Two days after a chlorine attack perpetrated by the Assad regime left 80 Allepo residents in the hospital, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson was asked on MSNBC’s Morning Joe about how he’d respond to the unrelenting humanitarian crisis in Syria’s largest city.
Johnson didn’t have answers on Thursday, but not because he’s vexed about policy. Instead, his response indicated he has no idea what Aleppo is, leaving host Mike Barnicle incredulous.
Aleppo has been completely ravaged by the civil war that’s been raging between the Assad regime and rebel groups for five years now. The city, which is split between rebel-controlled and government-controlled sectors, has been the target of bombings by the Russian Air Force in collaboration with the Assad regime. Last month, a photo of a dazed, dirt-covered boy sitting in ambulance following an airstrike on the rebel-held sector of the city went viral as a symbol of what day-to-day life has been reduced to there.
As ThinkProgress wrote in connection with this week’s chlorine attack, “the regime says they are targeting terrorists, but thousands of civilians have been killed” as poison-filled barrel bombs have been dropped over the city. Last month, Aleppo resident Salem al-Atrash told Al Jazeera that “food supplies have close to disappeared from the markets, and prices have skyrocketed.”
U.N. Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien reports that as of August 22, nearly 300,000 people in eastern Aleppo have been cut off from vital supplies for more than a month, while access to the 1.5 million people in the western part of the city “remains extremely difficult.”
O’Brien’s August 22 report to the U.N. Security Council details some of what Aleppo has been through:
Physicians for Human Rights has documented 373 attacks on 265 medical facilities since the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139 in 2014. 336 attacks were by Syrian government and allied forces, 14 by non-State armed groups, 10 by ISIL and Jabhat al Nusra, one by coalition forces, and 12 by unknown forces. At least 72 attacks were with barrel bombs. According to PHR, these attacks have caused the deaths of 750 medical personnel. What is more, these numbers do not even include figures for June, July and August, which appear to have been among the deadliest since the start of the conflict more than half a decade ago. In late July, for example, airstrikes repeatedly hit the Al-Hakim hospital, and according to reports, a two-day-old baby died in his incubator due to oxygen interruptions following the attack. Three more babies reportedly died the next day due to respiratory problems caused by the fallout of the bombardment. This is obscene and unconscionable.
More broadly, the carnage wrought by the civil war has led to about five million Syrian refugees fleeing their country, with 13 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. The U.N. special envoy for Syria estimated that more than 400,000 had been killed as of April of this year.
Johnson, who is currently polling at just under 10 percent nationally, appears to be unaware of many of those facts. In that respect he’s far from alone — a Pew poll conducted in February revealed that about half of Americans can’t identify Syria on a map.
MSNBC’s Mark Halperin caught up with Johnson following his ill-fated Morning Joe appearance and asked him to clarify his apparent ignorance of Aleppo.
Johnson’s response wasn’t helpful.
“Well, when you recognize what’s going on in Syria, when you recognize that Aleppo is kinda in the epicenter — Aleppo, um, knowing that there is a city in between the two forces, really at the epicenter, but not remembering or identifying that that’s Aleppo, I’m guilty,” he said, adding that he’s “incredibly frustrated with myself.”