Thomas L. Knapp: “Election 2016: It’s a Presidential Campaign, Not a Geography Quiz”

aleppo

By Thomas L. Knapp, Libertarian activist and IPR contributor, originally published at TheGarrisonCenter.org on September 9th, 2016:

On September 8, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, where panelist Mike Barnicle hit him with the question:

“What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”

Johnson: “About?”

Barnicle: “Aleppo.”

Johnson: “And what is a leppo?”

Barnicle: “You’re kidding.”

Johnson: “No.”

Maybe you’ve heard about this exchange. Maybe you know (or maybe you Googled and found out) that Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and a focal point of the war between Syria’s government and Islamic State rebels.

Be warned: If you listened to MSNBC’s “expert” on Syria, or read the New York Times account of Johnson’s “faux pas,” you got bad scoop. They didn’t know much about Aleppo either, inaccurately describing the city as the Islamic State’s “capital” (that’s Raqqa, not Aleppo).

My gut feeling is that the average American will come down on Johnson’s side of this teapot tempest, for two reasons.

First, most Americans likely know little if anything about Aleppo and don’t care to, so they can probably sympathize. Johnson’s foreign policy focus as a presidential candidate is “big picture.” He wants the US to stop militarily intervening everywhere around the world at the drop of a hat. He doesn’t have to know the name of every city in the world to know that he doesn’t want to bomb them.

Secondly, the question was transparently framed as an ambush. Barnicle’s obvious intent was to try and get a Dan Quayle or George W. Bush type howler or malapropism out of Johnson.

Any TV talking head who queried Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump on the subject would do so roughly as follows:

“Moving on to Syria: If elected, what is your plan to address the civil war there, destroy ISIS and bring peace to the region? And what do you think of reports of new chemical attacks in the country’s largest city, Aleppo, where fighting between regime forces and ISIS has flared up again?”

Not: “What would you do if you were elected about Aleppo?”

To Johnson’s credit, he quickly owned up to and apologized for his knowledge gap in the area of Syrian geography. But he shouldn’t have had to, because he shouldn’t have been asked that question in that exceedingly unprofessional manner.

Running for president is not a geography quiz.

And Morning Joe isn’t — or at least shouldn’t be — an arm of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, charged with helping her regain traction among voters who have abandoned her for third party candidates because of her demonstrated personal corruption and incompetence, not to mention her dangerous foreign policy belligerence.

Yes, Clinton knows where Aleppo is — and she’d turn the city of more than two million into a lifeless crater given the opportunity.

Is Johnson all that and a bag of chips? Maybe not. But at least his ideas on foreign policy and military adventurism don’t constitute an existential threat to the US and to humanity. The same can’t be said for the ideas of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

PUBLICATION/CITATION HISTORY

Original link: http://thegarrisoncenter.org/archives/7522#rAbe2bxmBeJrAGoS.99

 

37 thoughts on “Thomas L. Knapp: “Election 2016: It’s a Presidential Campaign, Not a Geography Quiz”

  1. T Rex

    Great piece by Knapp. At the end of the day, Johnson is running for President of the United States…NOT President of Syria (or World Emperor). Being able to name and spell every dung-hole in the Middle East isn’t part of the job description, nor should it be. I’m sure Hitler was great at geography (for much the same reason as Killary). Who cares?

    As for Mike “notorious plagiarist” Barnicle….I guarantee he would not fair any better if he was on the receiving end of Gotcha! questions. It’s easy to look smart when you ask the questions instead of answering them off the top of your head.

  2. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    I vehemently disagree with most of what Thomas wrote in the last paragraph, but otherwise, I think he made some fair points in his assessment.

    The one good thing to come out of this is that millions of Americans found out what Aleppo is for the first time. That’s a plus in my book.

    I wonder how Stein or Castle would have answered had they been in the same position. My guess is they “knew about Aleppo” well before this gaffe. I’m currently looking at an “Abolish student debt” poster I got from the Stein rally in Chicago the other day. Stein may be a far left candidate, but I’m attracted to her, and I contend she is reliably anti-war as is her VP, Baraka. I won’t vote for her, but I hope she will outpoll Johnson – if not nationally, than at least in some key states. I think Castle is well-informed on current events, but he really isn’t getting a lot of media coverage at all, except for the IPR / ATPR network and blogs like Liberty Hangout or RedState. I’d really like to see him participate in the Free & Equal debate in late October. Castle said in his first Facebook livestream that he didn’t want to debate anyone except for Johnson and Stein, but I think he should take any opportunity he can get. His name recognition is still extremely low.

