Feature

McCain: A meaningful ‘gaffe’

Sen. John McCain’s trip to the Middle East last week was supposed to demonstrate his “foreign policy acumen,” said Michael Cooper in The New York Times. “But all did not go according to plan.” During a stop in Jordan, the 71-year-old presumptive Republica

Sen. John McCain’s trip to the Middle East last week was supposed to demonstrate his “foreign policy acumen,” said Michael Cooper in The New York Times. “But all did not go according to plan.” During a stop in Jordan, the 71-year-old presumptive Republican presidential nominee had what some commentators described as a “senior moment,” as he misidentified “some of the main players in the Iraq war.” In a news conference, McCain said he was concerned “that al Qaida is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran.” Oops. It wasn’t until his traveling partner, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, whispered into his ear that the embarrassed McCain realized his mistake: Iranians—who are Shiites—are believed to be training Shiite militants in Iraq, not al Qaida in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group. “I’m sorry,” McCain said. “The Iranians are training extremists, not al Qaida.”

To call this a “gaffe,” said Joe Conason in Salon.com, is being charitable. For months, McCain and his hard-line allies have been building a case “for strikes against Tehran and perhaps even ‘regime change.’” And what better way to do that than to conflate Iran and al Qaida—just as the neocon hawks once insisted that Iraq and al Qaida were secret allies. McCain’s supposed “blooper” may in fact be a window into a mind that is already planning, and selling, the next war. It’s hard to say what’s more disturbing, said Arianna Huffington in Huffingtonpost.com: Either this “acclaimed foreign policy expert” doesn’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, or between Iraqi insurgents and Osama bin Laden’s global al Qaida organization. “Or perhaps, more charitably, he doesn’t care to know.”

If anyone is being willfully blind, said Christopher Holton in National Review Online, it’s the politicians and pundits pretending that Iran is not a dire threat. Iran is not only building a nuclear program while threatening to destroy Israel and spread jihad. It’s doing everything it can to fuel the anti-American insurgency in Iraq—including helping al Qaida. The 9/11 commission documented a long history of Iranian assistance to al Qaida terrorists, and recent intelligence intercepts have unearthed messages between al Qaida in Iraq and the group’s senior leaders, who are known to have “safe haven” in Iran. Nor would this be the first time Shiites and Sunnis united against a common foe—Iran, after all, helps fund Hamas, the Sunni Palestinian terrorist group. “Sen. McCain was right the first time.” It’s his critics who should apologize for their ignorance, and issue a retraction.

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