The gist of this is, of course, Romney is ignorant of geography and does not realize that Iraq separates Iran and Syria.
Now gaffes are common in "live" television and debates in paticular, like with live music and other "live" activities its always difficult to deal with unforeseen situations, too little time, and so on - particularly when attempting to speak credibly with a lot of intense surrounding activity.
In political debate there are, to my mind, four main types of "gaffe."
First there is the pure "ignorance gaffe" - no, I don't know where the Iran/Syria boarder is - a comment made in true ignorance.
Then there is the "simple mistake" gaffe - for example the Obama "57 state" quote - and, no, I don't believe he believes there are 57 states in the US.
There is what I call the "Freudian gaffe" - Joe Biden and his "buried" middle class. The "Freudian" aspect being either "a gift to your opponent" or "a slip telling your real feelings."
And finally there's the "non-gaffe" gaffe. This is a bit more interesting. Clearly in "live debate" there is often very little time to state your full case. So, when presented with an opportunity, some part of a fact comes out, but not all.
Perhaps enough to get the message across, perhaps not.
I would put the title quote in the image above into this category.
Now, of course, you could interpret the quote as a "simple gaffe" meaning Romney merely lacks understanding of the geography of the middle east.
But "route to the sea" is an odd choice of words to make a gaffe with.
So in response to seeing this I did a bit of research and came up with a number of articles (this and this for example) talking about Iran, its navy, and its actions in the Mediterranean Sea (military exercises with China and Russia among other things).
It would seam Iran has clear military interest in creating a Mediterranean Sea port in Syria. (There are various links to various agreements between Iran and Syria in this regard which can be easily Googled.)
Now this is quite interesting. While I was aware Iran had a navy I was unaware of its interest in the Mediterranean Sea (prior to this I was aware of the Iranian navy but not of any details, to wit, they are helping police their coastal waters for pirate).
A bit more work turned up this NY Times article on the subject of "Iran Supplying Syria Military via Iraqi Airspace."
This is a tremendously detailed article about the current geo-political activity in the region. Not being a regular read of the NY Times I was quite pleased to be able to find it.
In particular it discusses the effort "... Syrian rebels have made to seize several border crossings where Iranian aid has been trucked in."
Now here its clear that the only means to "truck" military supplies into Syria from Iran is via northern Iraq.
Once the Syrian rebels had closed the ground-based boarder crossing Iran took its supply-chain to the sky: “The Iranians have no problems in the air, and the Syrian regime still controls the airport,” said a retired Lebanese Army general, Hisham Jaber.
So instead of driving in they can fly them in.
In this context having Iraq in the Mediterranean Sea makes a good deal of sense - should Iraq close the airspace between Iran and Syrian the sea will be the only means to supply Syria.
Additionally the sea offers open access to Syria albeit via the Egyptian-controlled Suez canal.
Now of course I could be completely wrong here but the statement "route to the sea" came up in the context of a discussion on Syria. In particular, the current Administration seems unable to convince Iraq to close its northern airspace to Iran-Syria supply chain.
The current Administration hastened the US withdrawal from Iraq (and supplied a detailed timeline to boot) and in doing so has left either a weakened Iraq unable to stop the overflights or an "independent" Iraq that sees other "benefits" to Iranian support of Syria.
How unfortunate for the 30,000 Syrians killed so far.
One imagines that any presidential debate should have at least this level of active knowledge about Iran, the Mediterranean Sea, and Syrian at their finger tips during a debate.
The above information says to me that "route to the sea" is unlikely a simple or ignorance gaffe and much more likely part of an incomplete statement about the current situation in Syria coupled with recent Iranian naval activity - particularly when considered in the context of what was being discussed.
The bottom line is the NY Time article provides a great deal of relatively (Sept 4, 2012) current data on this subject. Interestingly other than the Times article there is very little information about the current activity of the present Administration with regard to Iran, Syria and Iraq.