    On a radically different and entirely unrelated note, I started reading Trump’s “The Art of the Comeback.” My favorability towards Trump is growing by the day. He’s earned my vote, unquestionably, though at first I was cautious towards him. He’s the nominee of the California AIP, I’d like to point out, too – it’s a stretch, but it’s a tiny third party credential in my world. Castle is not on the ballot in Illinois. I’m not writing in anyone this year; the only exception I would make is for my friend David Earl Williams III, who was just endorsed by the Libertarian Party of Chicago, but his congressional district is literally across the street from where I live.

    I find it amusing, cringe-worthy and depressing at the same time that all these Republicans who are now “NeverTrump” had zero issues with voting for Bush Jr., McCain and Romney. Trump is not part of the Illuminati; Gingrich admitted this on live TV that he “hasn’t been initiated.” Trump is making all the right enemies, many of whom are war-hungry, bloodthirsty neocons:

    “Trump enrages the War Party” by Justin Raimondo, AntiWar.com, July 22nd, 2016:

    http://original.antiwar.com/justin/2016/07/21/trump-enrages-war-party/

    “It’s truly amazing how the neocons on the right and the Clintonistas on the left are uniting in outrage against Trump’s refusal to start World War III with the Russians. “ – Raimondo

    Yep.

    Full circle: this Aleppo fiasco, if I can call it that, was fun to watch. I want more geography interjected into the American presidential election.

  3. Jill Pyeatt

    This is a good take on the situation. It really shouldn’t have become such a huge story, but the fact that it has would support the possibility that the question was an ambush. I’ve been critical of the Johnson campaign (mainly because of Weld and his handler Tom Mahon), but this brouhaha is just dumb. Really, really dumb.

  4. Jill Pyeatt

    Part of Thomas’ last paragraph: ” But at least his ideas on foreign policy and military adventurism don’t constitute an existential threat to the US and to humanity. The same can’t be said for the ideas of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.”

    Is this what you disagree with Krzysztof? What specifically do you see as a threat?

  5. T Rex

    “The one good thing to come out of this is that millions of Americans found out what Aleppo is for the first time. That’s a plus in my book.”

    Why? So that chinless neocons like the plagiarist Barnicle can continue to dupe them into foreign quagmires?

    Most Americans find football and legal weed more important than the latest skirmish out in Durka Durka-stan. And they should.

  6. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    T-Rex, disagree. That line of reasoning represents why America is so hated around the globe. Complacency leads to atrocities done on behalf of the people by the state.

    Jill, I disagree with Tom that Trump is a danger to humanity and world peace. I think he’s the one that can work with Putin to and stand up to neoconservative desires for global world hegemony. He not a non-interventionist, but I feel that he would be a huge step in the right direction.

  7. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    I also think Johnson can’t be trusted due to Weld. Weld is not a noninterventionist by any strecth of the imagination, and I’m surprised LP activists haven’t called on him to resign from the CFR.

  8. Shivany Lane

    After my informal survey of the average person on the street, I would have to agree that taken out of context, just the word, Aleppo, was not recognized by nearly half of the people I asked.

    I am glad that Johnson owned up to it and apologized. As one person pointed out in the last thread, no, getting security briefings would not necessarily have helped him unless the word was fresh on his mind. The talking heads had to make it into an issue because what else are they going to talk about? The fact that Trump is becoming more and more unhinged in order to get cheers from his base. Like when he said (paraphrasing) That if Iran surrounded our destroyers with their little boats and made a gesture toward our sailors, he would blow them all out out of the water. Scarily enough he did say that and it was at a rally of approx. 20,000 people who cheered. Have we gotten to the point of bloodlust that we will bomb whatever looks at us the wrong way?

    Running for President is a little bit of a geography test. Do you think that the man who brags about climbing the highest mountains in the world would be just a tiny bit knowledgeable about where those mountains were? I know, Syria doesn’t have one of them. The City of Aleppo (which by the way, that is not a very common sounding word) has been under siege and in the news for over a year. They have been bombed many times. The NGOs have not been allowed in and people have not been allowed out. If you just listen to one news show, Local, NPR, BBC, they all have mentioned it at least every few days. I don’t think it was intended as a “gotcha”. Us political folks tend to think that everyone knows the same stuff we do. Yes, he could have said Syria instead of choosing one city when there are several cities to choose from. If it makes you feel better, Lawrence O’Donnell commended Johnson for owning up to his mistake and apologizing for it which he found admirable. They also went back through all the transcripts of interviews with Trump to see if Aleppo was ever mentioned and it wasn’t.

