John McCain made several significant gaffes last night that deeply undermine his supposed expertise on foreign affairs. Make sure you and yours know about this, because McCain speaks with a lot of confidence about these things. He also happened to be wrong about several of them.
Pakistan: this was probably the worst of the night. McCain claimed that Pakistan was a “failed state” before Pervez Musharraf took over via a military coup in 1999. Not true.
Musharraf took power in a military coup in 1999 when he deposed Nawaz Sharif – who recently participated in the latest election. The coup followed the 1999 war in Kashmir with India and was due to a power struggle with Sharif, not due to Pakistan being a “failed state.” The United States did not welcome the Musharraf coup. Instead the government of the United States imposed sanctions against this action.
Remember Pakistan had nuclear weapons in 1999. Did McCain believe that there was a failed state that possessed nuclear weapons? If he did he showed no concern at the time. The fact is McCain made a huge gaffe and demonstrated he has little understanding if the region.
And here’s AP making the same point:
“There was a failed state in Pakistan when Musharraf came to power,” McCain responded. “Everybody who was around then and had been there and knew about it knew that it was a failed state.”
Though Pakistan was wrestling with problems like tensions with India and serious poverty when Musharraf took power in an October 1999 coup, it had a democratically elected government and was far from being a “failed state” – a country in social and economic collapse where the government no longer exercises authority.
What’s remarkable is not only the factual error, but also the extraordinary confidence with which McCain made it, basically saying that anyone who knows anything knows that it was a failed state. Simply not the case.
Russia. McCain tried to make a big deal out of contrasting his response to Russia’s Georgian adventure a few weeks ago. He said Obama’s response wasn’t sufficiently aggressive toward Russia, and therefore was unacceptable.
Problem is, even assuming Obama didn’t out-and-out condemn Russia out of the box (and I haven’t gone back to check the chronology), Henry Kissinger — whose name came up a lot last night — basically agreed with Obama (pdf, p. 12).
SEC. KISSINGER: … We have to face the fact that the first shot in Georgia was fired on the Georgian side. Now, Russia reacted in an excessive manner, but we should not make the whole relationship depend on the pictures that – (inaudible) – to explore the possibilities of cooperation and be very sure before we go the route of cutting off WTO and the other international measures for which cooperation with Russia may be very important. And I think also that this Russia is not democratic, but it is also not what it was before and that one must permit some evolution to take place.
Indeed, Colin Powell in the same conference actually turned McCain’s shoot-from-the-hip response into a laugh line (p. 14).
MS. AMANPOUR: And yet – (and some debate?) in the presidential elections have basically been “we are all Georgians now.” [That is what McCain said at the time. -ed.] What does that mean …
SEC. POWELL: One candidate said that, and I’ll let the candidate explain it for himself. (Laughter.) No, the fact of the matter is that you have to be very careful in a situation like this not just to leap to one side or the other until you’ve taken a good analysis of the whole situation.
There’s more on Republican Secretaries of State who think McCain took the wrong approach to the Georgian business at this link.
Negotiating with foreign leaders. Obama did actually try hard to set McCain straight on this nonsense during the debate, but McCain ignored the facts. How surprising. Anyway, the point here is that Henry Kissinger does, in fact, agree with Obama’s approach to this. Here is Kissinger on CNN, only one week ago.
“Well, I am in favor of negotiating with Iran. And one utility of negotiation is to put before Iran our vision of a Middle East, of a stable Middle East, and our notion on nuclear proliferation at a high enough level so that they have to study it. And, therefore, I actually have preferred doing it at the secretary of state level so that we — we know we’re dealing with authentic…”
Sesno: “Put at a very high level right out of the box?”
Kissinger: “Initially, yes. And I always believed that the best way to begin a negotiation is to tell the other side exactly what you have in mind and what you are — what the outcome is that you’re trying to achieve so that they have something that they can react to. Now, the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Japan and Germany, have all said nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. They’ve never explained what they mean by this. So if we go into a negotiation, we ought to have a clear understanding of what is it we’re trying to prevent. What is it going to do if we can’t achieve what we’re talking about? But I do not believe that we can make conditions for the opening of negotiations. We ought, however, to be very clear about the content of negotiations and work it out with other countries and with our own government.” (CNN’s “Live Event,” 9/20/08)
And, for the record, McCain’s suggestion last night that he might favor opening negotiations at the Secretary of State level — as Kissinger clearly does — is either untrue or a massive change in his previously-stated position.
Add your own gaffes in the comments!