'What is Aleppo?' asks U.S. Libertarian
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[September 09, 2016]
By Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Libertarian Party
presidential candidate Gary Johnson framed an embarrassing lapse on
foreign affairs as simple human error on Thursday after he responded to
a question about a flashpoint in the Syrian civil war by asking, "What
The gaffe came during an MSNBC interview about the continuing battle for
Syria's biggest city, Aleppo, which has been divided for years into
government and rebel sectors and has been in the news daily in recent
"What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo," Johnson was
"About Aleppo. And what is Aleppo?" he responded.
"You're kidding?" the MSNBC interviewer said.
"No," Johnson said.
"Aleppo is in Syria. ... It's the epicenter of the refugee crisis," the
"OK, got it. Got it," Johnson said.
The embarrassing exchange followed a forum on Wednesday night in which
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican rival Donald Trump
sought to showcase their national security and defense credentials.
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, has been trying to
turn the two major candidates' low approval ratings to his advantage in
the race to win the Nov. 8 election.
However, he has just 8.6 support in the current average of opinion polls
by website RealClearPolitics in a matchup with Clinton, Trump, and Green
Party candidate Jill Stein.
While the Libertarian Party has long rejected U.S. military intervention
abroad, the candidate's failure to recognize one of the most troubled
spots in the Middle East drew ridicule and prompted speculation that his
campaign was essentially over.
Clinton, asked at a news conference about Johnson's remarks, laughed and
quipped, "You can look on the map and find Aleppo."
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Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks at a campaign
rally in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., August 27, 2016. REUTERS/Brian
In a statement after the MSNBC interview, Johnson said the mistake
showed he was human and explained that, when asked about Aleppo, he
was thinking of an acronym and not the Syrian war.
"Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified
Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes," he said.
In the 2012 presidential election, Johnson set a record for most
votes won by a Libertarian candidate - about 1 percent of the
popular vote - and was aiming to attract disaffected Republicans and
Democrats to sustain steady growth in the party.
The Libertarian agenda promotes civil liberties and a
small-government agenda. Johnson has pledged to cut spending, stick
to conservative fiscal policies and legalize marijuana.
Appearing on ABC's talk show "The View" later, Johnson reacted
mildly to suggestions the gaffe would kill his campaign. "I guess
people will have to make that judgment," he said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Frances Kerry and
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