McCain confused about Petraeus' job, chain of command

In the latest in a series of gaffes, McCain flubs question on Petraeus and Afghanistan.

By Steve Benen

Published April 15, 2008 4:04PM (EDT)

Speaking before the Associated Press's annual meeting yesterday, John McCain was asked whether he would consider "diverting troops from Iraq to Afghanistan" in order to catch Osama bin Laden. McCain replied, "I would not do that unless General Petraeus said that he felt that the situation called for that."

The problem, of course, is that McCain's response doesn't make sense. In fact, as the Army Times reported, Petraeus himself explained just last week, to McCain and his Senate colleagues, that decisions like these aren't his to make.

The Army Times notes that McCain may have "missed the explanation," but that's not really the point -- whether McCain was in the room or not, he's supposed to be an expert on national security and military policy. And he clearly isn't.

Let's not forget that relatively minor errors on military affairs are, according to McCain, worth raising a fuss over. Last year, McCain took enormous delight in trying to embarrass Barack Obama when Obama's campaign issued a statement talking about a "flack jacket" instead of a "flak jacket." Indeed, major national news outlets thought this was quite a significant development -- the "inexperienced" Obama was being taught a thing or two about the military, by virtue of an arguable typo. (For the record, either spelling is considered acceptable, and McCain's cheap shot was factually wrong.)

Obama's use of the word "flack" in a press release led to coverage from ABC, NBC, Fox News, the Washington Post, New York Times and L.A. Times.

Why, then, is it trivia when John McCain doesn't understand the chain of command, and is ascribing military responsibilities to David Petraeus that the general just explained last week he does not have?

For that matter, I know it cuts against the agreed-upon media narrative, but McCain's confusion on these issues points to an issue that should be a real problem for his campaign. Just over the last month or so, McCain has been confused about whether al-Qaida is Sunni or Shi'a on at least four occasions, whether Iran is aiding al-Qaida, and was equally confused about what transpired during Maliki's recent offensive in Basra.

Remember, this is the subject McCain claims to know best. After conceding that he knows practically nothing about economic matters, his expertise on the military and national security is supposed to be the underpinning of his entire presidential campaign.

And yet, about once a week, he seems to have no idea what he's talking about.

Steve Benen

MORE FROM Steve Benen

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections War Room