On Monday, John McCain, speaking about Iraq on ABC's Good Morning America, said, "We have a lot of work to do and I'm afraid it's a very hard struggle, particularly given the situation on the Iraq/Pakistan border."
Only it turns out Iraq and Pakistan don't share a border. Afghanistan and Pakistan do.
Now you might say, "Afghanistan, Iraq, what's the difference? Isn't it all just a jumble of weirdly-named countries over there? Who can keep them straight?"
Well, yes, it is a jumble of weirdly-named countries over there, and no one can keep them straight. Well, no one in America can. But come on! We're on the other side of the globe! You can't expect us to know the location of every country over there, especially when they're all shaped like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The least our good friends in Central Asia could do is form their countries in rectangles and squares, like we had the decency to do in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states. True, our eastern states are kind of a mess, but by the time we worked our way out to Nebraska and Colorado, we had it figured out. And since the countries in Central Asia (and Eastern Europe, for that matter) are changing all the time anyway, is it too much to ask that they start arranging themselves into basic shapes and putting themselves in easy-to-remember locations?
But my point was, John McCain's gaffe is telling. He thinks Iraq is really Afghanistan. Well then, of course he supports the Iraq War! He thinks we're fighting it in Afghanistan! No wonder he wants to stay there for 100 years. He doesn't realize that, in Iraq, we're mired in a hopeless civil war that, as long as it lasts, only strengthens the hand of radical forces in Iran. He thinks we're fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan! Which, of course, we are. He just thinks we're doing it in Iraq.
Is it too disrespectful to suggest that McCain never came out of the tailspin he was in when he got shot down over Vietnam? I mean, I'm sorry, I would never want to cast a shadow over the wartime service of a national political candidate, especially in a presidential campaign, but the guy seems very confused.
What makes this weird is that it's hard to see how anyone could confuse Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq, after all, was ruled by a psychotic despot who wore a creepy Hitler mustache and tricked us into thinking he had an atomic bomb. Afghanistan, however, wasn't ruled by anyone. Unless you count the crazy mullah who drove around in that burned out Toyota pickup with Osama bin Laden, giving television interviews to anyone with a satellite link.
Really, Iraq and Afghanistan have never been anything like each other.
Another difference is that we invaded Iraq, sending that formerly secure country into a terrifying death spiral of violence, whereas in Afghanistan our invasion restored security to a country that had been suffering rampant chaos. Again, opposite experiences. Also, whereas now, thanks to us, no one is in charge in Iraq, in Afghanistan we have installed, as president, the character actor Ben Kingsley.
So, again, it's hard to see how anyone could confuse these two countries.
As an aside, I think Kingsley has done quite well. He's brought serenity and a real sense of panache to the Afghan presidency. True, he hasn't been able to forestall the resurgence of the Taliban, but what do you expect from a former Academy Award Winner? You think Charlton Heston could have done any better? That guy couldn't even run the NRA.
McCain's gaffe becomes harder to fathom when you consider the recent history of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the 1980s, Pakistan helped the Taliban secure the roads that ran across the Pakistan frontier and into Western Afghanistan. The feuding Afghan tribes that had controlled those roads had, through the tolls they charged and the gates they erected, ended all commerce in the region. Pakistan's assistance to the Taliban, by the way, came from Benazir Bhutto. She did a lot of great things, this was just an uncharacteristic low point, although in her defense, the whole thing was probably our idea. Anyway, she helped the Taliban rise to power, and in return, they secured the roads across the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. Later, when the CIA was arming Taliban warriors to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, their effort was aided by the ground Pakistan had prepared by establishing the Taliban in Western Afghanistan.
My source for all of this, by the way, is the Ahmad Rashid book Taliban, which I only read because, you know, I was JUST CURIOUS about that part of the world. No other reason. Just thought it would be important to KNOW SOMETHING of the roots of fundamentalist radicalism in Central Asia.
The thing is, we want our next president to know something of this history, too. But-- and here's the rub--you can't really know this history without also knowing that Pakistan and Afghanistan SHARE A BORDER.
Which, apparently, John McCain doesn't know. Meaning, John McCain really doesn't know anything about the history of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Sadly, this revelation jives with recent reports that, actually, John McCain doesn't know anything about anything. Apparently, he thinks Czechoslovakia is still a country. I guess the whole Velvet Revolution sort of slipped past him. Someone should ask him if he happens to know who Vaclav Havel is. According to Frank Rich, McCain can't decide whether the Bush Presidency has been good for the economy; he still hasn't fulfilled his 2000 promise to a reporter to learn something-- anything--about economics, and he doesn't know how to access the Internet.
Could John McCain be a waking zombie? Ever noticed the halting way he talks? That he only speaks in slogans? That weird way he moves his arms and upper body when he's shaking hands and embracing his friends?
I have just one thing to say. Please God, let him choose Mitt Romney as his running mate. Please oh please oh please.