Passport

No, John Kerry has not invented a new country

John Kerry, we’re told, has committed his "first gaffe" as secretary of state. In a slip of the tongue ahead of his overseas trip this week, Kerry appeared to confuse the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, blurting out what the Global Post heard as "Kyrzakhstan." Today, news outlets from the U.S. to the ...

John Kerry, we’re told, has committed his "first gaffe" as secretary of state. In a slip of the tongue ahead of his overseas trip this week, Kerry appeared to confuse the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, blurting out what the Global Post heard as "Kyrzakhstan." Today, news outlets from the U.S. to the U.K. to Russia are ribbing the newly minted State Department chief for inventing a new country.

Here’s the thing — listen to the video closely, and it sounds more like Kerry simply mixed up the "z" and the "g," saying something like "Kyrzygstan." Is that really what qualifies as a gaffe these days? Especially when compared to George W. Bush not knowing the name of Pakistan’s top general, or a U.S. presidential candidate deliberately and dismissively mangling another country’s name? If Kerry’s critics want something to latch onto, they might want to focus on the difficulties he’s having in securing a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders.

Even if Kerry mixed up Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, it’s worth noting that he wouldn’t be alone. West Wing fans may remember that Sam Seaborn stumbled into a similar trap when he tried to impress a newspaper columnist by spouting off about nuclear weapons in Kyrgyzstan. "There are barely pots and pans in Kyrgyzstan," he ruefully observes once the mistake dawns on him (starts at 4:00):

 

John Kerry, we’re told, has committed his "first gaffe" as secretary of state. In a slip of the tongue ahead of his overseas trip this week, Kerry appeared to confuse the Central Asian nations of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, blurting out what the Global Post heard as "Kyrzakhstan." Today, news outlets from the U.S. to the U.K. to Russia are ribbing the newly minted State Department chief for inventing a new country.

Here’s the thing — listen to the video closely, and it sounds more like Kerry simply mixed up the "z" and the "g," saying something like "Kyrzygstan." Is that really what qualifies as a gaffe these days? Especially when compared to George W. Bush not knowing the name of Pakistan’s top general, or a U.S. presidential candidate deliberately and dismissively mangling another country’s name? If Kerry’s critics want something to latch onto, they might want to focus on the difficulties he’s having in securing a meeting with Syrian opposition leaders.

Even if Kerry mixed up Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, it’s worth noting that he wouldn’t be alone. West Wing fans may remember that Sam Seaborn stumbled into a similar trap when he tried to impress a newspaper columnist by spouting off about nuclear weapons in Kyrgyzstan. "There are barely pots and pans in Kyrgyzstan," he ruefully observes once the mistake dawns on him (starts at 4:00):

 

Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland. Twitter: @UriLF

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