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Candidate’s disastrous interview

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U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton laughs when asked about Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson’s blunder on Aleppo saying, “You can look on the map and find Aleppo.”

Gary Johnson seemed to reveal a hole in his foreign-affairs knowledge when he was befuddled by an otherwise routine question about the Syrian city of Aleppo. Picture: Rick Bowmer/AP

WHEN you are facing a candidate like Donald Trump it takes a big gaffe to steal the media limelight but Gary Johnson managed to do it.

The former New Mexico governor is a Libertarian Party nominee running to be America’s next president. He’s up against big names from the Republican party (Trump) and the Democrats (Hillary Clinton), and has been trying to reach 15 per cent in the national election polls so that he can get a spot in the first presidential debate on September 26.

But Johnson managed to steal the media spotlight on Thursday for all the wrong reasons, thanks to this exchange on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:

Host: What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?

Johnson: About?

Host: Aleppo

Johnson: And what is Aleppo?

Host: You’re kidding

Johnson: No

Host: Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the epicentre of the refugee crisis

Johnson: OK got it, got it.

His “What is Aleppo” response quickly went viral.

Some jumped to Johnson’s defence:

But others weren’t so forgiving:

And then there was this:

Some have described the conflict in Aleppo as “one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times” and shared online images of the destruction in rebel-held neighbourhoods, which were recently described by one rebel fighter as “like walking into Hiroshima”.

In a statement he released later, Johnson admitted to being human.

“This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human. 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 it’s 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.”

SO WHAT IS ALEPPO?

Once Syria’s commercial centre, large parts of Aleppo are under siege and food and basic necessities are often scarce, dependent on humanitarian aid convoys that arrive only after complex international negotiations.

The population of Syria’s largest city has fallen from 3.1 million in 2011 to an estimated two million today, as families have fled four years of violence and hardship.

The city’s rich cultural and religious mix of Christians, Muslims, Armenians and Kurds has been torn apart by the conflict.

“If you are wondering #WhatISAleppo: More than 100 cases of suffocation in al-Sukkari neighbourhood, #Aleppo, in a chlorine gas #BarrelBombs attack,” the Syrian Coalition, an exiled opposition group, tweeted.

It referred to a suspected toxic gas attack by government helicopters on Tuesday that killed two people and left at least 80 with breathing problems. The government on Thursday denied using the toxic gas.

Smoke rises over Saif Al Dawla district, in Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Manu Brabo/AP

Smoke rises over Saif Al Dawla district, in Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Manu Brabo/APSource:AP

Not for the first time in its long history, Aleppo finds itself torn between international powers. Turkey is a main supporter of the city’s rebel groups, and has sent its military to Aleppo province to fight Islamic State group extremists and rival Kurdish rebels. Russia and Iran are supporting the Syrian government’s bid to gain control over the city.

The US and Russia are locked in protracted negotiations over a ceasefire in the city, after a previous truce deal collapsed in Aleppo in April.

In the meantime, the International Committee for the Red Cross describes Aleppo simply as “one of the most devastating urban conflicts in modern times”.

Syrians gather by the rubble of a house, destroyed from Syrian forces shelling, in the Syrian town of Azaz, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Muhammed Muheisen/AP

Syrians gather by the rubble of a house, destroyed from Syrian forces shelling, in the Syrian town of Azaz, on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. Picture: Muhammed Muheisen/APSource:AP

Dateline gets exclusive access to the Free Syrian Army.