Wednesday 21 February 2018

'What is Aleppo?' - Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson stuns TV audience with Syrian crisis blunder

US Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaking at a National Press Club Luncheon in Washington, DC
US Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaking at a National Press Club Luncheon in Washington, DC

Nicholas Riccardi

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has sparked widespread mockery after asking "What is Aleppo?" in response to a question about the Syrian city.

As part of a media blitz in New York to try to raise his polling numbers enough to qualify for the upcoming presidential debate, Mr Johnson fielded a range of questions with the aim of demonstrating he can take on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

But one very pressing question stumped him.

"What would you do about Aleppo?" Mr Johnson was asked on MSNBC's Morning Joe programme, referring to Syria's largest city, which has been engulfed by the country's ongoing civil war.

"What is Aleppo?" Mr Johnson responded.

Syria's 2011 pro-democracy uprising, which gradually devolved into civil war, has sparked a refugee crisis across the Middle East and Europe as millions fled their homes for safety.

When reminded of this by MSNBC, Mr Johnson said he would work with Russia to find a diplomatic solution to the civil war and that the conflict was an example of the dangers of meddling in the region.

Many have criticised Barack Obama's administration for doing too little, particularly after a failed promise that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian president Bashar Assad's government represented the ultimate "red line", and would prompt intervention.

In 2014, a US-led coalition began air strikes on Islamic State targets, and later sent US special forces to assist allied fighters.

Mr Johnson's blunder has been ridiculed, with #WhatisAleppo trending on Twitter, and Mrs Clinton chuckling at a press conference when asked about his gaffe.

"You can find Aleppo on a map," she said.

Mr Johnson acknowledged to another MSNBC reporter afterwards that the attention to the error was deserved and apologised in a statement, saying he was thinking of an acronym, not the Syrian city.

"I blanked," he said. "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," he added.

The error could not have come at a worse time for Mr Johnson.

He needs to average 15% in polls to qualify for the presidential debates - the first of which is on September 26 - and has been trying to cash in on widespread voter revulsion towards the two major party candidates.

He had picked up high-profile support on Wednesday night when former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney tweeted that Mr Johnson should be allowed in the debates.

Mr Johnson seemed to recognise the peril of the Aleppo error.

In a subsequent interview on The View, he said: "For those that believe this is a disqualifier, so be it."

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