McCain Conflates Shiite Iran And Sunni Al Qaeda, Needs To Be Corrected By Lieberman

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has spent a majority of his presidential campaign trying to convince voters that he is the most qualified to tackle foreign policy issues:

I would believe that my knowledge and experience and background clearly indicates that if the phone rang in the White House and I was the one to answer it, I would be the one to best address a national security crisis. [3/3/08]

I have the most experience of any presidential candidate when it comes to foreign policy and advancing our national and economic security priorities around the globe. [1/29/08]

On matters of war and peace, I offer Americans my experience, my personal familiarity with the tragedy of war, [and] deep involvement in all of the national security issues of the last two decades… [11/18/07]

Of course, McCain’s supposed prescient understanding of foreign policy has been proven faulty over and over. Today, as the Washington Post’s Cameron Barr and Michael Shear report, McCain further undermined his claim to be the best qualified on matters of foreign policy, when he repeated a mistaken claim that Iran was training al Qaeda fighters:

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.”

He made the same assertion on right-wing Hugh Hewitt’s radio show last night. Listen here:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2008/03/McCainHewittIran.320.40.flv]

The “common knowledge” McCain cites is simply false. Far from working together, Iran and al Qaeda represent opposing sides in the Iraq civil war. Al Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim extremist group, while Iran is ruled by Shiites, where they make up 90 percent of the population.

McCain, the so-called foreign policy expert, is confusing reports that Iran was aiding Shiite insurgents in Iraq — one of the groups that virulently opposes al Qaeda. Even some aspects of those reports have been disputed.

Considering he had to correct McCain himself, does Lieberman still insist that McCain is “almost always right on the big issues in foreign policy”?

(HT: Matthew Yglesias)

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Update:

The AP reported on McCain’s “concern” over Iranian influence in Iraq, but edited out the al Qaeda reference: “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.”