Presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who arrived in the Middle East Sunday to meet with top U.S. military officials and foreign leaders as part of a congressional delegation, made a brief slip-up while discussing the threat of al-Qaida in Iraq.
“It’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaida has been going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran,” McCain said of the predominately Sunni terrorist group.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, stepped in to mention something to McCain, who then corrected himself. “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaida,” he said, according to CBS News.
On Monday, McCain made a similar comment on Townhall.com’s Hugh Hewlett radio show, telling its host, “As you know, there are al-Qaida operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee released a statement on the gaffe, using it as evidence McCain “gets basic facts wrong on Iraq, Iran, and al-Qaida” and including a link to the Hugh Hewlett transcript.
On Tuesday, the DNC released a video capitalizing on McCain’s trip, which coincides with a trip to Iraq by Vice President Dick Cheney.
The video, entitled “Bush/McCain: Lockstep” shows McCain, Cheney and President Bush using the same rhetoric to discuss the war in Iraq.
In response to the DNC, McCain’s camp released a statement Tuesday acknowledging McCain’s misspoken words and accusing Democrats of launching “political attacks … because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief,” Politico.com’s Jonathan Martin reported.
The senior Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s trip to the Middle East coincided with important dates in Iraq’s history as well as a new wave of violence in Baghdad and neighboring areas.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, and “McCain’s arrival Sunday coincided with the 20th anniversary of a horrific chemical weapons attack in northern Iraq,” the Associated Press reported.
McCain, who traveled to the country along with his supporter Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lieberman, did not make public announcements about his visit and traveled without media followers, emphasizing the congressional agenda of his trip rather than his position as the Republican nominee.
Some Iraqi leaders, however, felt the senator’s visit spoke to his agenda if elected in November.
“This visit confirms that the Republicans believe that the Iraqi war is very important in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East,” said Wael Abdul Latif, an independent Shiite member of the Iraqi Parliament, according to the New York Times. “It’s a message to Iran that the United States will never leave, even after Bush is gone.”
Speaking on Monday in Washington, Democratic New York Sen. Hillary Clinton drew ties between the Bush administration and a possible McCain presidency.
“We can have hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground for a hundred years, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is no political solution to the situation in Iraq,” she said in a speech at George Washington University, according to the Baltimore Sun. “Sen. McCain and President Bush claim withdrawal is defeat. Let’s be clear, withdrawal is not defeat. Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years.”
Before his trip, McCain addressed Clinton’s association with between him and Bush. In an interview aired Monday on CNN, the Arizona senator said Clinton “obviously does not understand nor appreciate the progress that has been made on the ground. She told Gen. [David] Petraeus last year when he testified that she would have to suspend disbelief in order to believe that the surge is working. Well, the surge is working.”