitely poses no threat to the U.S. as far as I’m concerned. How’s he an enemy of the American people? If you’re nominated as a candidate from the Libertarian party, how would you answer that question?

GJ: I think that clearly he has had a horrible regime, that he’s a horrible leader - but what we routinely seem to do in the U.S. when it comes to Middle East is we propagate or we support just as horrible an alternative to the current horrible alternative. We end up supporting...we end up disposing of one despot and then we replace it with an entirely new despot that many times ends up worse than prior. So these are, in my opinion, judgments that the U.S. should not be making and that is not to downplay the horrible situation that exists, but - hey, what are we going to replace it with? All sorts of dialog in the U.S., political dialog over the fact that ISIS is the alternative to Assad - we, gee, how’s that going to turn out at the very end? Well, it may turn out a lot worse than what was existing, and that is not, in any way, to downplay just how bad existing is.

SS:Seventy percent of Americans, according to Ipsos poll don’t want their army fighting Assad’s forces. So, why are politicians in the U.S. so aggressive, when the public clearly does not support this view?

GJ: I think there’s been a lack of distinction, and I’ve mentioned this earlier. I think there’s been a lack of distinction between religious freedom and Islamic terrorism. Here in the U.S., I think that in the name of religious freedom we’ve allowed Islamic extremism to somehow be acceptable because of religious freedom - and we should not allow that. We are a country of religious freedom. Religious freedom is tenet of the U.S., but right now, I think that we’ve muddied the waters between politics and religion. In no way do we support the politics of Islamic extremism.

SS:Sure, but my question was slightly different: my question is why do you think politicians are so keen to fight this war, while the public, in its majority, is so clearly opposing it - because usually, when you start a war, you need the backing of your nation…

GJ: I think people for the most part recognized, generally speaking, that dropping bombs, that military intervention hasn’t worked and that it won’t work in the future, and yet politicians, to a large degree, recognize the threat of Islamic extremism and those two things are getting muddied. I would just suggest that we can address Islamic extremism without boots on the ground and without dropping bombs.

SS:And also, talking about good dictators and bad dictators and countries like the U.S. like to differentiate - why is that Gaddafi, Mubarak and Assad were dictators who had to step down while there are existing monarchies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia who violate human rights just the same and they don’t have to step down according to the State Department? How do explain that?

GJ: I won’t offer a defense for that! It is the politics that we step in, we support… we step in in the name of standing up against tyranny and evil and we end up creating a situation that many times is worse, but not better. I would just agree with what you just said - your question being a statement also.

SS:So if you were to become the President of the U.S., you would actually be able to go against Saudi Arabia and its regime?

GJ: Rather than talking against Saudi Arabia, I think what we need to distinguish is Islamic terrorism, it’s roots, where it gets its funding and that we need to stand up against that, wherever it might exist.

SS:Right.

GJ: We need to ask the question - what has Saudi Arabia, what have Emirates done in regard to the funding of Islamic terrorism, and recognize that they have taken steps that we could recognize and take those same steps.

SS:Now, four years on into the Syrian war, talks have finally began between the U.S. and Russia regarding that. Now the Administration wants Russia’s cooperation and perhaps, Iran’s as well. Why has it taken them more than four years to take this opportunity which has been there the whole time?

GJ: I can’t offer a defense, but, yes, we should be talking, we should’ve been talking long ago, and that’s the difference between bombs and diplomacy and we should be as diplomatic, we should seek diplomatic solutions to these problems - and I just get back to the root of this, those diplomatic solutions need to start with a recognition that Islamic terrorism is not acceptable in any form whatsoever and that the world needs to take a stand against that and differentiate between Islamic terrorism and freedom of religion.

SS:Now, governor, staying on the topic of Syria and ISIS - should America back away and prevent further destruction, or should they be more proactive in clearing up the mess already made?

GJ: Well, drawing a line.. proactive would be diplomacy. Pulling back from what we’re currently doing as military - as I said, we end up outing one dictator because of how horrible they are, just to find new dictator pop up that’s just as bad if not worse. So, these are the distinction that I would like to draw. Let’s stop with the military interventions, but let’s get very actively involved diplomatically - that’s not to say that the current Administration hasn’t been involved diplomatically, but I think they failed to draw this clear line of distinction between religious freedom and the fact that Islamic extremism is not to be tolerated - and those are words that the current Administration does not use or engage in.

SS:But how would diplomacy help clear things on the ground at this point, when ISIS is waging war all over the region, threatening to actually swallow Europe as well. Don’t you think it’s a bit too late for diplomacy at this point?

GJ: It’s not - it’s never too late to clarify what’s happening, and to say before the world that Islamic extremism is not to be tolerated. And yet, politicians in the U.S. are talking about support for ISIS - if that ends up to be the case, how in any way, shape or form is that going to be better for Syria? I don’t see it as a positive in any way whatsoever, so… the U.S. could be taking very diplomatic lead regarding Islamic extremism and how do you effectively deal with that. I don’t think you effectively deal with that by putting boots on the ground or dropping bombs or propping up up new dictators over old dictators, when the outcome isn’t any better, often times being worse.

