It's lucky for John McCain that most politically-aware Americans remain riveted by the Hillary Clinton sideshow (more on that later), because he continues to make inexplicable factual errors without any willingness to acknowledge them. If more people were paying attention, they might well wonder whether this guy is as sharp about foreign policy as he purports to be.
The latest incident occurred last Wednesday, when he told a public gathering that things were going swimmingly in Iraq: "I can tell you that it (the Surge) is succeeding. I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-Surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet."
Well, we can look McCain right in the eye and remind him that, as a matter of fact, we have not drawn down to pre-Surge levels. It's just a matter of comparing the actual numbers. Before President Bush ordered his troop escalation in January 2007, we had 128,569 soldiers in Iraq; today, we have 155,000 soldiers in Iraq. In accordance with how math generally works, the latter number is larger than the former.
Putting aside MCain's claim that Mosul is "quiet," on the same day that Mosul reportedly suffered three suicide bombings, it's fascinating to hear how his spinners have sought to defend his tallying of the troops. They insisted that this is merely "a question of semantics," a silly quibble over "verb tense," because, after all, the Bush administration has begun the process of drawing down to pre-Surge levels, with the intention of fully achieving it.
The problem, of course, is that McCain was declaring the draw-down to pre-Surge levels as Mission Accomplished, whereas, in factual reality, it is no such thing. It may be the intention of the Bush regime to reduce those troop levels, but - given the ongoing fragility of the situation in Iraq - there is no way to know whether the goal of a full military drawdown can be achieved. So either McCain truly doesn't know how many troops are stationed in Iraq, or he is willfully twisting the actual troop numbers in order to cheerlead (again) for the Bush war team.
Some media commentators (notably David Brooks yesterday, on Meet the Press) are giving McCain a pass on what he said (as Washington journalists often do). But it's important to remember that this is only the latest in a string of questionable recent remarks:
McCain has twice confused the Sunnis and the Shiites. (He has insisted that Iran was training al Qaeda operatives, whereas, in reality al Qaeda is a Sunni organization and Iran is run by Shiites. He has insisted that Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the most powerful figure in that country, whereas, in reality, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's national security council are the powers that run the show. (McCain is fine with the idea of repeating the error about Ahmadinejad: "I think of you asked any average American who the leader of Iran is, I think they'd know.") And after a recent clash between Iraqi government troops and Shiite insurgents pledged to Moqtada al-Sadr, McCain erroneously stated that a chastened Sadr had sought a ceasefire, whereas, in reality, the ceasefire was kick-started when the Iraqi government asked its allies in Iran to broke the process; in the end, Sadr's forces were left virtually intact.
Just imagine if Barack Obama had been talking this way, repeatedly. The inevitable TV ad, from the Republican National Committee or some surrogate group, would probably go something like this:
(Slasher-movie music, grainy black and white footage of Obama in slow motion.) "Barack Obama wants to be your president. And yet, in this moment of national crisis, he does not know the difference between the key Iraqi constituencies. He does not know who really holds the power in Iran. He does not even know how many of our brave troops are currently stationed in Iraq, protecting our way of life here at home. In this dangerous world, who would best protect us - an untested politician who can't get his facts straight, or John McCain, the kind of American president that America has been waiting for?"
Foreign policy is supposed to be McCain's strongest turf, but, fortunately for him, he continues to run below the radar, thanks to the national attention being paid to Hillary Clinton's ongoing delusional crusade.
It may have crested over the weekend in Washington. I have deliberately given short shrift to the decision-making of the Democratic National Committee's ruling on the Florida and Michigan delegations, for this simple reason:
She was beaten in this race before the Saturday meeting began, and she remains beaten this morning. (At this point, it's barely worth mentioning the Clintonian hypocrisy on full display; Harold Ickes, who pushed the case for full seating of the two outlaw delegations, voted as a DNC member last August to strip both delegations.) The only real news, out of Saturday's meeting, is that, within the Democratic party, the power torch has been passed from the Clintons to Obama.
After South Dakota and Montana vote tomorrow, Obama will only need roughly 30 superdelegates (out of roughly 150 supers still available) to reach the total delegate number required for nomination. It's even conceivable that he could pick up 30 during the next 24 hours, in advance of those final primary tallies.
All told, "as history shows, the Democratic nomination goes to the candidate who wins the most delegates." That's what Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, wrote back on Feb. 13.
Of course, Clinton can still elect to appeal the DNC ruling and fight on into the summer - if she truly desires to wreck her political future and the '08 prospects of her own party. The choice is hers.