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US Politicians Struggle With World Geography – Again post image

US Politicians Struggle With World Geography – Again

Iran is the greatest national security threat facing the USA, but that doesn’t mean we know where it is.

People from the USA are often chided about their lack of geographic knowledge. Researchers go around this country and show people maps so the world can laugh when they make mistakes. I stand in defense of my countrymen here, because I know that hardly anybody knows much about world geography anywhere, regardless of what country they come from. I know that if I go to Guatemala, Eastern Europe, or SE Asia I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who could point out even the most basic geographic or political features on a map. This is a planet that doesn’t know geography, and that’s OK. Unless you’re a traveler, in international business, or involve in some global issue or organization, knowing where Uzbekistan, Guyana, or pretty much anywhere else is on a map simply isn’t going to get you very far. People only learn what they need to know, and most people in this world do not need to know world geography.

But when a person is running for the presidency of a country they should know a thing or two about the physical features and political layout of the planet.

Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel. – Mitt Romney, 2012 US presidential candidate

I usually stand to the lee side of all political bickering matches anywhere in the world, but when I read this I couldn’t believe it was true. This has to be a parody, right? Nope, in fact, it wasn’t even the first time this guy has said something like this.

How can someone run for president who has never heard of the Persian Gulf?

It’s called the Persian Gulf because it’s near Persia!

Obama Romney debate

“Hey, this guy doesn’t really know where Iran is.”

In fact, Iran has over 2,400 kilometers of coastline. Not only does it have a massive amount of access to the Persian Gulf, but it controls the southern crescent of the Caspian Sea and even has a stretch of coastline on the Indian Ocean (Gulf of Oman). So when this presidential hopeful said that Syria is Iran’s only access point to the sea I could not hold back a “What the fuck?” response.

To make matters even more unbelievable, Iran and Syria do not even border each other. There are two little obstacles called Iraq and Turkey which separate them.

Iran was mentioned over 50 times in the presidential debates of the past week, and this Romney guy even called this country “the greatest national security threat” facing the United States — but it’s obviously that he doesn’t even know where the fuck it is.

Shouldn’t there be some kind of test that you need to pass before you can run for president of the USA? Shouldn’t there be some kind of presidential candidate quality control filter? It’s alright if some meat packer or stock broker doesn’t know which continent is which on a map, but when someone is trying to become the commander in chief of the most powerful military on the planet — a position that imparts the power to start a war at the push of a button — they should probably know a little about where the countries are that they speak of . . . or at least have the common courtesy to look at a map before spouting off about geography.

Is this really the best my country has to offer?

Filed under: Geography, Politics, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3422 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

10 comments… add one

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  • Jack October 24, 2012, 11:46 pm

    That was from last Spring and not from the recent debate. The context is that it’s Iran route to the Mediterranean Sea. If you study the background then you see that Romney is making perfect sense.

    Now read the quote you made…….if Iran wants direct access to Lebanon, Gaza and other places, that comes most easily through Syria and the Mediterranean Sea, not the Persian Gulf.

    Being out of the political loop, you may not realize that the meme on this was debunked way back in April.

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    • Wade Shepard October 25, 2012, 2:03 am

      My info on this came out yesterday, and the quote was from the debate that happened on the 22nd. True, he has made this statement before.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/23/mitt-romney-foreign-policy-debate_n_2005833.html

      http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/10/romney-iran-syria-route-sea-map.html

      The fact here is that he repeatedly said that Syria is Iran’s access point to THE sea. This is an incredibly stupid statement. If he said, Syria is Iran’s access point to Gaza or Lebanon, fine, that makes sense.

      “if Iran wants direct access to Lebanon, Gaza and other places, that comes most easily through Syria and the Mediterranean Sea, not the Persian Gulf.”

      I don’t know about this, man. The logistics for making the Mediterranean Sea a major weapons shipping hub for Iran just isn’t adding up for me. It seems to be more scare politics and an attempt to cover up for a stupid statement than anything else.

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      • Jack October 25, 2012, 12:23 pm

        Rather than rely on partisan stuff, here is the Washington Post:
        http://m.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/romney-and-irans-route-to-the-sea/2012/04/18/gIQAgTbXRT_blog.html You can get some more details there.

