Mike Barnicle’s column in Thursday’s Daily Beast is a movingly insightful take on this year’s presidential race. For many of us desperate for an alternative to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the Gary Johnson-William Weld ticket, even at this late stage, was worth a look – until Aleppo.

Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico governor, offered a jaw-dropping response when Barnicle asked him on MSNBC what he would do about Aleppo if elected.

Johnson: “What is Aleppo?”

While Aleppo may not be at the forefront of the minds of the American people, it should be a recognizable city in Syria to a presidential candidate. It is, after all, the epicenter of a religious and failed state struggle.

The picture of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, alone in an ambulance after being wounded in an airstrike, is what many understand about Aleppo, but like so much that happens in other countries, the image evokes a deep yet transitory sorrow. In my opinion, it should stay with us for the rest of our lives in the same way 9/11 has and will.

Clinton’s response to Johnson’s ignorance – laughter – is shocking and decidedly not funny. It may be exactly why she is struggling against Trump.


Note to the Clinton campaign team: It’s not about the map – it’s about the people who are dying, the children who are dying. If Clinton struggles with why people perceive her as cold – well, there you go.

It is amazing that we – the public, Congress, the media – are more captivated with Clinton’s emails and Trump’s wall than we are with a war that has actual long-range implications for the United States and the world. It has real consequences for the 11 million Syrians who have been displaced. It has economic and social consequences for the countries that are taking in the refugees.

I’m reminded of a comment made by a Jordanian military leader in 2013. I was fortunate to be on a congressional trip to Jordan, and as I stood on the border watching families walk from Syria into Jordan, I stated the obvious: “This is horrible.” He looked at me and said, “If more isn’t done, this will be the worst humanitarian crisis in your lifetime.” Chilling words then, reality now.

Donald Trump will neither help Syria nor stabilize the Middle East. His “secret plan” to defeat the Islamic State carries as much weight as his claim that he was against the war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton was part of an administration that drew a line in the sand with Syria regarding chemical weapons and then let Vladimir Putin call the shots. (Three years later, the Syrian government is using chlorine gas against its citizens.) These are our choices for president.

And that leads me to ask: Where are the serious independent candidates? Jill Stein of the Green Party isn’t gaining any traction, and Johnson’s clueless response to the Aleppo question will probably keep him from getting to the 15 percent threshold of support in the polls that he needs to qualify for the first debate. Alternative candidates are not only not at the table – they’re not in the race.

In a country where we have the gift of going to the polls without violence and a voting system that works, it is a responsibility to vote. Like many others, I will hold my nose (hard) and vote for Clinton because Trump, quite simply, is unqualified. He doesn’t have the experience, knowledge, temperament and just about any other metric we would apply to lead the free world.


I wish I had a solid alternative.

A look at this presidential election would confirm Barnicle’s analysis of our elected officials. It is the responsibility of all of us to hold our elected officials accountable, to turn off the noise around silly questions and pay attention when serious questions are asked, to read more, to educate ourselves more and to know where Aleppo is and how the decisions our elected leaders make are directly related to the pictures we see, the lives that are affected.

Mike Barnicle’s Aleppo piece takes a stab at addressing transitory empathy while also addressing governance. Connecting and holding our elected leaders responsible around what is happening in Syria, at home and everywhere else has, in many cases, fallen by the wayside.

As Barnicle wrote: “Much of the world wept for Omran Daqneesh but the tears and the heartfelt sorrow soon disappeared. Just the way ribbons of remembrance for those who serve and die in Iraq and Afghanistan come untied in the winds of the changing seasons. Just the way the commitment of so many public people to remember the veterans and their families diminishes and then disappears once the election is over. Just the way they forget their duty to do their jobs, to make government work instead of trying to make it ungovernable.”

It’s time to turn on the empathy switch and keep it on. Omran Daqneesh is no different from any of our children – except his future is dictated by geography. His future is dictated by elected leaders around the world. His future is out of his control.

— Special to the Press Herald

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