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.”
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: And what is Aleppo?
Host: You’re kidding
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.
I’m not sure what’s more surprising. That a major candidate for president doesn’t know #whatisaleppo or that it wasn’t Trump.
— Ben Irwin (@benirwin) September 8, 2016
I guess you can start smoking pot again Gary. After that I’d smoke the biggest bowl imaginable. #WhatisAleppo #MorningJoe
— angel_actually (@ms_angelintexas) September 8, 2016
That was the most cringe-worthy thing I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot because Trump. #whatisaleppo
— Louise Knott Ahern (@weezwrites) September 8, 2016
Some jumped to Johnson’s defence:
I bet 3/4 of the people attacking #GaryJohnson right didn’t even know what Aleppo was either until this mess. pic.twitter.com/vRGxGg10Uc
— Jason (@stuckonbucky) September 8, 2016
But others weren’t so forgiving:
Crazy idea: when running for president, occasionally look at a newspaper. #whatisaleppo
— Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) September 8, 2016
And then there was this:
the @nytimes had its own problems identifying aleppo. seriously, what’s going on over there? https://t.co/98WeVkLXS6 pic.twitter.com/EmaCgMqPSc
— Liz Lin (@curiousliz) September 8, 2016
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”.
This is #Aleppo. #whatisaleppo pic.twitter.com/l6Fqs8I5Pa
— Eli Yokley (@eyokley) September 8, 2016
Gary Johnson’s “What is Aleppo?” moment currently getting more coverage in US media than actual events in Aleppo ever do. #WhatIsAleppo
— Eliot Higgins (@EliotHiggins) September 8, 2016
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.
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”.
Dateline gets exclusive access to the Free Syrian Army.