‘What is Aleppo?’ The top ten foreign policy gaffes by US presidents and candidates

Published September 15th, 2016 - 06:07 GMT

Gary Johnson was not the only US presidential candidate to make a gaffe when he revealed he didn’t know what Aleppo–Syria’s pre-war largest city presently under siege–was on MSNBC’s Morning Joe last week. And he won’t be the last. Presidential candidates and presidents themselves have made hilarious, head-scratching and ridiculous foreign policy statements since the US was founded. From John McCain singing his desire to bomb Iran back in 2007 to Donald Trump claiming Daesh (ISIS) “honors” Obama last month, here are ten of the best foreign policy gaffes made by US presidents and presidential candidates.

Adam Lucente

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Gary Johnson Libertarian Party Aleppo Syria

Earlier this month, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson was asked what he would do about the Syrian regime’s siege of Aleppo on MSNBC. He replied “what is Aleppo?” Johnson later apologized for not knowing about the key Syrian city, and some even say the gaffe got him more media exposure and made him come off as honest.

Donald Trump

This was hardly the only gaffe made in this year’s election. In August, Republican nominee Donald Trump channeled his inner Alex Jones and said “Obama is the founder of ISIS” and that “they (ISIS) honor him.” The comment was perceived as outlandish, even for the outspoken and controversial Trump.

Mitt Romney

While running for president in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney said at a fundraiser in Jerusalem that “culture makes all the difference” between Israel’s GDP and the significantly lower GDP of the Palestinian territories. But Romney left out that the the Israeli occupation is a likely factor.

John McCain

In 2007, at the start of the 2008 election cycle, eventual Republican nominee John McCain was asked what he would do about Iranian influence in the Middle East. Singing to the tune of The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” he responded “that old Beach Boys song Bomb Iran...bomb, bomb, bomb.”

Barack Obama

Also during the ‘08 election, then candidate Barack Obama claimed he had visited 57 US states, whereas the US only has 50. Perhaps he was including Indonesia–where he spent time in his childhood–and other foreign states he’s visited?

Sarah Palin American flag

While impersonating McCain’s running mate in 2008 Sarah Palin, actress Tina Fey said “I can see Russia from my house” on Saturday Night Live. What Palin actually said was that her state of Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience. But Fey’s impersonation ended up creating much more of a buzz than the actual remarks.

Joe Biden vice president

“You cannot go to a 711 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” said vice president Joe Biden when he was campaigning to be president in 2008. Known for his gaffes, Biden offended some by repeating this stereotype, but he said this in the context of discussing his good relationship with the Indian-American community.

Ron Paul

At a 2008 Republican presidential debate, Ron Paul said that the September 11 attacks were caused by the US’s military presence in the Middle East. At the time, it was considered a ludicrous statement, and rival Rudy Giuliani publicly chastised him for it. Today, such theories on “blowback” of US policies are more common.

George Bush speech

In the year 2000, shortly after his election victory, then president-elect George W. Bush quipped “If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.” It was perhaps the first of Bush’s many controversial statements after being elected president.

Ronald Reagan 1980 presidential debate Jimmy Carter president

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan said “I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes” while testing the mic before an address. The audio was later leaked to the public. Needless to say, the Soviet Union didn’t find the actor turned president’s joke as funny as Reagan himself and others did.

Gary Johnson Libertarian Party Aleppo Syria
Donald Trump
Mitt Romney
John McCain
Barack Obama
Sarah Palin American flag
Joe Biden vice president
Ron Paul
George Bush speech
Ronald Reagan 1980 presidential debate Jimmy Carter president
Gary Johnson Libertarian Party Aleppo Syria
Earlier this month, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson was asked what he would do about the Syrian regime’s siege of Aleppo on MSNBC. He replied “what is Aleppo?” Johnson later apologized for not knowing about the key Syrian city, and some even say the gaffe got him more media exposure and made him come off as honest.
Donald Trump
This was hardly the only gaffe made in this year’s election. In August, Republican nominee Donald Trump channeled his inner Alex Jones and said “Obama is the founder of ISIS” and that “they (ISIS) honor him.” The comment was perceived as outlandish, even for the outspoken and controversial Trump.
Mitt Romney
While running for president in 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney said at a fundraiser in Jerusalem that “culture makes all the difference” between Israel’s GDP and the significantly lower GDP of the Palestinian territories. But Romney left out that the the Israeli occupation is a likely factor.
John McCain
In 2007, at the start of the 2008 election cycle, eventual Republican nominee John McCain was asked what he would do about Iranian influence in the Middle East. Singing to the tune of The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” he responded “that old Beach Boys song Bomb Iran...bomb, bomb, bomb.”
Barack Obama
Also during the ‘08 election, then candidate Barack Obama claimed he had visited 57 US states, whereas the US only has 50. Perhaps he was including Indonesia–where he spent time in his childhood–and other foreign states he’s visited?
Sarah Palin American flag
While impersonating McCain’s running mate in 2008 Sarah Palin, actress Tina Fey said “I can see Russia from my house” on Saturday Night Live. What Palin actually said was that her state of Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience. But Fey’s impersonation ended up creating much more of a buzz than the actual remarks.
Joe Biden vice president
“You cannot go to a 711 or a Dunkin Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” said vice president Joe Biden when he was campaigning to be president in 2008. Known for his gaffes, Biden offended some by repeating this stereotype, but he said this in the context of discussing his good relationship with the Indian-American community.
Ron Paul
At a 2008 Republican presidential debate, Ron Paul said that the September 11 attacks were caused by the US’s military presence in the Middle East. At the time, it was considered a ludicrous statement, and rival Rudy Giuliani publicly chastised him for it. Today, such theories on “blowback” of US policies are more common.
George Bush speech
In the year 2000, shortly after his election victory, then president-elect George W. Bush quipped “If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator.” It was perhaps the first of Bush’s many controversial statements after being elected president.
Ronald Reagan 1980 presidential debate Jimmy Carter president
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan said “I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes” while testing the mic before an address. The audio was later leaked to the public. Needless to say, the Soviet Union didn’t find the actor turned president’s joke as funny as Reagan himself and others did.