    What disturbs me about this incident is Gary Johnson’s blank stare. The uncomfortable pause, the question. Ok the news guy should not have said “are you kidding”. That was rude. Gary Johnson is interviewing for a job.Dead space is never good on radio or TV. It’s not like he is doing this all on his own. He has advisers that are paid well. What is he paying them for? Aleppo was recently in the news.

    It was a mountain out of a molehill as you say. To quote a smart man, Publicity is good, whether it is bad or good, people will know your name.

  9. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    100% agree, perfectly said, Shivany!!!

    Running for President is a little bit of a geography test. Do you think that the man who brags about climbing the highest mountains in the world would be just a tiny bit knowledgeable about where those mountains were? I know, Syria doesn’t have one of them. The City of Aleppo (which by the way, that is not a very common sounding word) has been under siege and in the news for over a year. They have been bombed many times. The NGOs have not been allowed in and people have not been allowed out. If you just listen to one news show, Local, NPR, BBC, they all have mentioned it at least every few days. I don’t think it was intended as a “gotcha”. Us political folks tend to think that everyone knows the same stuff we do. Yes, he could have said Syria instead of choosing one city when there are several cities to choose from. ….

    What disturbs me about this incident is Gary Johnson’s blank stare. The uncomfortable pause, the question. Ok the news guy should not have said “are you kidding”. That was rude. Gary Johnson is interviewing for a job.Dead space is never good on radio or TV. It’s not like he is doing this all on his own. He has advisers that are paid well. What is he paying them for? Aleppo was recently in the news.

  10. robert capozzi

    Well framed, TK.

    On this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNvjvu0MDG4

    Just kinda throwing this out there…the media really can’t handle Weld. He’s WAY too glib and well versed to be pinned down. From a technical communications perspective, he’s as good as it gets, up there in my book with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

    What the media is doing is to sensationalize Syria, and to paint anyone who seems indifferent about the carnage there as feral.

    The L impulse is to blame the Syria situation on Obama and interventionism. I do too. But that’s just not enough, from a rhetorical perspective.

    So I throw this out as a talking point for the campaign, and for fellow lessarchists to consider:

    What’s happening is Syria right now is an absolute tragedy. Horrific. Unspeakable. Like most civil wars, the brutality there was avoidable, but we are where we are. [this has to be said upfront.]

    Let’s be clear, though, that in challenging times especially, the truth points the way forward. Denial makes a bad situation worse.

    A cornerstone of our campaign is that US intervention in the Middle East has been a complete and utter failure. Bad for those countries. Bad for our country. And bad for our troops who have died, been maimed, or have come home with PTSD.

    I understand the impulse to want to “DO SOMETHING” about Syria…I really do. And, as president, there are things that can be done to alleviate and hopefully end this tragedy. What would be unwise, however, is to pour gasoline on this fire.

    Diplomacy and humanitarian aid are things that, if elected, you can be sure that a Johnson Administration would provide. If you want more gasoline poured on this fire, all I can say is: Vote for Clinton or Trump.

    I’m here to tell you that military action in Syria is a grave mistake, possibly a worse mistake than Iraq was.

  11. Thomas Knapp

    “the media really can’t handle Weld. He’s WAY too glib and well versed to be pinned down. From a technical communications perspective, he’s as good as it gets, up there in my book with Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.”

    I disagree. The media love Weld because he’s a stock character of a type that’s handy but that there are usually only a few of around at a time: A glib blue-blood gadfly who can send a tantalizing tingle down the legs of cocktail set types by coming off as soooooooo avant-garde — reaching this or that soon-to-be-popular issue five minutes before everyone else without ever presenting any actual challenge to The Way Things Are.

    Clinton at his height managed to meld southern good-old-boy charm with lip-nibbling social conscience, all wrapped around a gooey center of militant centrism. That took talent.

  12. George Phillies

    The core part of the question is “what would you do about”? And the answer might be “I know what I will not do. I will not throw away trillions of dollars. I will not send hundreds or thousands of young Americans to their pointless deaths the way George Bush did in Iraq. I will not create vast debts the our children and grandchildren into debt slaves.”

  13. George Phillies

    Oh, yes, instead of believing that I am our country’s supreme genius, who must solve every problem as it exists after I take office on my own, I will ask relevant advisors and outsiders for their ideas before the appropriate persons in my administration who may well be me comes to a decision.

