Yesterday I pointed out that John McCain was incorrect in treating Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as if Ahmadinejad had a significant role in formulating Iranian foreign policy. In reality, Iranian foreign policy is set by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Iran’s National Security Council.
At a press conference yesterday, Time’s Joe Klein pressed McCain on this point. According to Klein, McCain said that Ahmadinejad “represents Iran in international forums like the United Nations,” but then Klein pointed out that “The Supreme Leader is, uh, the Supreme Leader”:
McCain responded that the “average American” thinks Ahmadinejad is the boss. Didn’t get a chance to follow up to that, but I would have asked, “But isn’t it your job to correct those sorts of mistaken impressions on the part of the American public?” Oh well.
Democracy Arsenal’s Ilan Goldenberg follows up:
[A]s Klein points out, the President’s job is to educate the public on questions of policy. So if the “average American” thinks that Ahmadinejad is the ultimate leader of Iran, it’s up to the President to dissuade them of this notion — not reinforce it. Back in 2002 more then half of Americans thought Saddam was responsible for 9/11 and President Bush did nothing to disprove this assumption (In fact, while never directly claiming that Saddam was responsible for 9/11 the Administration did everything it could to reinforce the notion). That doesn’t mean our policy should be based on those false assumptions.
Focusing on the rants of Iran’s mercurial president enables McCain and other war hawks to create the impression that Iran is an implacable enemy, with whom negotiation would be pointless.