In an admittedly embarrassing interview flub, Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson has made headlines. During a foreign policy panel on MSNBC, Gary Johnson was asked what his plan would be for addressing the crisis in Aleppo. Gary’s response: “...and what is Aleppo?”
Many outlets have begun criticizing Johnson for this, and since his campaign has been criticized from the start – partly thanks to his most recent facepalm moment of being triggered by the term “illegal immigrant” – this is definitely not a positive for his presidential aspirations. But people are making a bigger deal out of it than necessary.
Aleppo Is Better Off without Us
On Twitter I made the comment, “Most of the people giving Gary Johnson grief about Aleppo can't even find Syria on a map.” Correctly, many people responded by pointing to the fact that most people aren’t running to become the Commander-in-Chief.
Is it even a good idea that our politicians know where Aleppo is?At first I agreed that someone looking to solve a foreign crisis should probably know the major geographical locations affected by it. But then I had a second take. Is it even a good idea that our politicians know where Aleppo is?
If you consider the “wonderful success” America’s foreign policy has had in Syria, it might be beneficial to everyone if we had a president who didn’t know where Aleppo was. The soldiers of Syria’s secular army would probably like it if we didn’t know where to donate weapons to opposing extremist factions.Civilians and humanitarian groups like Doctors Without Borders would probably be okay with fewer drone strikes raining down on their rooftops.
Overall, I think it would be much better if the American government didn’t even know that Aleppo existed. But alas, we have people in power who are dead set on giving the Middle East even more of that Dank Western Freedom, commonly chambered in GBU-43 MOAB.
Would Trump or Clinton Be Better for Syria?
Speaking of benevolent leaders, let’s talk about the two primary nominees. There’s no question that Clinton would be given extremely biased media forgiveness if she made the same blunder.
Which is more than I can say for the New York Times, who, in their angst to smear Gary as a dunce, is getting backlash for actually misidentified key Syrian locations themselves, not once, but twice in the same article. And here is the correction the paper was forced to run.
Irony is beautiful isn’t it?
But in all seriousness, if we’re going to judge candidates based on competence, Gary Johnson may not know where Aleppo is, but Hillary, more often than not, appears to not even have the mental fortitude to comprehend her immediate surroundings. A president having a subpar grasp on geography is probably preferable to one drifting into spontaneous dementia.
And when it comes to Trump, I suppose it’s easy to disregard specific areas of crisis when your entire foreign policy plan centers around the idea of “bombing the crap” out of an entire region.
Let's imagine – as Will Grigg did – that Trump were asked about Aleppo. Conjecture:
You know, the Aleppo -- it's very important, very important, and I've heard a lot about it from the best people. You look at my poll numbers – they're just tremendous, you know, the best anyone was ever seen – it's clear that I'm the one people trust to deal with the Aleppo, OK? Believe me – believe me. And Crooked Hillary – she doesn't understand the Aleppo, I mean, if she can't find her emails, how can she deal with the Aleppo? It's sad, really – it's sad. I alone can fix the Aleppo.
But if we set aside petty political gotcha-moments and actually examine the policy of these three candidates, what do we conclude?
Which candidate has the most fiscally responsible stance in terms of military spending? Not Hillary, who wants to increase wealth redistribution and foreign aid to the Middle East tenfold. Not Trump, who wants to increase the size of our military and invest even more taxpayer dollars in useless equipment like the F-35.
I’m not even going to waste time comparing the interventionist policies of Trump and Clinton to those of Johnson’s. The fact is, the citizens of Aleppo don’t care about this nontroversy of Johnson not knowing the name of their city. In reality, they’re terrified of the possible intervention that’s going to come at the hands of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Gary Is the Only One Who Cares about Syria
This whole Aleppo controversy might have just provided the crisis in Syria with the most awareness any candidate has yet given to it.Funny thing is, this whole Aleppo controversy might have just provided the crisis in Syria with the most awareness any candidate has yet given to it. Again, Johnson may not know the names of specific cities, but that doesn’t negate his awareness of the overall critical situation in Syria.
Here is what he said after learning that the country under discussion was Syria:
"But when we’ve aligned ourselves with—when we have 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. This is the result of regime change that we end up supporting and, inevitably, these regime changes have led to a less safe world."
The general dynamics of the conflict as a whole are more important than geographical names. And, unlike Trump and especially Hillary, he gets those dynamics right! The U.S. government has been supporting allies of Islamists, including Syrian Al Qaeda. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton played a key role in establishing that policy of sponsoring friends of terrorists.
And he's also right that the kind of regime change that the U.S. is trying to pull off in Syria has "led to a less safe world." Syria's Bashar al-Assad is the third secular Arab ruler that the U.S. has sought to overthrow. The first two were Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. All three dictators were brutal to be sure, but their countries under their rule were basically stable, and their regimes were hostile to Islamists. Yet, after their respective U.S. regime change operations, all three countries descended into civil war and chaos in which extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda have thrived and metastasized.
And when was the last time Hillary or Trump took time out of their campaign war to even acknowledge the Syrian people?
According to Hillary, the Alt Right and racist Pepe memes are more of a pressing issue than the Syrian civil war. According to Donald Trump, Mexico and China’s economic rise warrants constant mention.
Dead Syrian civilians and US-backed rebel terrorist organizations? Not so much. Johnson may be the only candidate who’s taken time to actually sit on a foreign policy panel and brainstorm ideas that may be useful in responding to the devastation that’s happening in Aleppo, which apparently isn’t good enough for the media.
But you can bet your last dollar that there will be continuous cycles about Hillary coughing on stage or Donald Trump eating a taco bowl in his office.
Look, I’m not Gary Johnson’s biggest fan by a long shot. I think he’s clumsy in his speaking, uninspiring, insufficiently principled, and, at times, personally unlikable. But when it comes to foreign policy at least, he’s not the best, but, intellectually speaking, he is by far better than the two cancerous choices the American public has settled on to be the next President of the United States.