If you know the answer, you just might have a better grasp of geography than John McCain.
I never expected to like McCain's foreign policy. He sold out everything I used to think he believed, to support the invasion and occupation of Iraq. If he thought supporting Bush's foreign policy was the transcendental issue of the day, the thing worth throwing everything else away for, he obviously wasn't going to have a foreign policy I'd be on speaking terms with.
However, I expected McCain to differ from Bush in this way: I thought he knew something about the rest of the world and foreign policy. At least he'd offer a break from the cluelessness and incompetence of Bush. Turns out, McCain is confused and clueless about foreign policy, more so than Bush. Very dangerously so. This was a genuine surprise to me.
I ignored the evidence at first, as McCain did things like repeatedly refer to Czechoslovakia in the present tense even though it hasn't existed in 15 years, or repeatedly confused Sunni and Shia and thus confused who was allied with whom in Iraq. I "knew" that McCain had a lot of foreign policy experience, so I thought these incidents were weird, puzzling, and somewhat funny, but they didn't really reach me.
Then came a stunning, eye-opening exchange about Iran that made me re-evaluate what I thought I knew.
The context: Obama said he would be willing to negotiate with our enemies, Iran and North Korea in particular, and said he would meet with their leaders. For weeks, the McCain and Obama campaigns had been arguing in public about this. McCain, in ridiculing Obama's stated willingness to meet with the leaders of Iran, loved to quote outrageous inflammatory comments made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (McCain misconstrued Ahmandinejad's meaning of the most notorious of these quotes, but that's another issue). "How could Obama meet with the guy who says these things??" was McCain's frequent jibe.
Now, watch that video on the right. You can also read the transcript here, but you really ought to see how McCain handled it.
Joe Klein is absolutely right: Iran has two parallel systems of government, a democracy headed by the elected president Ahmadinejad, and a theocracy headed by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. Foreign policy, the military, and the nuclear program are all under the authority of the theocracy, and the elected president does not have authority over them.
Joe Klein saw that Obama had never talked about meeting with Ahmadinejad specifically, and he checked with the Obama campaign to confirm that. Why, he asked McCain, do you keep quoting Ahmadinejad when addressing this? Maybe, he suggested, Obama wants to meet with Ali Khamenei. McCain responded with derision and mocking contempt for the idea that anyone would suggest that Ahmadinejad isn't Iran's leader.
This is a basic fact. McCain was selling himself as the experienced foreign policy expert specifically on the issue of dealing with Iran, and not only did he get something so fundamental flatly wrong, he showed complete confidence in his wrongness and mocked a suggestion that he might be wrong. Sound like Bush?
In light of this, I started looking at things that McCain said without assuming to begin with that he knows what he's talking about, and it was unsettling. For example, I knew that he often seemed confused about troop levels in Iraq, but I didn't take it seriously because I pay some attention to Iraq and don't always remember the troop level numbers myself. Of course I expect him to know more than I do, but ... looking at the pattern, I began to realize that he really had no idea what he was talking about.
In July, McCain was crowing that the "surge" had reduced violence in Iraq. Violence in Iraq was indeed down, but some people pointed out that diplomatic developments, such as al-Sadr's ceasfire and the "Anbar awakening", might be the real reason. McCain didn't like that, probably because it sounded too Democratic: diplomatic solutions more effective than just throwing troops at the problem. So he argued back... by saying the surge caused the Anbar awakening!
The Anbar awakening, a tentative alliance between the US and local Sunni leaders to oppose insurgents, began before the surge was proposed.
So on Iraq, just like on Iran, McCain is fundamentally clueless about the most basic facts.
Now when I hear about McCain making a stupid error like calling Sudan "Somalia", or talking about the nonexistent "Iraq-Pakistan border" I see it differently. Some wonder if it's his age causing him to slip up like this so frequently, but I think these are the kinds of mistakes he wouldn't make if he really knew about the rest of the world. You don't repeatedly confuse who is allied with whom in Iraq simply because the words "Sunni" and "Shia" get mixed up in your head - you do that if you don't know, and you're trying to remember the roles of the various groups in Iraq as if they were just similar-sounding words.
And then... and then... this happened and completely boggled my mind.
Interviewed by a reporter from one of Spain's largest newspapers*, El Pais, John McCain... seemed unaware that Spain even existed! Asked about Spain, he answered about Mexico. Asked about meeting with Spanish president Zapatero, he talks about "friends and enemies" and about US relations with "Latin America". She had to explicitly remind him that Spain was in Europe and he still didn't get it. He suggested that he'd meet with Zapatero if he were dedicated to "human rights, democracy, and freedom" (Spain is already a US ally, in NATO, and has troops in Afghanistan).
Maybe McCain is losing his mind. But this goes far beyond mixing up words, and it's dangerous.
* Correction: It was a radio reporter, whose station is owned by a Spanish company that also owns El Pais; the reporter herself does not work for that newspaper.