It was interesting to watch the press grapple with McCain's mistake -- one in which he mixed up Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites and blamed Iran for supporting al Qaeda (mostly Sunni) when in fact Iran backs extremist Shiites. Liberal cable outlets had a field day -- Keith Olbermann on MSNBC played the video at least four times in less than an hour last night, while the more conservative Wall Street Journal and Washington Times didn't mention it. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran stories, but put them deep inside their front sections.
McCain's trip to Iraq hasn't gone exactly the way he planned it. Instead of a tour that emphasized his national security credentials, he found himself shunted off the front pages by the crisis on Wall Street, upstaged by Vice President DIck Cheney's almost simultaneous visit to Baghdad, and Bush's remarks today on the five year anniversary of the war. And then there was this verbal gaffe, which surely undercut his image as someone who can slip easily into the role of a confident world leader.
McCain's larger point -- that Iran is causing trouble in Iraq -- is obviously true and crucial. But can you imagine how Republicans would go to town if Barack Obama or even Hillary Clinton made a similar gaffe? It would be taken as proof that neither is ready for the presidency. Just remember how McCain tried to do just that when he thought Obama, during a debate with Clinton, had implied that al Qaeda isn't present in Iraq.
But there's a more serious point to be made about McCain's linking of Iran and al Qaeda. It goes to the mindset that has been fostered by the Bush administration -- one that sees an al Qaeda hand behind every dilemma the U.S. faces at home and abroad. No one doubts that al Qaeda is a real threat to this nation, but it's not the only one. And we do ourselves a disservice by thinking that way.