  14. Thane Eichenauer

    Any person that has hopes and dreams of Donald Trump being a far, far better candidate on foreign policy is wearing rose colored glasses at least 50% of the time. Read any transcript or his speeches or any given account of what he says about foreign policy issue X or Y and you cannot come to any given conclusion unless you ignore half of what the man says. There may be some warmongering folk that claim to absolutely dislike Trump and his positions. I am sure they would change their tune instantly so long as Trump did a slow backtrack from any given position that didn’t involve bombing, invading and occupying country X, Y or Z. When and if Donald Trump is elected president he may well disappoint non-interventionists.

    Q: How likely is he to disappoint Rudy Giuliani and company and the dark and evil sorts that rely upon the profits from billions and billions of dollars of munitions contracts?
    A: Not at all likely (times 1,000).

  15. dL

    “I disagree. The media love Weld because he’s a stock character of a type that’s handy but that there are usually only a few of around at a time: A glib blue-blood gadfly who can send a tantalizing tingle down the legs of cocktail set types by coming off as soooooooo avant-garde — reaching this or that soon-to-be-popular issue five minutes before everyone else without ever presenting any actual challenge to The Way Things Are.

    Clinton at his height managed to meld southern good-old-boy charm with lip-nibbling social conscience, all wrapped around a gooey center of militant centrism. That took talent.”

    I must say…some great prose

  16. Stuart Simms

    Excellent thread, some of the more thoughtful and respectful posts that I’ve read on IPR in some time.

    In Addition to what GJ should/could have said in responding to what was clearly a “gotcha” question (out of context and unnecessarily specific), I would like GJ to point out that the President is the Commander in Chief but only Congress can declare war under Article 1 Section 8 Clause 11 of the Constitution. Basically state it the way that George Phillies does so eloquently above (“I know what I will not do. I will not throw away trillions of dollars. I will not send hundreds or thousands of young Americans to their pointless deaths the way George Bush did in Iraq. I will not create vast debts the our children and grandchildren into debt slaves.”)
    Then go on to say that IF the members of Congress believe we should throw away trillions of dollars, send hundreds or thousands of young Americans to their pointless deaths the way George Bush did, create vast debts turning our children and grandchildren into debt slaves and kill countless numbers of innocents. Then let each and every member of Congress that votes to do so, explain their decision to their constituents and to the American people. As for me I will not seek a Declaration of War unless the United States is attacked.

  17. Krzysztof Lesiak Post author

    “I disagree. The media love Weld because he’s a stock character of a type that’s handy but that there are usually only a few of around at a time: A glib blue-blood gadfly who can send a tantalizing tingle down the legs of cocktail set types by coming off as soooooooo avant-garde — reaching this or that soon-to-be-popular issue five minutes before everyone else without ever presenting any actual challenge to The Way Things Are.

    Clinton at his height managed to meld southern good-old-boy charm with lip-nibbling social conscience, all wrapped around a gooey center of militant centrism. That took talent.”

    I must say…some great prose

    Thomas is an talented writer with a quick wit. I always enjoy his comments on IPR, even if I strongly disagree with them.

  18. Darcy G Richardson

    My good friend, Thomas, is indeed a talented writer and an unusually astute political observer, but there’s really no way to disguise the fact that Gary Johnson is an ill-informed, totally unprepared candidate for the nation’s highest office.

    And, no, it wasn’t a “gotcha” question.

    The crisis in Aleppo has been all over the worldwide news for weeks. There’s no disguising the fact that the Libertarian Party is fielding a candidate who doesn’t have a clue. Own it.

  19. Thomas Knapp

    Yes, Johnson is ill-informed and unprepared.

    Yes, it was a “gotcha” question.

    The two claims are not mutually exclusive.

    There is absolutely, positively, no fucking way on Earth that Hillary Clinton would have been asked that question in that way.

  20. Shivany Lane

    Hi Thomas, my friend and mentor.

    We will never know if Hillary or Trump would have been asked that question in the same way. What we do know, beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Hillary has heard that word enough times that she would have answered it no matter how it was asked.

    We also know that Trump would have come off with, something cheeky like, I would bomb them if they didn’t surrender. Thus staying true to his tough guy image. Though no one has ever asked him about Aleppo, ever, in any context.

