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Candidate Briefing: What a Bill Weld Presidency Could Mean for the Gulf

In what may feel like a welcome reprieve from the seemingly daily declarations of candidacy by various Democrats, former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld (R) announced today that he had formed an exploratory committee in order to challenge President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination for President in 2020. Mr. Weld is not an outright stranger to the realities of a presidential campaign, as in 2016 he was the running-mate on the Libertarian Presidential ticket with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. While this time Weld seems intent on working within the standard two-party system, his place on the Libertarian end of the Republican spectrum would bring with it a foreign policy that deviates from the traditional norms of his party. While Mr. Weld’s personal interest and comments on the Gulf region appear limited, the philosophy inherent to his Libertarianism should nonetheless catch the attention of the Gulf, as, if successful, it would imply significant changes in U.S policy toward the region.

However improbable his chances may have been, Weld’s campaign for Vice President in 2016 did require that he beef up his foreign policy credentials. While during 2016 Weld made clear he thought Secretary Clinton was a much better choice for President than Donald Trump, criticisms of her foreign policy by Libertarian supporters seemed to resonate with Weld, who at a town hall expressed opposition to how the War on Terror was playing out in Iraq and Yemen.[1] While a void remains as to how Weld specifically thinks the War on Terror should be conducted, in order to speculate as to what a Weld-Gulf policy would entail – a brief dive into the tenets of libertarianism is required.

Although it is impossible to succinctly summarize complex political movements, libertarianism is essentially predicated on, “reducing government in all sectors, from the economy to social issues.”[2] Foreign policy then, (and foreign intervention in particularly) would significantly decrease alongside the American institutions that had traditionally conducted these efforts. Already from such an insight, it is possible to surmise that a President Weld would agree, at least in principle, with President Trump’s efforts to ramp down the U.S’s presence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in line with this understanding of Libertarianism, it would seem Bill Weld would disagree with President Trump’s efforts to stay involved in the War in Yemen.

Perhaps most specific to the Gulf, the libertarian elements Weld brings to the table would likely deemphasize the liberal tenets of democracy and human rights promotion. As published in a briefing by the Libertarian-aligned Cato Institute, “[Libertarians] harbor deep and abiding doubts about government’s capacity for effecting particular ends, no matter how well-intentioned. These concerns are magnified, not set aside, when the government project involves violence in foreign lands.”[3] Given this principle it is not hard to imagine that a Republican with Libertarian sympathies in the White House would not see a particular need to get involved in the labor rights, women’s rights or free speech issues that often dominate American discussions of the Gulf.

However, this non-interference approach should not be conflated with isolationism. Just as libertarians emphasize individual rights and freedoms domestically, on the international stage a Libertarian president would cultivate international relationships insofar as “Citizens should be free to buy and sell goods and services, study and travel, and otherwise interact with peoples from other lands and places, unencumbered by the intrusions of government.”[4]Specific to the libertarian principle of protecting the free sale of goods and services, questions arise as to how Weld (or any Libertarian-leaning President) would respond to recent efforts to curtail weapons sales to the Gulf region. It would seem that based off a textbook definition of libertarianism the government should keep its hands-off international trade, however, the philosophy’s goal of minimizing instances of military intervention could raise contradictions with its laissez-faire approach.

Ultimately, a variety of obstacles remain in the way of any candidate taking on a sitting President who is a member of their own party. However, should Bill Weld manage to pull-off the unprecedented, a Republican with his Libertarian views in the White House would bring new philosophies to the US-Gulf relationship. While the Gulf States may generally be pleased with the Libertarian philosophy’s disdain for intervention and human-rights policing, they may be equally wary of the ways in which a Libertarian President would decline to intervene should regional dynamics threaten the sovereignty or security of the Gulf states. Given Weld’s unique position as a Libertarian-aligned Republican, some elements of his approach may resonate with Trump’s policies, however, in others he will diverge wildly.



[1] Bill Dries, “Weld Catches Libertarian Heat at Memphis Campaign Stop,” Memphis Daily News, November 4, 2016.

[2] Eli Watkins, “What is Libertariansim,” CNN, June 22, 2016.

[3] “Toward a Libertarian Foreign Policy” Cato Institute, July/August 2015.

[4] “Toward a Libertarian Foreign Policy.”

Issue: U.S. – Gulf Policy

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