UPDATED: McCain makes a major mistake about a very basic Iraq issue — two days in a row

UPDATED and BUMPED: So, McCain’s major mistake today wasn’t a one-time thing. According to the Huffington Post, McCain made the same incorrect statements about al Qaeda yesterday on the Hugh Hewitt show — and they’ve got the audio:

As you know, there are Al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.

Al Qaeda is Sunni. Iran is Shiite. That’s a pretty big mistake for someone who is supposed to be so steeped in foreign policy and Iraq.

And here’s the question for the punditry via Mark Murray at First Read:

As one of my NBC colleagues just asked: What if Clinton or Obama had made this mistake?

Now the traditional media types have it in their heads that McCain knows foreign policy inside out. That’s wrong.

Wait. Isn’t Iraq supposed to be McCain’s strong suit? So much for that lifetime of experience constantly attributed to McCain by Hillary Clinton.

As we all know, McCain is using taxpayer dollars to undertake a campaign trip around the world. And, it is a campaign photo op. Today, McCain got confused over the most basic facts about who is doing what in Iraq and Iran. Very basic stuff:

Sen. John McCain, traveling in the Middle East to promote his foreign policy expertise, misidentified in remarks Tuesday which broad category of Iraqi extremists are allegedly receiving support from Iran.

He said several times that Iran, a predominately Shiite country, was supplying the mostly Sunni militant group, al-Qaeda. In fact, officials have said they believe Iran is helping Shiite extremists in Iraq.

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.”

The mistake threatened to undermine McCain’s argument that his decades of foreign policy experience make him the natural choice to lead a country at war with terrorists. In recent days, McCain has repeatedly said his intimate knowledge of foreign policy make him the best equipped to answer a phone ringing in the White House late at night.

Not so ready for that phone call after all.

Note from Jacki: I don’t want to open the door to allegations of age discrimination (or to allegations of defending McCain in some way, for that matter), but it did cross my mind that these mistakes could also be products of age. The travel and time schedules of a presidential campaign are brutally taxing even for the sprightliest of contenders. McCain’s 71. They don’t call them senior moments for nothing. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s possible he misspoke rather than really didn’t know. I do, however, think the juxtaposition of age is going to be BIG come the general election – especially if Obama wins the democratic nomination. In case you missed SNL this weekend, even they hit on the issue in a skit that declared McCain officially “crazy old.” (If you can find a clip online, I will be happy to post it. Haven’t had luck unearthing it yet.)

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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