Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gary Johnson's Aleppo Gaffe: Does Foreign Policy Experience Matter?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gary Johnson's Aleppo Gaffe: Does Foreign Policy Experience Matter?

Article excerpt

Gary Johnson found himself in a presidential candidate's nightmare Thursday, when asked a simple question about the crisis in Aleppo, Syria on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

"What is Aleppo?" the Libertarian candidate responded, prompting a wave of online criticism and ridicule that quickly made its way around the internet.

The timing certainly wasn't ideal: Mr. Johnson, who has hovered at around 10 percent in the polls, needs to reach 15 percent to qualify for the upcoming presidential debates. But the gaffe, while embarrassing, may not have a significant impact on the fate of Johnson's campaign, as experts say foreign policy doesn't typically play a large role in the outcome of elections.

Later in the day, the former New Mexico governor clarified his initial confusion, explaining that he had thought the interviewer was referring to an acronym - and that yes, he does understand the Syrian conflict.

"As Governor, there were many things I didn't know off the top of my head," Johnson said in a statement. "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."

While Americans name terrorism and foreign policy as their second and third most important priorities in the 2016 election, their voting habits indicate that perhaps experience in these fields isn't seen as the most important qualification.

Republican nominee Donald Trump, a businessman whose foreign policy stances remain difficult to pin down, is neck and neck in recent polls with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, a career politician with years of foreign policy experience.

And Bernie Sanders, who at one point in his campaign polled higher than Ms. Clinton, responded to criticism by the Clinton campaign regarding his "lack of knowledge on foreign policy" in February by suggesting that while foreign policy experience is an important strength for a presidential candidate to have, it may not be the most significant qualification. …

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