On Thursday morning, libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson repeatedly admitted he had no idea what Aleppo—Syria’s biggest city, which has been pulverized by several years of war—is.
When asked by Morning Joe (and Daily Beast) contributor Mike Barnicle what he would do, if elected president, about the siege of the ancient city that has seen hospitals destroyed and left thousands starving, he stared back blankly and asked, “And what is Aleppo?”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Johnson said, “I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict.”
A stunned Barnicle replied, “You’re kidding?” before having to explain to the presidential candidate on-air that “Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.”
“Got it, got it,” Johnson said, before outlining his policy on the Syrian civil war, which includes “joining hands with Russia to diplomatically bring the civil war to an end.”
The last rebel-held hospital in Aleppo was destroyed by a Russian airstrike last month.
Hillary Clinton couldn’t resist piling on during a press conference Thursday morning.
“Well, you can look on a map and find Aleppo,” she said.
When approached by Bloomberg Politics Editor Mark Halperin following the MSNBC interview, Johnson admitted that he was “guilty” of not “remembering or identifying that it’s Aleppo.”
Then he kept fumbling.
Johnson claimed Aleppo is “between the two forces” in Syria, except there are several sides in the five-year-old civil war, including troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, an al Qaeda splinter group, Iranian sectarian militias (including those built in Syria and Iraq), Iranian foot soldiers, U.S.-backed Arab rebels, U.S.-backed Kurdish guerrillas, Turkish-backed Arab and Turkmen rebels, independent Islamist and Salafist rebels, U.S. Special Forces personnel, Turkish army soldiers, and Russian warplanes.
Johnson then compared not knowing what Aleppo was to a time when he was asked what “Colonias” was while running for governor of New Mexico. Johnson said he was unaware of what Colonias was—and area he now describes as a “destitute” part of the state—but that his ignorance didn’t disqualify him from the statehouse.
Johnson made his previously scheduled appearance on The View, during which most of the conversation concerned his Aleppo gaffe. He said there was "no excuse" for his confusion and called the question "fair game." He also acknowledged that for some people, including co-host Joy Behar, the moment would be "disqualifying." If that is the case, he added, "So be it."
Johnson tried to clarify his answers on Syria in a statement Thursday morning.
“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human,” it reads. “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.”
This isn’t the first time the libertarian gave a bizarre or uninformed foreign-policy answer.
When The Daily Beast asked Johnson in June about ISIS, Syria, and U.S. foreign policy, he said, “ISIS is really, regionally, it’s very contained… The fact that we bomb them, the fact that we have this rhetoric, and the fact that we do have boots on the ground, we fly drones and kill thousands of innocent people—these are recruiting tools for ISIS.”
Then Johnson claimed China is in some ways freer than the United States.
“China has a much lower incarceration rate than the United States, they don’t spy on their citizens like we do with the NSA,” he said.
China, of course, does spy on its own citizens and regularly prosecutes them for political crimes.