After eight years of running for president, Mitt Romney has yet to master the geography of the Middle East.
His knowledge appears limited to what he sees from his hotel room in Jerusalem, following the example of Sarah Palin, who is reputed to have said she understood Russia because she could see the country from her back porch.
To paraphrase Ann Richards' memorable reference to George Bush the First, in her 1988 Democratic National Convention keynote speech, "Poor Mitt, he can't help it, he was born in a country that has abandoned the study of geography."
In a piece she wrote on the subject, Christina Salas lamented:
"In the wake of the recent presidential election, an increased level of interest has surfaced in this country over foreign issues. While domestic economic issues arguably dominated the political scene, both candidates were repeatedly asked questions about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and all of the other so-called rogue nations. ...
"[Unfortunately,] The education system in this country has never done a satisfactory job in pushing geographic knowledge. Just as U.S. students are losing ground in the international education rankings, so too is geography falling completely off the map in secondary education."
Sad to relate, that analysis appeared four years ago on December 10, 2008, following the last presidential campaign in which Mitt Romney sought, but failed to gain the Republican nomination. Four years later, the Republican nominee is back, still lacking a basic grasp of Middle East geography.
This time, however, the candidate is his party's nominee, traveling around the country (and to Israel) informed by a team of advisors, 17 out of 24 of whom are from George W. Bush's presidency.
Now that there is close to a 50% chance that Romney will become the next president of the United States, this basic lack of knowledge by Romney, and worse, his refusal to learn the facts about the area of the world which is at the heart of our economic and security woes, is at the very least, troublesome.
Romney's geographical ignorance surfaced once again this week when the candidate said during his third debate with President Obama, "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea." The map above refutes that assertion. Study it carefully, and pray that if Romney becomes president, he will also look at it carefully.
The morning after Monday night's foreign policy debate, Saeed Kamali Dehghan wrote in the Guardian:
"During last night's foreign policy debate, Romney said: 'Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea.' In fact, Iran, a close ally of Bashar al-Assad's regime, has direct access to international waters through its large coastline on the Gulf and is not even a neighbour to Syria in order to rely on it as a route to the sea. Instead, Syria gives Iran a physical access to Lebanon and its Hezbollah militia which is strategically important for Tehran leaders because of the group's geographical position in respect to Israel.
"It is not the first time that governor Romney has referred to Syria as a country that provides Iran with a route to the sea.
"In March, Romney made the exact [same] gaffe at AIPAC conference.
"'Maybe one of the few bright spots in the Middle East developments in the last year has been the rising of the people in Syria against Assad. Obviously, as you know, Syria is Iran's only Arab ally in the region. Syria is the route that allows Iran to supply Hezbollah with weapons in Lebanon. Syria is Iran's route to the sea,' he said, according to the Washington Post, which fact-checked his remarks back then."
What this Romney observation says about the candidate is that he is simply not ready for foreign policy prime time. During the Monday night debate, veteran journalist Robert Parry, writing for Consortium News, points out that Romney's goal was "to downplay his warlike neoconservative stands."