McCain’s repeated “slips of the tongue” on Iran and al-Qaida

Joe Klein and the rest of the media excuse McCain's false statements about Iran as a "slip of the tongue" -- even though he repeated it three times.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below)

Regarding John McCain’s patently false statement that Shiite Iran is training Sunni Al Qaeda members in Iraq — a falsehood which the McCain campaign attributed merely to the fact that “John McCain misspoke and immediately corrected himself” — Time‘s Joe Klein today said:

I was going to give John McCain a break on his Al Qaeda-Iran gaffe yesterday. After all, it wasn’t a Kinsleyian gaffe — the inadvertant (sic) blurting of an unacceptable truth — it was just a plain old slip of the tongue, a brain fart. Surely, McCain knows that Iran is Shi’ite and Al Qaeda is Sunni . . . and I’ve been pretty rough on the Senator from Arizona lately . . . and I’d prefer to deal with McCain’s larger problem: his tendency to oversimplify the situation in Iraq for demagogic, bloody-shirt effect.

Klein then goes on to criticize various statements from the McCain campaign on Iraq for “oversimplifying” the war, but he sticks to his generous view that McCain’s error was nothing more than a “brain fart” — meaning that McCain obviously knows that what he said isn’t true and it was just a matter of misspeaking, of nothing more than a momentary disconnect between the brain and the mouth.

But that attempt to excuse McCain’s ignorance about the most basic facts in Iraq is clearly frivolous, because McCain had been making the same exact statement before Joe Lieberman whispered in his ear. On Monday, McCain was on the Hugh Hewitt Show, and this exchange occurred:

HH: What’s the concern you have about Iran, and about, in particular, Ahmadinejad? Some people want to meet with him. He’s not on your agenda this trip.

JM: (laughing) The day I meet with the president of Iran will be the day after he announces his country no longer is dedicated to the extinction of the state of Israel, the day after they stop exporting these most lethal explosives into Iraq. Just yesterday, up in the Mosul area, they uncovered a cache of weapons, and a lot of it was these Iranian copper, high . . .st lethal explosives. As you know, there are al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq. I think Americans should be very angry when we know that Iran is exporting weapons into Iraq that kill Americans. And so all I can say is that I think they continue to be a threat.



That’s the same exact “brain fart,” to use Klein’s exculpatory phrase. Independently, as Think Progress noted today, McCain made the same assertion about Iranian training of Al Qaeda operatives on a separate occasion in the same Press Conference, before he said it a second time and was corrected by Joe Lieberman:

We continue to be very concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq and the region . . . . We continue to be concerned about Iranian taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them, and sending them back.

Those two incidents are what preceded his “brain fart” in Iraq — one which Fox News, and now Klein and many other media members, helpfully characterize as a nothing more troubling than a mere “misstatement”:

FOX: But in a news conference with local reporters, McCain misspoke in the way he accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq.

MCCAIN: It’s common knowledge, and it’s been reported in the media, that Al Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran.

FOX: Except that Al Qaeda in Iraq is largely Sunni, and Iran’s government is largely Shia. After a whispered reminder from Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberamn, McCain immediately corrected himself.

MCCAIN: I’m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists. Not Al Qaeda.

But he made the same claim, virtually verbatim, on three separate occasions just this week alone. Whatever explains these falsehoods, “misspeaking” or a “brain fart” is plainly not it. Only some serious neurological affliction would produce the same exact “brain fart” on three separate occasions. The alleged Iran-Al Qaeda link was a deliberative and premeditated assertion from McCain.

There are only two plausible possibilities which could account for McCain’s false statements: (1) he was engaged in the standard tactic of war advocates — perpetrated ever since 9/11 — of just asserting that disparate (and even warring) Muslim factions are allies with one another in the Endless War without there being any evidence that this is so (Saddam loves Al Qaeda which loves Hezbollah which loves the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood which loves Iran which loves the Taliban which loves Hamas which loves Osama bin Laden, etc. etc.), or (2) McCain is just completely ignorant of the most elementary facts about the region and the war in which the media has decreed him to be a Great Expert.

The media consensus that national security is some sort of great asset for McCain is completely baseless. Just go read McCain’s pre-invasion speeches and they are filled to the brim with the most extreme, gullible and false assertions about Iraq. This whole McCain Myth is predicated on the Beltway principle that anyone who supports war and cheers on war and wants to prolong the occupation of Iraq is inherently Serious when it comes to National Security, no matter how little they know and how unbroken a record of Wrongness they’ve compiled. And in McCain’s case, the fact that he was in Vietnam 40 years ago immunizes him from having his National Security expertise questioned (though it didn’t for John Kerry).

On the fifth anniversary of the invasion, one was inundated with commentary from the “experts” — almost uniformly from those who supported this most disastrous invasion — because the pro-war position is the intrinsically Serious one. John McCain supported the war, still supports the war, believes in more war, and thus is an expert in national security.

Thus, when completely false and ignorant statements come out of his mouth, it can’t be that he is confused and misinformed, or that he was deliberately misleading. This is a Serious, honorable hawk. It must be that he just had an understandable “brain fart” — an innocuous case of “misspeaking” — even though it happened three times in a row in a matter of a couple of days.

As Atrios put it: “He’s honest, so he cannot lie, he’s supporter of reform, so he cannot be corrupt, and he has “foreign policy experience,” so he cannot be wrong.” The only qualification for being granted irrevocable status as a Serious Foreign Policy Expert is enthusiasm over the use of military force to invade, bomb and occupy other countries. That is deeply, deeply Serious. John McCain exudes that enthusiasm more than anyone this side of Bill Kristol, and National Security is thus a real strength of his.

UPDATE: Juan Cole notes that McCain’s attempt to link Al Qaeda and Iran is consistent with a long-standing Pentagon myth which even they were forced slowly and quietly to abandon. McCain wasn’t “misspeaking,” but rather, deliberately repeating — whether from ignorance or an intent to mislead — a long-standing, now-discredited claim that neocons have been making for years.

Additionally, Cole — citing this post — observes:

Glenn Greenwald demonstrates that McCain has repeatedly made this looney assertion and that it wasn’t just a momentary slip. You wonder whether, if he had been corrected by anyone but Lieberman, he would even have backed off momentarily.

That’s exactly right. What happened here is actually quite obvious. McCain was emphatically repeating this falsehood with great confidence (as he told Hewitt: “As you know, there are al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq”).

He only “corrected” himself because he reflexively repeated what Lieberman whispered in his year (Iran’s not training Al Qaeda; they’re training Shiite extremists). Then, once McCain retracted it, his campaign had no choice but to claim it was just a “misstatement.” But the fact that he repeated it twice before that (at least) leaves no doubt that he meant to say it. The only real question is whether he meant to say it due to profound ignorance or the will to deceive.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>