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Read the Interview Where Gary Johnson Asked What Aleppo Is

A transcript of the interview

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is taking fire for not knowing Aleppo, the Syrian city that is one of the epicenter of the refugee crisis.

The former New Mexico governor was on Morning Joe when he was asked what he would do about Aleppo if he were elected president.

“And what is Aleppo?” he responded.

Below is a full text of Johnson’s interview with MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski, Willie Geist and Mike Barnicle.

GEIST: Joining us now, the Libertarian candidate for president, former Republican governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico. Governor, good to have you with us.

JOHNSON: Great to be with you. There was a — there was a super PAC that did an ad — Abe Lincoln ad, and it’s now had close to 20 million views —

BRZEZINSKI: My goodness.

JOHNSON: — in 12 days.

GEIST: Wow, which is really —

BRZEZINSKI: What does that tell you?

JOHNSON: Well, I think that there’s — I don’t know. Maybe a — maybe a little spice needs to get added to the two-person race that’s currently going on.

BRZEZINSKI: Maybe a little less —

GEIST: Right.

BRZEZINSKI: — by me.

GEIST: That’s a good place to start. For people who don’t know a lot about you and haven’t had a chance to hear and learn about where you stand on the issues, what is the lane for the Johnson-Weld ticket between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton? What do you bring that’s different from those two?

JOHNSON: Well, I think there’s a big six-lane highway down the middle that encompasses 60 percent of Americans. And broadly speaking, fiscally conservative, socially inclusive, skeptical when it comes to our military intervention. Skeptical when it comes to our going in and supporting regime changes that have not resulted in a more safe world — free markets.

So I think that that encompasses about 60 percent of the electorate and I think that the two-party system has really, really got to the fringes on both sides.

BRZEZINSKI: Mike?

BARNICLE: Which of those candidates of the two-party system — Republican candidate, Democratic candidate — do you draw the most votes from?

JOHNSON: You know, in all of these polls it’s just, remarkably, 50-50. Amazingly, I think, though, that with the exception of just a few polls it’s more votes from Hillary.

BARNICLE: Do you —

JOHNSON: But I think — I think when it ends up it will really be 50-50.

BARNICLE: But do you worry about the Nader effect in 2000?

JOHNSON: I don’t worry one bit about it. I really do think that the two-party system is broken. I don’t think Democrats are able to balance a checkbook these days. That’s it’s all about bigger government and higher taxes. And then Republicans with, I think, the social agenda. Look, whatever your social inclinations are just don’t force it on me. And I think the Republican Party has gotten really extreme in that category.

BARNICLE: What would you do, if you were elected, about Aleppo?

JOHNSON: About?

BARNICLE: Aleppo.

JOHNSON: And what is Aleppo?

BARNICLE: You’re kidding.

JOHNSON: No.

BARNICLE: Aleppo is in Syria. It’s the — it’s the epicenter of the refugee crisis.

JOHNSON: OK, got it, got it.

BARNICLE: OK.

JOHNSON: Well, with regard to Syria, I do think that it’s a mess. I think that 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’ve supported the opposition of 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 — 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 a less-safe world.

GEIST: So alliance with Russia is the solution to Syria. Do you think Vladimir Putin and Russia are good and a reliable partner?

JOHNSON: Well, I think diplomatically that that is the — that that has to be the solution, is joining hands with Russia to bring — to bring this civil war to an end.

BRZEZINSKI: Joe?

SCARBOROUGH: So, Aleppo is the center of a lot of people’s concerns across the planet about the terrible humanitarian crisis that’s unfolding not only in Syria but, especially, in Aleppo.

You asked, “What is Aleppo?” 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?

JOHNSON: Well, no, I do understand Aleppo, and I — I understand the crisis that is going on. But when we involve ourselves militarily — when we involve ourselves in these humanitarian issues we end up — we end up with a situation that in most cases is not better, and in many cases ends up being worse.

And we find ourselves always — politicians are up against the wall and asked 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.

BRZEZINSKI: Former governor Gary Johnson —

SCARBOROUGH: Donald Trump — I’ve got one more question. Donald Trump said last night that he wanted to increase the military budget. I know you disagree with that. How much would you propose to Congress the military budget is cut?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I think there was a poll significant three weeks ago that among active military personnel I was the choice to be President of the United States — among active military personnel.

SCARBOROUGH: Right.

JOHNSON: The Pentagon, itself, in the mid-90s enacted BRAC.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, I understand all that. I’m just curious how much would you want to cut the military budget — what percentage?

JOHNSON: Well, we would target — we would target 20 percent. And I would point out that the BRAC — BRAC, in the mid-90s suggested that 20 percent more U.S. bases, in fact, could be cut. That hasn’t taken place because the political will hasn’t been there to accomplish that. We would bring that to the table, a 20 percent reduction in military spending.

SCARBOROUGH: So you would — yes, a 20 percent cut in military spending. OK, thank you so much, former governor Gary Johnson. We greatly appreciate it.

JOHNSON: Great, thank you.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you for being on the show and we’ll be right back with much more MORNING JOE.

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