        The truth is that Syria is Iran’s gateway to the sea…and Gaza and Lebanon. If in question, take a look at the Gaza flotillas that leave bound for Gaza every once in awhile.

        I’m perfectly satisfied with Romney’s answer. What I’m not satisfied with are all the people who look for a mistake or stupidity in an attempt to discredit someone on partisan grounds.

        Think about this: How many people are so busy going gaga over this while ignoring the news that the US military had drones flying over the embassy during the siege but did nothing to help the situation and instead let the Ambassador and the other Americans die just for political reasons.

        Imagine if people spent as much effort on real issues as they do on these made up issues. Yeah, there might be a real change and Americans wouldn’t be having to choose between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.

        Bread and circuses, bread and circuses.

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  • Sylvain Beauregard October 25, 2012, 4:56 am

    Yes, that’s sad to see how politicians in general are so ignorant about geography. I remember George W. Bush unable to say where Canada was (being in Canada, I didn’t find that impressive, especially since we’re just next door).

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    • Wade Shepard October 25, 2012, 6:10 am

      This is really interesting to me. I’m not sure if these guys are really as stupid as they seem or if they are just dummying themselves down so the voters they are trying to woo can relate to them better. This Romney thing is strange, as he’s made this statement around ten times in various speeches and debates and, as Jack pointed out, it has always been met with controversy. It almost seems as if this is some kind of tactical move.

      We have to remember here that while W seemed like a blubbering fool he did win two presidential elections. He may have set a new mold for US politics.

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      • Sylvain Beauregard October 25, 2012, 6:54 am

        Well, about W’s elections… I often said it was the proof that “anyone” could become US President.

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  • Mercury October 25, 2012, 2:09 pm

    The private intelligence agency STRATFOR recently released an interesting article by Friedman about the true purpose behind american political debates. It suggested that complex geopolitical matters could never be adequately discussed in 90second sound bytes with the two men trying to interrupt and talk over each other while pandering to the public. Instead the point of the debates is to give some insight into the psyche’s of the candidates. Which begs the questions which qualities really matter in a commander of a republic. Friedman argued that academic intelligence is relatively unimportant and what really matters is the ability to form coalitions, reach consensus with rivals, make tough decisions, stand up to criticism much of it unfair, and ultimately act as a forceful leader. He goes on to make the bold claim that both Romney and Obama are probably highly qualified, ambitious, intelligent, and capable of doing the job. I tend to agree, I also think W was a much shrewder actor than he often let on. If I’m going to worry about Romney it would be his idea of labeling a China a currency manipulator on day one of his presidency. I fail to understand how starting a trade war with second most powerful country in the world is such a great idea.

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    • Wade Shepard October 25, 2012, 8:16 pm

      For sure, they are just saying what they think will get them elected. I suppose the ability to manipulate millions of people, juggle political comrades and rivals, smooze campaign contributors, and condense big ideas into small enough packages for the public to understand shows incredible amounts of tact, and, dare I say it, intelligence. But when the message is dummied down so far as to abuse the parameters of the English language and common sense, I have to question where all of this is going. Both candidates are making our country and culture seem incredibly foolish, and the US presidential elections are become one big global joke.

      Yes, I agree completely that W knew what he was doing. Democracy — or even indirect democracy, which is what the US presidential elections are — means that candidates must appeal to the masses. I suppose this means dummying down your message and semantics to our level.

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  • Sonia October 29, 2012, 1:12 pm

    What scares me is that this guy might… (shivers)… be the next president of the United States. When you want to be an engineer, a doctor, a lawyer, you need a diploma. To become president of the United States, all you need is to be born in the US, and be at list 35 years old. Forget about political science, it’s not even a requirement. It doesn’t make any sense!

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    • Wade Shepard October 29, 2012, 8:44 pm

      For real, that’s one of the interesting things about democratic politics: it’s a game of making people like you first, and having real knowledge and ability second. People need to take a test to become a mail deliverer, there are massive examinations to join the foreign service, but to be the figurehead of the most powerful nation in the world you just need to get support from the right people.

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