One of the many criticisms levied by the McCain campaign against Barack Obama has been his lack of foreign policy experience. To make that point, Sen. McCain went on a whirlwind trip this past summer to Mexico and Colombia to prove he has a handle on what's happening south of our border and that he knows the leaders of South America.
Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
Yet before Sen. McCain boasts too loudly, it would be nice if he got briefed on which countries actually were in South America and who their leaders are. In a radio interview that is sweeping the airwaves and headlines of Spain, Europe and South America, McCain came across as less of a candidate who has a handle on foreign policy and more like a clueless politician sticking to his campaign's playbook on how to answer questions about foreign policy.
The now infamous interview was with reporter Yoli Cuello of Radio Caracol Miami for exclusive broadcast by Union Radio stations. What happened in the interview sent shockwaves throughout Spain almost immediately because in the interview when Cuello asks McCain if he would meet with Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, McCain totally evaded the question implying that Spain isn't a friend of the United States.In the interview, which has been written about, posted and rebroadcast throughout Spanish-speaking countries now, McCain's reluctance to commit to meeting with José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, Spain's Prime Minister can lead us to only one conclusion -- he didn't know who José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was.
Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to McCain and make excuses for him -- the reporter had a heavy Spanish accent, the questions leading up to the one about Spain's Prime Minister dealt with Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba and Zapatero does sound like zapatistas to an untrained ear -- it doesn't erase the fact that the reporter clarified to McCain that she was talking about Spain and Europe.
The "oh sh!t" moment for McCain could be heard in that very pregnant pause once he realized his mistake. But since presidential candidates are never wrong, rather than admit he got confused, he belabored the same theme.
What's interesting is that McCain has more in common with Zapatero than he realizes. Zapatero's administration has come under fire for cracking down on undocumented workers and supporting the European Union's new "Return Directive" which will go into effect in 2010 and allows for the jailing of undocumented migrants for up to 18 months while awaiting deportation.
In the Republican playbook, Zapatero should be a great ally.
Yet, because Sen. McCain knows the leaders of foreign countries, as he says he does, Zapatero and Spain must be viewed in a cautious light with further evaluation before Zapatero would be invited to the White House under McCain's watch.
To his credit, Zapatero is downplaying McCain's remarks and chalking it up to the "election process." However, Spanish pride being what it is, the people and media of Spain aren't letting this obvious goof-up pass quietly.
The distributor of the interview, Cadena Ser and CadenaSer.com have erected a web site page addressing the global outcry to McCain's interview.
On the page, they say that in the hours after the interview aired, their site received an unusual increase in site visits and that the major media outlets in Spain, along with digital media, blogs and even TIME magazine, have commented on this interview.
Because of all the attention, CadenaSer.com has posted the original interview with McCain in English, the translated interview and an interview with the reporter (in Spanish) on their site. The following audio is the English interview with McCain and the interview conducted with the reporter by Spanish media who wanted her personal perspective on McCain's answers.
While some people may dismiss the fuss over McCain's mistake, it nonetheless reflects badly on a candidate who at every turn touts his own foreign policy knowledge over his opponent's. Sometimes it's better to just quit reminding people how much better you are than the competition because it always has a way to come back and bite you where it hurts.