SS:I want to talk a bit about how consequences are being evaluated. Now, when interventions in Iraq and Libya were discussed, they were sold as making the world a safer place. In reality both are now quite the opposite. Were the consequences not evaluated at all? In your opinion. I mean, surely, if the people in power understood what would happen after they invade, they wouldn’t do so. Are consequences of political actions still not evaluated in the White House, as far as you’re concerned?

GJ: Well, I was opposed to us going into Iraq, believing that just exactly what has happened - has happened,  I’m pointing out the obvious. Iraq was keeping Iran in check and you took that check away, and all of a sudden it becomes a much bigger problem than what existed initially - so I think that accurately characterized our actions to date, and, in my opinion, consequences were not clearly understood. Those unintended consequences were clearly not understood. And, yet, in my opinion, they were discernable before the fact.

SS:Now, governor, anyone following the news right now understands that terrorists are using the mistakes of the U.S. government to increase recruitment - and the use of torture by the Bush administration is certainly one of their best cards. Do you believe torture in some form is still used today by the U.S.?

GJ: Do I believe it is used?

SS:Yes.

GJ: I think that it may be used, but I'm opposed to that, to be using that. This is what this country supposedly has fought wars over. This is the reason this country is supposed to be the Bastion of Liberty that many of us believe is getting lost. At the top of the list you can put the fact that we have tortured and I think that under the current Administration it's probably been dried up as the government of the U.S., but are they covertly still supporting torture in some forms, meaning, you know, behind the stage, are they supporting this?... I think it would be naive to not think that is, in fact, happening. It shouldn't be, but I think that it probably is.

SS:You know, I spoke with a former Guantanamo bay prisoner, and he told me all about torture, psychological as well as physical abuse that he had to undergo. But what struck me most was how useless it all was. I mean, this guy - he knew nothing, he couldn't tell anyone anything, and he was never charged with anything, and in the end he was just released. Why keep such a pointless, cruel place opened up to this day?

GJ: Why keep such... well, first of all, Guantanamo does serve a purpose - when it comes to detainees that their country of origin wants to have nothing to do with them, evidence seems to be overwhelming that they are guilty - so there needs to be a due process for these prisoners, something that doesn't exist, and then the acts of torture need to stop. Guantanamo has come to represent those issues, if we closed Guantanamo tomorrow, we would have to reopen Guantanamo somewhere else tomorrow, to, in fact, keep these detainees. There's a very-very small number, but it's based in reality that no one and no country, no country of origin wants to deal with some of these individuals. In my opinion, due process needs to occur and that practice needs to stop, the practice of detention without due process, and I realize, these are not citizens of the U.S., but, yet, this is basic human rights, in my opinion, that are being violated.

SS:And, also, do you understand that it's existence actually gives real terrorists, real terrorists, an excuse to justify their actions?

GJ: Absolutely, absolutely. Not only torture, but dropping of bombs and drone attacks that don't kill the intended, don't just get the intended target, but kill thousands of innocent civilians, and I am talking about drone attacks and bombs being dropped. The U.S. needs to, politically, political leaders need to understand that the unintended consequences of this have resulted in hundreds of millions of people being enemies to the U.S., that if we did not commit these actions, we would not nearly have as many of these enemies; and understand that when it comes to Islamic terrorism, there are enemies that are not going to go away regardless. But, as you point out, torture, bombs, drone strikes - these are adding to that core number of Islamic terrorists.

SS:Now, the military lobby in Congress is as active as any other. How do you reign in the military contractor influence if you want to limit foreign American involvement? Basically, how do you make Congressmen to vote to get out of some country, if that means that weapons factory will close in their district?

GJ: I think the biggest threat to America today is the fact that we're $19 trillion dollars in debt, and we continue to spend more money than what we take in - so I propose in today's dollars, 20% reduction in military spending. Is really the war of the future - military aircraft, aircraft carriers? I don't think it is. I think it's intelligence, and when it comes to the U.S. right now, that seems to be a bit of an oxymoron, or at least we should be clarifying what we're doing and assure people that we are being smart about this - something that currently is... Like I've said, I think most people question whether or not...where's the sanity in current policy.

SS:I want to talk a bit about the upcoming elections. This campaign has a surprise candidate, Donald Trump. He is very entertaining, as usual, but the strange thing is that he's actually a serious contender for nomination. What is happening to the Republican Party, or to U.S. politics in general?

GJ: I think the people in this country are fed up with "politics as usual", and Donald Trump currently offers that alternative. I don't think that people in the U.S. listen or pay attention as closely as they should, and as this campaign goes forward, if he doesn't adjust what he's having to say currently about immigration, then eventually that will catch up - the people will understand what it is he saying, but I can just speak for the U.S., because it's where I live, I think that for most of us in the U.S., we're just lazy. We are spoon-fed the information that we're given and we don't ask for more information, we don't understand issues as well as should. It's an indictment on the U.S. Perhaps, you have the same situation in Russia.

SS:Thank you very much for this interview, governor. We were talking to Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, who might be seeking a Libertarian party nomination for the U.S. Presidency in 2016. We were talking about America's war on ISIS, refugee crisis that might actually move towards his country, and what's going on in America's presidential election. That's it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.