On April 1, 2007, John McCain went on a "walking tour" of the Shorja market in Baghdad. At a subsequent press conference held in the Green Zone he had this to say: "Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I have been here many years -- many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today. The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening." McCain's traveling buddy, Indiana Representative Mike Pence, said it was just "like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime."
The media's love affair with the "maverick" McCain was evident in the coverage the Iraq photo-op received. Two months earlier the Shorja market had been the site of bombings that killed 137 people but McCain appeared to be walking freely and interacting with warm crowds of adoring Iraqis. It was later revealed that accompanying McCain was over 100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead. American forces had sealed off the area and set up snipers in the taller buildings. Blackwater mercenaries were everywhere. McCain and his colleagues were all wearing body armor during their entire "stroll."
Given that four thousand American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died in the fighting since the U.S. invasion, the McCain photo-op in the Shorja market was a cruel April Fool's Day joke. The fact that McCain would join in this farce speaks volumes about his character. His premature declaration of "all clear" in Shorja a year ago also tells us something about his judgment.
The other day during another photo-op in Iraq McCain accused Iran of training "Al Qaeda terrorists." His new traveling buddy, Joe Lieberman, had to whisper in his ear that Al Qaeda is Sunni and that Shia Iran would never arm them, which led McCain quickly to change his story to say Iran was training "extremists." This was only two weeks before fighting between Shia factions engulfed Basra and southern Iraq and the pro-U.S. Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki enlisted Iran's help to negotiate a ceasefire.
How any politician in America, especially the Republican Party's presumptive nominee for president who trumpets his know-how in all things relating to "national security" and the "War on Terror," can confuse Shia Iran with Sunni Al Qaeda five years into this thing defies the imagination. But his shopping spree in Baghdad a year ago and his recent remarks about Iran are not the only times McCain revealed publicly that when it comes to Iraq he doesn't know what he's talking about.
I just hope no American or allied soldiers were killed or wounded while providing security for John McCain's photo-ops in Baghdad. A former student of mine who is a sergeant and emails me periodically informed me that he and his men hate it when politicians come to "tour" Iraq because they have to drop whatever they're doing and put themselves in greater danger just so some gas-bag can return home and crow about how they "were there and saw it for themselves." He also says they never see the real Iraq in any case.
On March 23, 2003, McCain said: "This conflict is . . . going to be relatively short." On September 10, 2003 he said: "I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical." Over two years later, on December 4, 2005, he said: "We will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year." On February 4, 2007 he said: "We can know fairly well in a few months." And on September 12, 2007, McCain said: "The next six months are going to be critical."
Given his abysmal track record on Iraq how is it that anybody still takes John McCain seriously when he throws around his military expertise as his key selling point for why he would make a great president? McCain is "tested." The only problem is: He flunked the test.