The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

An Actual U.S. Presidential Candidate: ‘What is Aleppo?’

Epicenter of Syria conflict? Ground zero of humanitarian crisis? Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson seems to have missed the last five years of U.S. foreign policy.

aleppo

"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.

“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.

Watch here:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTsnfxxu3qk&w=560&h=315%5D

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

More from Foreign Policy

Bill Clinton and Joe Biden  at a meeting of the U.S. Congressional delegation to the NATO summit in Spain on July 7, 1998.

Liberal Illusions Caused the Ukraine Crisis

The greatest tragedy about Russia’s potential invasion is how easily it could have been avoided.

A report card is superimposed over U.S. President Joe Biden.

Is Biden’s Foreign Policy Grade A Material?

More than 30 experts grade the U.S. president’s first year of foreign policy.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan gives a press briefing.

Defining the Biden Doctrine

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sat down with FP to talk about Russia, China, relations with Europe, and year one of the Biden presidency.

Ukrainian servicemen taking part in the armed conflict with Russia-backed separatists in Donetsk region of the country attend the handover ceremony of military heavy weapons and equipment in Kiev on November 15, 2018.

The West’s Weapons Won’t Make Any Difference to Ukraine

U.S. military equipment wouldn’t realistically help Ukrainians—or intimidate Putin.