Yet, I still find a reason to be a little bit apprehensive at McCain's blunder last week. For those of you who don't know, McCain, during a speech in Jordan, mistakenly asserted that Iran was training al-Qaeda operatives for battle in Iraq; he was corrected by Joe Lieberman (
The more cynical among us would assert that McCain is trying to conflate Iran with anti-American terrorism and thus whip up support for military action against Iran should he become President. I don't buy it. Instead, I think McCain is making a more fundamental error. I think he believes that there are only two sides to any conflict - with us and against us, and that everyone who is against us is on the same side. As such, it's natural to confuse Iran and al-Qaeda - they both don't like us, so they must be on the same side, right?
This worries me because it's the same attitude that got Bush into so much trouble. The mistake of conflating two of our enemies - the secularist Hussein regime and the stridently Islamist al-Qaeda - is what got us into this mess. The fact that McCain made this mistake (and, according to the Post's Harold Meyerson, had made it before) makes me wonder whether he has the mindset necessary to deal with a multifaceted conflict where America is one of three or more disputing parties. And that describes most foreign conflicts nowadays. One thing we don't need is another president who can't see past the with us/against us dichotomy.
This little slip-up might not be that meaningful, and maybe McCain will demonstrate his capability to understand complex foreign interrelations at some point in the future. It does mean, however, that we can't simply assume McCain posesses it.