In the final presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said something that received little attention from the mainstream media: “Mosul is on the border of Syria.”
Whether that statement is correct depends on your definition of “on the border.” Mosul, in northern Iraq, is roughly 75 miles from Syria.
That’s not close enough for Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson, who thinks the media is ignoring a glaring error on par with his infamous “Aleppo moment” — that time during an interview when he appeared not only unfamiliar with Aleppo’s precise location but also unaware that it is the largest city in Syria and a center of that country's refugee crisis.
“There is a very hypocritical double standard here,” Johnson told U.S. News this week.
Green Party nominee Jill Stein agreed.
“The political and media establishment have built up Clinton as the best and most experienced candidate on foreign policy,” Stein told the magazine. She added her belief that “this is much more troubling than Gary Johnson's 'Aleppo moment,' yet we expect the corporate media will largely ignore it because their owners don't want to discredit the preferred candidate of Wall Street bankers and war profiteers.”
Context is important here. Debate moderator Chris Wallace had asked about the Iraqi military’s effort to force the Islamic State out of Mosul. If that mission succeeds, Wallace asked, would the candidates deploy U.S. troops “to make sure that ISIS doesn't come back or isn't replaced by something even worse?”
Clinton said she “will not support putting American soldiers into Iraq as an occupying force” but stressed that the goal is for Iraqi forces to gain control of Mosul “and then continue to press into Syria to begin to take back and move on Raqqa, which is the ISIS headquarters.”
“What’s really important here is to understand all the interplay,” she added later. “Mosul is a Sunni city. Mosul is on the border of Syria. … I think we can take back Mosul, and then we can move on into Syria and take back Raqqa.”
Clinton was making a strategic point. Mosul is a key city near Syria that Iraqi forces must retake before pushing farther north, across the border. It might have been a stretch for Clinton to say that Mosul is right on the border with Syria, but she clearly displayed a grasp of the region’s dynamics; Johnson, on the other hand, thought Aleppo was some sort of acronym.
It is an even greater stretch for Johnson to equate Clinton’s mistake to his own — and to claim that the media ought to have treated them the same.