AP, CNN ignored McCain's "gaffe" on Al Qaeda

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

The Associated Press reported that Sen. John McCain voiced concern about Iran allegedly training "militants" and sending them to fight in Iraq, while CNN.com's Political Ticker reported that McCain had referred to "Iraqi extremists" being trained by Iran. In fact, McCain did not refer generically to "militants" or "Iraqi extremists"; he claimed that Iranian operatives are "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back" to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, a misstatement that Washington Post reporters Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear wrote "threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists."

In a March 18 article, Associated Press writer Alfred de Montesquiou reported that Sen. John McCain "voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to 'expedite' a flow of foreign fighters." Similarly, in a March 18 post on CNN.com's Political Ticker blog, Emily Sherman wrote: "During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq." In fact, McCain did not refer generically to "militants" or "Iraqi extremists"; he claimed that Iranian operatives are "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back," a misstatement that Washington Post reporters Cameron W. Barr and Michael D. Shear wrote "threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists."

After Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), who was with McCain, reportedly whispered something in his ear, McCain reportedly corrected himself, saying: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda." U.S. officials have reportedly claimed Iran is training Shiite militants; Al Qaeda is predominantly a Sunni organization.

Neither Montesquiou nor Sherman noted McCain's gaffe in their articles. Nor did they note that McCain reportedly corrected himself after Lieberman reportedly whispered something to him.

In a March 18 blog post, Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin noted that McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said: "In a press conference today, John McCain misspoke and immediately corrected himself by stating that Iran is in fact supporting radical Islamic extremists in Iraq, not Al Qaeda -- as the transcript shows. Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates' judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief."

The Post reported:

Speaking to reporters in Amman, the Jordanian capital, McCain said he and two Senate colleagues traveling with him continue to be concerned about Iranian operatives "taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back."

Pressed to elaborate, McCain said it was "common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran, that's well known. And it's unfortunate." A few moments later, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, standing just behind McCain, stepped forward and whispered in the presidential candidate's ear. McCain then said: "I'm sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda."

The mistake threatened to undermine McCain's argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists. In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy make him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night.

[...]

The U.S. has long asserted that elements of the Iranian security forces have been training and supplying weapons to Iraq's Shiite militias. Iran is an overwhelmingly Shiite country whose government has applauded the emergence of a Shiite-led government in Iraq but has denied supporting Shiite militias inside Iraq.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a predominantly Sunni militant group which is blamed for deadly mass killings of Shiites, along with attacks on U.S. forces. Some extremist Sunni consider Shiites to be heretics and therefore legitimate targets of attack.

The schism between Islam's Sunni and Shiite sects grew out of a dispute over the leadership of the faithful following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD.

As the blog Think Progress noted, this was not the first time McCain has misidentified Iraqis who the U.S. government says are being trained in Iran. On the March 17 broadcast of Salem Radio Network's The Hugh Hewitt Show, McCain said, "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."

Video of McCain's assertion during the March 18 press conference that Iranians have been training Al Qaeda can be found here.

From the March 18 Associated Press article:

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee-in-waiting, expressed fresh concern Tuesday about Iran's influence in Iraq and rising sway in Mideast.

McCain noted U.S. military officials recently discovered a cache of armor-piercing bombs in Iraq, and he hinted the explosives had been provided by Iran. U.S. officials have long been saying that Iran provides explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs to, Shiite militias in Iraq, although the Iranian government denies any role.

The U.S. military reported two such finds during the past week.

McCain also voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight U.S. troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to "expedite" a flow of foreign fighters.

"We continue to be concerned about Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons," McCain said.

He added that, if elected president, he would coordinate better with Europe to impose a "broad range of sanctions and punishments" on Tehran, to "convince them that their activities, particularly development of nuclear weapons, is not a beneficial goal to seek."

McCain declined to comment on whether he could back an eventual decision to strike Iran if Tehran doesn't cease its nuclear activities.

In response to a question about possible U.S. strikes against Tehran, McCain only said: "At the end of the day, we cannot afford having a nuclear armed Iran."

He warned that any hasty pullout from Iraq would be a mistake that would favor Iran and al-Qaida.

"We continue to be very concerned about the Iranian influence in Iraq and in the region," McCain said.

McCain ran into trouble last year when he joked about bombing Iran, giving a campaign audience in South Carolina a rendition of the opening lyrics of the Beach Boys rock classic "Barbara Ann," calling the tune "Bomb Iran" and changing the words to "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, anyway, ah ..."

McCain, who has linked his political future to U.S. success in Iraq, was in the wartorn country on Monday for meetings with Iraqi and U.S. diplomatic and military officials.

"We were very encouraged by the success of the surge and the reduction in U.S. casualties," McCain told reporters in Jordan, where he stopped on the next leg of a congressional visit that will also take him to Israel, Britain and France.

"We are succeeding, but we still have a long way to go," he warned. "Al-Qaida is on the run, they're not defeated."

A "major battle" remains to be fought to reclaim the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, he said, stating it was a success for the U.S. that Iraqi troops were now "taking the lead in that struggle" against al-Qaida.

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