‘What is Aleppo?’ Ignorance of the world has been a constant feature of US policy-making

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 10, 2016

american-ignorance-2Everyone shouting – or smirking – about the ignorance on Aleppo displayed by American politician Gary Johnson, might be well advised to look at the not-too-distant past of US policy-making. George H Bush, America’s 41st president, was advised by his senior aides to accept Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait because Western electorates wouldn’t care about a country they’d never heard of and the change from one faceless, nameless Arab strongman to another. Who would even notice, they said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Daniel Yergin has described this magnificent burst of logic by Bush aides in his 2011 book, ‘The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World’.

As it happened, Mr Bush ignored the argument but it still seems scarcely believable that 25 years ago, White House foreign policy wonks were advancing a thesis premised on American ignorance.

Unfortunately, it is entirely believable. Not because the 2016 US presidential election has thrown up an embarrassment. So third-party candidate Gary Johnson has displayed lamentable ignorance about Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, the epicenter of the country’s civil war, a time capsule of culture and man’s footprint on our planet. But Mr Johnson heads the Libertarian Party ticket and admits to smoking a lot of pot. He is no slouch – a former governor of New Mexico, climbed Everest in 2003 – but he has no serious chance of ever getting to the White House (unless it’s as a marijuana-advocate). So whether or not he knows Aleppo doesn’t really matter.

But here’s the thing. There is probably no greater manifestation of proud and profoundly ignorant American cluelessness than the candidature of Donald Trump.

The nominee of one of America’s two major parties has consistently advocated blatantly wrong-headed and misinformed policies – the torture of the families of suspected terrorists; taking the oil wealth of an invaded country; ideologically vetting visa-aspirants to the US, to name but three of Mr Trump’s illegal or impossible prescriptions for America’s ills. Does that mean many American voters don’t see ignorance of the world at large as a disqualifier in their leaders?

Is Mr Trump proof of what President Obama said in Laos: “If you are the United States, sometimes you can feel lazy and think, you know, ‘we’re so big, we don’t really have to know anything about other people’.”

Dumb laziness playing to dumb laziness. Is that the signature theme of Mr Trump’s campaign to win over American voters? It seems like it.

Compared to Mr Trump’s unremitting and arrogant ignorance of the world, Mr Johnson’s knowledge-gap is a nothing. Far from shaming Mr Johnson, they should be putting him on postage stamps. No letters addressed to Aleppo though. They’ll never get there.

“What is Aleppo?” remember.