John McCain's frequently cited gaffes have been a source of amusement or concern, depending on your perspective. Either (ha!) he's a doddering old fool who might be president, or (shit) he's a doddering old fool who might be president. The availability of his many flubs and missteps on the Internet, a medium with which he doesn't even pretend to be acquainted, haven't helped combat McCain's image as a sufferer from Early Onset Reagan Mind Mush. And yet if you want to get technical, his gaffes are like breakups, orgasms and Woody Allen films — some are palpably worse than others. After the jump, a brief catalog with commentary.
" align="left"/"Czechoslovakia." McCain has on many occasions referred to the Eastern European country and former Soviet satellite as though it still existed. Q.E.D., he's an antique, right? Yes, but not because of this trifling betise. McCain isn't exactly going around referring to the dreaded "Hun" or slain archdukes – Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 (even Obama was alive then!), and plenty of tuned-in, reasonable people still make the unconscious linguistic mistake of reunifying the country. The Czechs and Slovaks may not love McCain for it (and the former used to have a neon heart atop their version of the White House), but then, his lifelong political opposition to the Soviet Union, and his current tough talk about the new Kremlin leadership outweigh in geopolitical terms an annoying slip of the tongue.
Iran Helps Al Qaeda. McCain's also repeatedly said on the stump that Iran is suborning the Bin Ladenists in Iraq, to which the Obama camp and every correct-thinking liberal in cyberspace replies: "Aha! If you don't know Al Qaeda is Sunni and the ayatollahs are not, you don't know Shiite." Even longtime companion Joe Lieberman at least once whispered into McCain's ear that he was mistaken about this terror nexus, and the candidate might very well have not known hawk from handsaw (he apologized for it once). But the interesting thing is this: according to intel captured by the U.S. in Iraq over a year ago, there is evidence "that Iran is working closely with both the Shiite militias and Sunni Jihadist groups," including Al Qaeda. Gen. William Caldwell testified to the fact before Congress. Also, it's naïve to assume that Sunni-Shiite terrorist collaboration is axiomatically impossible because of theological differences. The 9/11 Commission reported that Iran was in contact with Al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks; a recent Pentagon study showed that Saddam was pretty undiscriminating in his sponsorship of all sorts of militant Islamic groups; and, as Amir Taheri pointed out in the Wall Street Journal in March, there's a long, bloody history in the Middle East of how shared hatred of the United States eclipses sectarianism. Iran helps Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad (both Sunni), just as it did the Sunni Hizb Islami of Afghanistan. Still, as far as gotcha politics goes, this "gaffe" must be counted as a net loss for McCain, too quick to capitulate and too slow to set the record straight. In the public American imagination, Sunni is Sunni, Shiite is Shiite and never the twain shall meet.
The "Iraq-Pakistan" Border. On Monday, in the midst of Obama's much discussed tour of the Middle East, McCain went on Good Morning America and referred to the "Iraq-Pakistan" border – clearly a gaffe defined. McCain laughed off his mistake, but not before it made the rounds in ye olde blogosphere with the implied message that he's the one in this race with no real foreign policy savvy.
The Sunni Awakening Happened "After" the Surge. Another screw up, amplified by the fact that Katie Couric and CBS evidently tried to erase it from the public record. McCain was interviewed Tuesday by the pert news anchor and asked about Obama's comment that the surge can't take all the credit for improved security in Iraq – the Sunni or Anbar Awakening laid much of the groundwork. McCain responded: "I don't know how you respond to something that is as— such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel MacFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others. And it began the Anbar awakening. I mean, that's just a matter of history." He was wrong. The Anbar awakening preceded the surge, and to make matters worse, it was MacFarland himself who heralded this development – in September 2006, four months before Bush sent the additional troops into Iraq.
McCain's more valid point might have been that, like administering a drug to an already recovering patient, the surge quickened and guaranteed the efficacy of the awakening. But no points are distributed for what you should've said in this game.