As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

McCain's Major Iraq Error

I've been watching a bit of MSNBC this morning, which is the modern equivalent of medieval self-flagellation. And they're touching on this John McCain story, but treading lightly. Just to re-set the scene, yesterday McCain at a news conference said that it's "common knowldege" that Al Qaeda extremists, who are Sunni fundamentalists, are being trained in Iran, a Shiite theocracy. According to MSNBC, McCain "misspoke" and was quickly corrected by his pal Joe Lieberman, and talking heads have told me that it's really strange because McCain knows the issues so well. They're tellingly not showing the actual tape a whole lot, but they're assuring everyone that it was just a simple misstatement. Ari Melber of The Nation tried to set the record straight but was quickly shouted over. Then the pool reporter repeated reported McCain's spin that it would be "ludicrous" to suggest that he didn't know the difference between the two groups.

Now, this was no "misstatement." It was a lie that McCain has repeated over and over again. In fact, he repeated it again today.

For the third time in two days, the Arizona Republican has pushed the definitively false statement that the terrorist group Al-Qaeda was getting assistance from Iran, even though he was publicly ridiculed for the same false assertion on Tuesday.

This time, in a statement from his campaign honoring the fifth year anniversary of the war, McCain wrote:

"Today in Iraq, America and our allies stand on the precipice of winning a major victory against radical Islamic extremism. The security gains over the past year have been dramatic and undeniable. Al Qaeda and Shia extremists -- with support from external powers such as Iran -- are on the run but not defeated."

This is a real careful statement, putting Al Qaeda and Iran in the same sentence but with enough weasel words to claim that he's not saying what he's actually saying.

Now, I'm not real big on the hypothetical converse argument - as in "If Hillary Clinton said this there would be a firestorm" - but it's factually true. The BBQ-stained media is covering for McCain, playing down the remarks, and actually making statements like this:

NBC News political director Chuck Todd observed, "[H]ad Clinton or Obama done something like this, this would have been played on a loop, over and over."

Yeah, I know! Good thing you aren't doing something so silly!

In this case, it would be completely warranted. McCain is vigorously attached to the current Iraq policy and willing only to look at the short term at the expense of an overall strategy which takes into account America's foreign policy interests. In the short term, equating enemies and scaring the public is in his best interest. It plays into his stupid and shortsighted sense of "honor" that stipulates we can never leave Iraq. Furthermore, McCain is at the least belligerent toward Iran, and it serves his interests to believe they are in league with Al Qaeda. Whether McCain is confused, believes what he wants to believe, or is actually deviously conflating various enemies to create a sense of the "Other" is immaterial. The consequence is the same; more intractable conflicts and a catastrophic foreign policy. As Ilan Goldenberg says:

Here's the thing about McCain's mistake (and let's be clear it was a mistake he repeated it three times in one day. It's a mistake and a lack of understanding). This is a man who has staked his ENTIRE CAMPAIGN ON IRAQ.

This is a man who thinks it's OK for us to leave a troop presence in Iraq for 100 years. He thinks that Iraq is the central struggle of our day. He thinks that all of our other interests should be subverted to sticking it out in Iraq. He is running on his foreign policy experience. Yet he doesn't even understand who we are fighting. Is this the person we want answering the phone at 3 in the morning? This fundamental misunderstanding makes you wonder if he is qualified to be commander and chief. It's quite frankly stunning.

I know that McCain's a mavericky maverick and he's supposed to pick up this stuff by osmosis, but clearly we have another Republican candidate who is unconcerned with facts.

Now, Barack Obama actually hit McCain on this today, saying this:

Just yesterday, we heard Senator McCain confuse Sunni and Shiite, Iran and al Qaeda. Maybe that is why he voted to go to war with a country that had no al Qaeda ties. Maybe that is why he completely fails to understand that the war in Iraq has done more to embolden America's enemies than any strategic choice that we have made in decades.

He also rightly said that last year McCain was arguing we can't leave Iraq because violence was going up, and now we can't leave Iraq because violence is going down (except it's going back up now). He and Hillary Clinton have to keep saying this - and force the conversation on McCain's foreign policy cluelessness generally and his lack of command of details in particular.

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