McCain Bombshell: Doesn't Get Difference B'ween Sunni and Shi'a
by Jonathan Singer, Tue Mar 18, 2008 at 11:40:04 AM EDT
This puts a major chink in the notion that John McCain is particularly well equipped to handle the dire situation in Iraq today:
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.
The Post calls it a gaffe, Mark Halperin calls this a flub, and Mark Murray over at First Read calls it a faux pas. Marc Ambinder questions whether this was a flub, but says nevertheless that "certain flubs can't be made... and this is probably one of them." Yet looking at the evidence, it seems much more likely that this was not a momentary mistake -- a flub, a gaffe, a faux pas -- but rather a profound misunderstanding of the situation in the Middle East on the part of John McCain, who claims to have the experience and expertise necessary to best handle the Iraq War. According to Think Progress, McCain made the exact same totally incorrect claim just last night on Hugh Hewitt's radio show (you can listen to it through that link). As TP explains:
The "common knowledge" McCain cites is simply false. Far from working together, Iran and al Qaeda represent opposing sides in the Iraq civil war. Al Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim extremist group, while Iran is ruled by Shiites, where they make up 90 percent of the population.
Given that John McCain apparently does not understand one of the most fundamental issues pertaining to the Iraq War and the broader situation in the Middle East today -- that Iran is a Shi'a power fighting for Shi'a interests and is in no way allied with the Sunni Al Qaeda, which is fighting for very different interests (particularly in Iraq, where the two groups tend to find themselves on opposite ends of the conflict) -- is he really prepared to be Commander-in-Chief?