Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran. He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq. Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives “taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was “common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate’s ear. McCain then said: “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.” The mistake threatened to undermine McCain’s argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists. In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy make him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night.
It’s important to be clear about exactly how clueless this is. It’s like saying that some neo-confederate group is secretly funneling money to Louis Farrakhan, and then having an aide have to whisper: no, no, it’s the Aryan Nation; wrong extremists! It’s like suggesting that McCain is making a play for Kucinich voters, and having to be told that, no, you really meant Ron Paul: wrong losing candidate! No one who had any understanding at all of Iraq, or for that matter about the Shi’a/Sunni split and which side Iran was on, would get confused about this, any more than someone with any knowledge of US politics would get confused about whether neo-confederates were likely to be supporting blacks, or conservatives were likely to be supporting the Socialist Workers’ Party. It is exactly that clueless.
Hilzoy continues as to the political ramifications if the press and the public ever catch on that John McCain has a poor grasp of what really is going on with respect to foreign policy. Foreign policy expertise is supposed to be his strong suit according to some pundits. But quite frankly, this guy makes a George W. Bush ala 2000 actually look smart. As bellicose as Dick Cheney and as clueless as George W. Bush – not a good combination for our next President.
Update: Josh Marshall continues the conversation:
In almost every discussion of foreign policy, not just today but in previous years, what stands out is McCain’s inability to see beyond the immediate issues of military tactics to any firm grasp of strategy or America’s real vital interests. His free willingness to commit to a decades long occupation of Iraq is an example, his push for ground troops to be introduced during the Kosovo War is another. His refusal, almost inability, to grapple with the political failure of the surge is the most telling one if people will sift through its deeper implications. The idea that fighting jihadists in Iraq or policing the country’s sectarian and ethnic disputes is the calling of this century is one that is belied in virtually everything we see in flux in today’s world and which seems certain to affect us through the rest of our lifetimes and our children’s … Hillary Clinton has stipulated to McCain’s qualifications as Commander-in-Chief; and Obama, implicitly, does the same. But his record actually shows he’s one of the most dangerous people we could have in the Oval Office in coming years — not just because he’s a hothead in using the military, but more because he seems genuinely clueless about the real challenges and dangers the country is facing. He’s too busy living in the fantasy world where our future as a great power and our very safety are all bound up in Iraq.