Gary Johnson's long-running battle with talking about foreign policy continues. During a new interview with the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns, he likened U.S. intervention in Syria to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad slaughtering his own people:
Attacking Hillary Clinton over what he criticized as her overly interventionist instincts, Mr. Johnson pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians killed by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, as well as civilian deaths caused by the American-backed coalition, and said Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, bore at least partial responsibility.
But when pressed four times on whether he saw a moral equivalence between deaths caused by the United States, directly or indirectly, and mass killings of civilians by Mr. Assad and his allies, Mr. Johnson made clear that he did.
“Well no, of course not — we’re so much better than all that,” Mr. Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, said sarcastically. “We’re so much better when in Afghanistan, we bomb the hospital and 60 people are killed in the hospital.”
The remarks conclude a strange and very likely unhelpful month of foreign policy musings from the Libertarian Party presidential nominee. First he said in a TV interview that he didn't know what "Aleppo" -- the epicenter of the carnage in Syria -- was. Then he couldn't name a foreign policy leader he admired and voluntarily called it another "Aleppo moment." Then he suggested that he did the latter on purpose, because there are no leaders he admires.
In the new New York Times interview, he also declined to name the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, for some reason.
The most recent Syria comment, though, might be the most damaging and telling of the bunch. Although there is certainly consternation about what the U.S. policy there should be, comparing U.S. intervention to a dictator massacring his own people -- including using chemical weapons -- takes things to a whole new level. Johnson may truly believe this, but it's an extreme political position to stake out and one that very few Americans probably embrace.
And in fact, the whole Syria issue demonstrates why both he and the other top third-party candidate in this race, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, remain on the political margins and haven't caught fire, despite an opening created by the record unhappiness with the two major-party candidates.
Stein also has staked out a rather extreme position on Syria, actually calling for the United States to help Assad reassert power. But that call seemed to suddenly disappear from her website Wednesday after reporters spotlighted it.
"Stein said the US should be working with Syria, Russia, and Iran to restore all of Syria to control by the government rather than Jihadi rebels," her website read in an old statement that circulated again Wednesday. "Collaboration could lead to real success against ISIS. And it would stop the flow of refugees that is reaching crisis proportions in Europe."
The URL of that press release now redirects to her Syria issues page, but the release is still available via the Internet Archive. Stein's issues page includes a more toned-down call for "principled collaboration in bringing a weapons embargo to the region, freezing the bank accounts of countries that continue to fund terrorist groups, promoting a ceasefire, and supporting inclusive peace talks."
Updated 1:22 p.m.: Stein spokeswoman Meleiza Figueroa says the statement, which appeared on Stein's website for 11 months, was posted in error and doesn't reflect her views. "Dr. Stein has never taken that position and had not seen or approved that statement, which was mistakenly posted on the website in November 2015."
As I wrote over the weekend, Johnson and Stein are remarkably disliked by the people who know who they are, with about twice as many having unfavorable opinions as favorable ones. This has prevented them from taking advantage of their unprecedented opportunities in 2016.
And their positions on Syria might be Case Study No. 1 when it comes to their failures to attract dissatisfied mainstream voters.