    The issue is not as much that he didn’t know what or who ‘a leppo’ was. The issue is that he had a deer in the headlights blank stare and even after finding out what he was asked, which was really an unfair question anyway, he did not recover well. Other politicians have gotten gotcha questions before. It is a given that his expensive consultants should have prepared him for. Even though Sarah Palin spoke in her own version of word salad, she always had an answer.

    Bottom line, this is a job interview. Do your homework.

  21. steve m

    Gary just took the issue head on at New York rally (which is doubling as a money bomb that is above $860K) He did a fine job of explaining the situation in Aleppo. The group standing on the stage behind was diverse. They had a Marine Vet who had been seriously wounded in Iraq speak about his issues getting medical treatment. They had Larry Sharp do an introduction. This campaign is starting to look like a campaign that can put up a fight.

  22. Brad

    Knapp said “There is absolutely, positively, no fucking way on Earth that Hillary Clinton would have been asked that question in that way.”

    I must say, I agree. This was a question designed to ‘trip up’ a ‘third party’ candidate – one way or another. Johnson didn’t have a grasp of the situation in Aleppo & owned up to it. When is the last time from DJT or HRC (specifically DJT)? I do appreciate honesty.

  23. George Whitfield

    A very well-written and solid article by Thomas Knapp. The media friends of the Democrat and Republican parties will begin to attack and ridicule as Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party as they become more of an electoral threat.

  24. Thomas Knapp

    Kind of an odd story today:

    Yesterday, Hillary Clinton took notice of the fact that a high percentage of Trump supporters are mentally retarded and/or morally reprobate (she said “half,” which I thought was unduly kind).

    Today, she’s treating it as a “gaffe” and apologizing for her “gross generalization” (to her credit, her apology is “I shouldn’t have said half,” leaving room for people to tell themselves “true, true, more like 90%”).

    Is she trying to steal Johnson’s gaffe thunder by saying something so non-controversial and obviously true and then pretending that she misspoke?

  25. George Phillies

    “Knapp said “There is absolutely, positively, no fucking way on Earth that Hillary Clinton would have been asked that question in that way.””

    Of course not. The question did not included the words “e-mail” and “Benghazi”. Three times. Each.

    Also, Johnson was not interrupted while trying to answer.

  26. George Dance

    Question for Mr. Richardson: If it was not a “gotcha question”, why are so many of the media outlets that are reporting the story pretending that Johnson was asked a different question?

    For example, the Independent is reporting that he was aske “what would he do about Aleppo and the refugee crisis that the killings there have helped stir?”
    According to the NY Times, he was “asked on MSNBC how, as president, he would address the refugee crisis in the war-torn Syrian city.”
    Both CNN and Fox had it that the “Libertarian was [asked] about what he would do to resolve the crisis in Aleppo, a Syrian city at the heart of the nation’s civil war.”
    While Voice of America and Reuters are claiming that “The gaffe came during an MSNBC interview about the Syrian crisis.”

    Why do you think all these outlets are getting it wrong?

  27. robert capozzi

    tk: The media love Weld…

    me: Yes, they may well “love” him, and that’s a good thing. Nevertheless, in the clip I shared, Thomas Roberts SO wanted to trip Weld up as part of the Aleppo Pile On Operation. He could not do so, because Weld is way too talented a rhetorician. Unlike his equals (Clinton and Gingrich), Weld doesn’t have the horrific personal and professional track records that they do. They are more talented because they could overcome their personal scandals and remain on top.

    You may not like Weld ideologically, but on a technical level as a communicator, he’s an A lister.

  28. robert capozzi

    Clarifying, his skills are A list quality. He’s — to be fair — not ON the A list. This campaign is his swan song, unless….

  29. ATBAFT

    “Why do you think all these outlets are getting it wrong?

    Why? Because 90%+ of their own readers wouldn’t know what they were talking about if they just
    said “Aleppo.”

  30. Steven R Linnabary

    Great article, Tom!

    I have to believe that the only time we will see Johnson or Stein in the news will be when one makes a purported faux pas statement or when the other makes the news by flying to the wrong city or getting arrested.

    Not that I think the media is biased.

    PEACE

  31. Simon Saez

    Great points, Thomas Knapp. Personally, if a president does not desire to do agressive war making in a place, it is just fine by me if he/she does not know where that place is.

    Hillary Rotten Clinton (and possibly Trump, depending upon which day it is) knows where Aleppo is, but I get little, if any, comfort from that since she would apparently like to blow it to smithereens.

    It only “matters” if a president knows about geography if that president wants to intervene in said geographical area. Otherwise, it is immaterial.

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