Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson Asks "What Is Aleppo?" on 'Morning Joe'

Gary Johnson — H 2016

"I'm incredibly frustrated with myself," he later told Mark Halperin about his remarks.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson on Thursday dumbfounded panelists on MSNBC's Morning Joe when he asked what the Syrian city of Aleppo was.

"What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?" asked panelist Mike Barnicle. "And what is Aleppo?" asked Johnson. "You're kidding," replied Barnicle. Johnson said no, he wasn't.

"Aleppo is in Syria," explained Barnicle slowly. "it's the epicenter of the refugee crisis."

“Okay, got it. Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it’s a mess,” said Johnson. “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 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. And that this is the result of regime change that we end up supporting and, inevitably, these regime changes have led to a less safe world.”

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough was incredulous that Johnson didn't know what Aleppo was .“Do you really think 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?”

“I do understand Aleppo and I understand the crisis that is going on," said Johnson." 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,”

He continued, “And we find ourselves always, politicians are up against the wall, and ask what to do about these things, and this is why we end up committing military force in areas that, like I say, at the end of the day have an unintended consequence of making things worse.”


Mark Halperin later did a follow-up interview with Johnson about his major flub. "Knowing that there's a city in between the two forces, really at the epicenter, but not remembering or identifying that that's Aleppo — guilty," said Johnson.

"This is going to be a big deal," said Halperin.

"I'm incredibly frustrated with myself," said Johnson in the follow-up interview captured on Halperin's iPhone, adding that he understands why this is a big deal. Halperin said that later in their interview Johnson said, "I need to learn more," and that he and his team were "clearly chastened" when he spoke to them in the lobby.

Johnson addressed the situation again on Twitter, writing, "Started my day by setting aside any doubt I’m human." He shared a link to his statement in which he said when he initially heard the question he was thinking of Aleppo as an acronym. He says that he should have identified Aleppo but that regardless, he does understand its significance.

"As Governor, there were many things I didn't know off the top of my head," wrote Johnson, "But I succeeded by surrounding myself with the right people, getting to the bottom of important issues, and making principled decisions. It worked. This is what a President must do."

Later Thursday morning, Johnson appeared as a guest on ABC's The View, where he again was asked about the Aleppo incident and reiterated that he was confused but there's no excuse for his gaffe.

"No excuse. I was thinking in terms of the acronym, Aleppo. That's no excuse whatsoever," he said, quickly pivoting to a discussion about the "dynamics in Syria."

Earlier, guest panelist Jedediah Bila, herself a Libertarian, said she thought Johnson "fell into the stereotype" of libertarians not being knowledgeable about foreign policy because they're often seen as isolationists. So she asked Johnson if he thought the question was an instance of "media bias," suggesting MSNBC was trying to trap the Libertarian candidate. But he dismissed the argument and said he thought the question was "absolutely ... fair game."

"It's how you deal with adversity that ultimately determines success," Johnson added. Bila also praised him for saying he didn't know, arguing that "that's human." He later said he "reject[ed] the notion that Libertarians are isolationists. We are non-interventionists."

"When we get involved in other countries' affairs, it has the unintended consequence of making things worse, not better," he added.

Joy Behar, who said earlier in the show that she did know what Aleppo is, told Johnson she thought his MSNBC response was a "disqualifying" statement. "Fair enough," he said. She then asked: "Will you get out of the race now?" He said, "No."

When asked if he could recover from a gaffe that some have speculated could mark the end of his campaign, Johnson said "Gosh, I guess people will have to make that judgment. I will say that it is a process and I respect the process and for those that believe this is a disqualifier, so be it. I've been really well-served in my life by always telling the truth. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything, and I think the one unforgivable in life is hypocrisy, saying one thing and doing another."

Sept. 8, 9 a.m. This story has been updated to include Johnson's comments on The View and his statement.