“What is Aleppo?”
So said U.S. presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a Libertarian, on Thursday during a morning segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Host Mike Barnicle had asked Johnson what he’d do about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, if elected.
The interview came just days after a suspected chlorine gas attack Tuesday injured some 100 people in Aleppo. Rescue workers and a monitoring group accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of responsibility. And a recent photograph of a 5-year-old boy pulled from the rubble of an airstrike in a rebel-held area of Aleppo, bloodied and dazed, has renewed attention to the 5-year-old conflict between Assad, rebel groups, and the Islamic State — and the impotence of the United States and other global leaders to end it.
Johnson, however, appeared unaware.
“About …?” he asked initially.
“Aleppo,” Barnicle repeated.
“And what is Aleppo?” Johnson said with a blank face.
“You’re kidding me,” Barnicle responded.
“No,” Johnson said, to more awkward silence.
“Aleppo is the epicenter of the refugee crisis,” Barnicle prompted him, astonished.
“Oh, OK, got it,” Johnson said. “With regards to Syria, I do think it’s a mess.”
Far too late — #WhatIsAleppo immediately began trending on social media and has continued to inspire widespread derision.
Meanwhile, Johnson is polling at 9 percent to GOP nominee Donald Trump’s 39 percent and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s 40 percent, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average. He has argued he should be on stage at the upcoming presidential debates but needs to average 15 percent in nationally recognized polls.
Later Thursday, Johnson issued a statement addressing the incident.
“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human,” he began. He went on to say he blanked, thinking Aleppo was an acronym, and that as president, he would surround himself with the “right people.” “Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes.”
This story has been updated.
Photo Credit: Anadolu Agency / Contributor