Displaying a stunning lack of understanding of policy fundamentals related to his signature campaign issue, John McCain today told reporters that Iranians were "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."
When reporters asked him to clarify, he obliged by digging the hole a bit deeper saying that 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."
Senator McCain’s sidekick, Sen. Joe Lieberman, rescued McCain by whispering into his ear and the Arizona Senator corrected himself saying “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."
For a candidate who repeatedly claims foreign policy experience as his number one asset, and who says that the fight against Al-Qaeda is the number one challenge facing the country, this is a serious gaffe. McCain was confusing the unproven notion that Iran – or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – has been supporting Shiite forces in Iraq. (Although elements of those reports have been called into question.) Conflating al-Qaeda in Iraq with Shiite militias is bad enough given the experience claim. But for someone who wants to be president to accuse a nation, with whom this country is in a very tense relationship, of supporting Al-Qaeda is a stunning mistake with diplomatic ramifications.
I’m sure the campaign will work to explain this away by saying that the Senator had been in X number of time zones in X number of days but I’m sorry … this is not like Hillary Clinton mangling the pronunciation of the new Russian president in a recent debate (the correct answer is apparently MED-vyed-(y)eff). This is more like president Gerald Ford’s famously debilitating stumble in saying that Poland was not under Soviet domination during his race against President Carter. Making matters worse for McCain, the Think Progress blog points out this is not the first time McCain has made this mistake about Iran and al-Qaeda (and they have audio).
It will be interesting to see how the campaigns and media treat this … if they can for a moment stop discussing videos of Rev. Wright.