Yesterday, Gary Johnson had Mitt Romney fighting to get him into the debates. After this morning, his own team might be happier to get excluded. MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel offered Johnson a chance to discuss foreign policy, a particular area of concern for Libertarians. Mike Barnicle wondered how Johnson would handle the massive crisis in Aleppo, Syria — and Johnson had no idea what Barnicle meant:
MIKE BARNICLE: What would you do if you were elected, about Aleppo?
GARY JOHNSON: About?
JOHNSON: And what is Aleppo?
BARNICLE: You’re kidding.
BARNICLE: Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the – it’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.
JOHNSON: Okay, got it. Got it.
How many of the current presidential candidates would know Aleppo if it came up in conversation? Hillary Clinton would be almost certain to have understood the question, and Evan McMullin probably would as well. Jill Stein … who knows? Foreign policy barely makes an appearance on her campaign website, other than “end the wars and drone attacks,” and closing 700 or more military bases.
Would Donald Trump have fielded the Aleppo question any better? After this Johnson face-plant, it’s a sure bet that Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Bannon are briefing him on it now, but Trump made it through a 30-minute forum last night without blowing a reference like this. For the record, Trump’s position for more than a year is that he would set policy in Syria based on high-level balance-of-powers issues more than on-the-ground considerations:
Trump sees Syria in broad foreign policy terms — a balancing of powers and interests — not as place where hundreds of thousands have bled out in their fight for freedom.
“Are we better off with Assad?” Trump wondered aloud to CNN in September of last year. “We have no idea who these people [the rebels] are. We give them weapons, we give them ammunition, we give them everything. I mean, maybe it’s worse than Assad. So what are we doing? Why are we involved?”
Trump’s take on Syria’s opposition — and on the Syrian President — have shocked many activists and shattered their hopes of finding a friendlier American president who might have been more more helpful to the rebel cause.
Interestingly, Johnson’s take isn’t that much different. After he had recovered from his stumble, Johnson also argues for aligning with Russia and dumping our alliances on the ground:
JOHNSON: Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it’s a mess. And I think the only way that we deal with Syria is to join hands with Russia to diplomatically bring that at an end. But when we’ve aligned ourselves with, when we’ve supported the opposition, the Free Syrian Army, the Free Syrian Army is also coupled with the Islamists, and then the fact that we’re also supporting the Kurds. And this is – it’s just a mess.
Johnson appears to have thought through the Syria question to at least some extent, even if he hasn’t studied the secondary cities on the Syrian map, and even if his position doesn’t necessarily line up with those on the MSNBC panel. Asking “What about Aleppo?” isn’t a gotcha question, but it’s less important than “What do we do about Syria and ISIS?”
Joe Scarborough, however, can’t believe that a presidential candidate doesn’t know what Aleppo is. “Do you really think,” he asks Johnson later, “that foreign policy is so insignificant that somebody running for president of the United States shouldn’t even know what Aleppo is, where Aleppo is, why Aleppo is so important?” Johnson tells Scarborough that “I do understand Aleppo.” Now, that is.
Update (AP): Errrrr … Obama’s former ambassador to Iraq apparently doesn’t know what Aleppo is either.
— Jamie Weinstein (@Jamie_Weinstein) September 8, 2016
Oh, and neither does the New York Times:
— Jeff B/DDHQ (@EsotericCD) September 8, 2016