“What is Aleppo?” asked Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson during a Morning Joe interview yesterday.
“A recent report stated that 6,000 people, mostly civilians, died in 80 days of fighting in the Syrian city,” writes CNN. “A decade ago Aleppo was a bustling economic hub boasting more than 2 million residents. Its robust history and ancient architecture drew many tourists. After four years of hellish battle, it was estimated last month that the city was home to roughly one-tenth of that number, between 200,000 and 300,000.”
As the Syrian civil war rages on, Aleppo remains at the heart of the gruesome fighting. As indicated above, 90% of the city’s population has either fled as part of the more than 13 million Syrian refugees who have been forced to leave due to violent conditions or has been killed in the fighting. Either way, the situation in Aleppo is macabre, to say the least.
While rebel fighters have claimed to seize the town from the grip of the oppressive Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, it remains unclear as to how long they can maintain control. And, given that it was an al-Qaeda-linked faction of Islamists that were able to seize control of the eastern portion of Aleppo, it is practically inevitable that there will be clashes between western Aleppo’s urban middle classes and the anti-government Islamist faction that pushed the government out of the eastern part of the city. Needless to say, Aleppo is a crucial component of the war in Syria, and anyone running for president should certainly know all about it.
Not only did Gary Johnson not know anything about Aleppo, he did not even know what it was.
"What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?” asked the Morning Joe host. Johnson stared blankly and asked, “what is Aleppo?”
"You're kidding ..." replied the host. The entire room was shocked. As Johnson then gave a canned response about the need for multilateral cooperation, an end to American foregin intervention, and the need international diplomacy to address the Syrian crisis, Joe Scarborough pushed back.
"Aleppo is the center of a lot of people's concerns across the planet about the terrible humanitarian crisis that is unfolding not only in Syria, but especially in Aleppo. You asked, 'What is Aleppo?' Do you really think that foreign policy is so insignificant that somebody who is running for president of the United States shouldn't even know what Aleppo is, where Aleppo is, and why it is so important?"
Johnson tried to save himself, arguing that he does know about Aleppo and that an end to foreign intervention will result in less global turmoil, however it was clear that this was going to be a media disaster for the candidate.
According to the RealClearPolitics average, Johnson is polling around 9% nationally, which is certainly not insignificant. Much of his support, though, is due to disenchantment with the two-party system and the candidates representing the Democratic and Republican parties, rather than support for Johnson’s policies. The degree to which American voters dislike both Clinton and Trump is unprecedented, and Johnson’s polling certainly proves that. His Aleppo gaffe, however, is bound to hurt him.
A presidential candidate must be well-versed on international issues, especially those as significant as the Syrian war. The fact that Johnson did not even know what the epicenter of the fighting was reveals that he is not well-versed enough on the key issues to even come close to sitting in the Oval Office.
Johnson issued an unconventional statement in response to the incident:
“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I'm human. Yes, I understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict -- I talk about them every day. But hit with 'What about Aleppo?', I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict. I blanked. It happens, and it will happen again during the course of this campaign.
Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes.
As Governor, there were many things I didn't know off the top of my head. But I succeeded by surrounding myself with the right people, getting to the bottom of important issues, and making principled decisions. It worked. That is what a President must do.
That would begin, clearly, with daily security briefings that, to me, will be fundamental to the job of being President.”
It remains to be seen whether Johnson’s supporters will turn to other candidates in the wake of this scenario, however it is highly probable that his poll numbers will suffer.
What do you think about this Syria gaffe?