Aleppo is a major city in Syria that’s been engulfed by the civil war there and the refugee crisis, but Johnson seemed confused when “Morning Joe” co-host Mike Barnicle asked him: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”
“About?” Johnson said.
“Aleppo,” Barnicle responded.
Johnson paused and said: “And what is Aleppo?”
“You’re kidding …” the incredulous Barnicle answered.
“No,” Johnson said.
“Aleppo is in Syria — it’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis,” Barnicle said.
“OK. Got it. With regard to Syria, I do think it is a mess,” the Libertarian nominee said.
Johnson pivoted to arguing against military interventions in foreign countries, and said that the refugee crisis “is the result of regime change that we end up supporting, and, inevitably, these regimes have led to a less safe world.”
He also suggested that the US should “join hands with Russia” to bring an end to the conflict in Syria.
Host Joe Scarborough, though, pressed Johnson on his confusion about Aleppo.
“Aleppo is the center of a lot of people’s concerns across the planet about the terrible humanitarian crisis that is unfolding not only in Syria, but especially in Aleppo. You asked, ‘What is Aleppo?’ Do you really think that foreign policy is so insignificant that somebody who is running for president of the United States shouldn’t even know what Aleppo is, where Aleppo is, and why it is so important?” he asked.
Johnson answered: “Well, no, I do understand Aleppo, and I understand the crisis that is going on. But when we involve ourselves militarily, when we involve ourselves in these humanitarian issues, we end up with a situation that in most cases is not better. And in many cases ends up being worse.”
In a follow up interview just after the show with Bloomberg News’ Mark Halperin, a frequent guest analyst on “Morning Joe,” Johnson said he was “incredibly frustrated” with himself but admitted he’d been caught flat-footed.
“Not remembering or identifying that that’s Aleppo — guilty,” he said. “I understand the significance. Genuinely — believe me, no one is taking this more seriously than me. I feel horrible.”
He added: “I have to get smarter, and that’s just part of the process.”
Johnson later issued a statement: “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.”
Hillary Clinton swiped at Johnson for the gaffe when she was asked about his stumble during a news conference early Thursday.
“Well, you could look on a map and find Aleppo,” she said.