First, the ‘gaffe’:
JERUSALEM — Senator John McCain’s trip overseas was supposed to highlight his foreign policy acumen, and his supporters hoped that it would showcase him in a series of statesmanlike meetings with world leaders throughout the Middle East and Europe while the Democratic candidates continued to squabble back home.
But all did not go according to plan on Tuesday in Amman, Jordan, when Mr. McCain, fresh from a visit to Iraq, misidentified some of the main players in the Iraq war.
Mr. McCain said several times in his visit to Jordan — in a news conference and in a radio interview — that he was concerned that Iran was training Al Qaeda in Iraq. The United States believes that Iran, a Shiite country, has been training and financing Shiite extremists in Iraq, but not Al Qaeda, which is a Sunni insurgent group.
Mr. McCain said at a news conference in Amman that he continued to be concerned about Iranians “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” Asked about that statement, Mr. McCain said: “Well, it’s 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.”
It was not until he got a quiet word of correction in his ear from Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, who was traveling with Mr. McCain as part of a Congressional delegation on a nearly weeklong trip, that Mr. McCain corrected himself.
“I’m sorry” Mr. McCain said, “the Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”
The correction wasn’t necessary, as the good Captain explains here:
The issue hardly shows McCain as uninformed on the situation in Iraq. He perhaps walked the statement back for other reasons — maybe it wasn’t the specific point he wanted to make — but we have had evidence and testimony for months that Tehran has acted to support at least certain individuals in AQI, if not the entire organization as a whole. McCain didn’t make a “gaffe” in this assertion; he reiterated what American military intelligence has known for over a year.
Those arguing that Iran would never cooperate with Sunni terrorists appear to be the same people who insisted that Saddam Hussein would never work with radical Islamist jihadis, either. That has been proven false, especially with the review of the Harmony documents. This is just as false.
Regardless, it made McCain look unprepared, which the mediot and liberal pundits had a field day with (and will for several days, possibly weeks). Obama himself even took a swipe. In response, McCain senior advisor Mark Salter had this to say:
“Sen. Obama says that ending the war will not be easy, that ‘there will be dangers involved.’ Yet, in that patented way of his, he declines to name those dangers. Let me enumerate a few: Al Qaeda, which is now on the run, will survive, claim victory and continue to provoke sectarian tensions that, while they have been subdued by the ‘tactics’ of the surge, still exist and are ripe for provocation by Al Qaeda, which would almost certainly ignite again civil war in Iraq, a civil war that could easily descend into genocide. To say that invading Iraq was used as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda is one thing. To pretend that our defeat there won’t provide an even bigger one is foolish supposition. Iran, which trains Shia extremists and is known to arm and equip Sunni extremists, a fact Sen. Obama is apparently unaware of, will also view our premature withdrawal as a victory, as will other countries in the region, and the biggest state supporter of terrorists, a country with nuclear ambitions and a stated desire to destroy the State of Israel, will see its influence in the Middle East grow significantly. These are some of ‘dangers,’ that our premature withdrawal from Iraq will engender, and they all have the potential to destabilize the entire region. A realistic plan to prevent them from occurring is what people with experience in statecraft call ‘strategy,’ something Sen. Obama has not offered yet.
“Sen. Obama, as has also become a habit of his ‘new politics,’ mischaracterizes John McCain’s position by saying McCain did not want to reduce troops because the violence in Iraq was too high, and now do not wish to do so because the violence in down. The reason violence is down is because Gen. Petraeus’ counterinsurgency is, which even Sen. Obama recognizes, succeeding. Those ‘tactics,’ are advancing our ‘strategy.’ Deprive Gen. Petraeus of the resources and manpower to employ those tactics, or worse, leave Iraq altogether, and our strategy will collapse. That is national security 101. John McCain wants American forces to come home when our clear and serious interests at stake in Iraq, which nearly 4,000 Americans have given their lives to secure, are truly safe, when Al Qaeda is defeated; Iran’s influence is contained, and the potential for a truly cataclysmic civil war in Iraq is remote. That, I think, is what is called ‘making us safer.’ Sen. Obama’s plan, if it can be charitably described as one, would do the reverse.”
Needless to say, McCain’s alleged “mix up” today doesn’t come close to matching Obama’s big gaffe last month about AQ supposedly not being in Iraq prior to the start of the war, which he never corrected and in fact defended.
As a side note: Both candidates claim to care about what’s happening in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCain has spent the last several days in the ME, and made his 8th visit to Iraq a couple of days ago. Where has Senator Obama been? Campaigning. The contrasts couldn’t be more striking.