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Thursday, September 18, 2008
By Dr. Steven Taylor

This morning I noted (but did not have to comment upon) a story about Senator McCain’s recent interview with Caracol radio in Miami wherein the issue of a McCain administration’s relationship with various Latin American leaders was raised as was the issue of whether McCain would be willing to meet with Spain’s Prime Minister, José Luis Zapatero.1

The issue becomes that McCain either directly and consciously dissed Zapatero, lumping him in with such Latin American leaders as Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales (both of whom recently ejected US Ambassadors) or he didn’t recognize the name (or catch the interviewers numerous references to Spain) and therefore basically tried to finesse his answer.

Either is an odd response. While it is true that the Bush administration was unhappy with the Zapatero government because it withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq, the bottom line is that Spain is a democratic ally of the United States, not to mention a member of NATO and the EU. If McCain recognized Zapatero’s name, why give him the cold shoulder? What possible political sense would that make (especially since McCain noted the need to better US-Spanish relations earlier in the year)? At a minimum, lumping Zapatero in with Chávez and Morales is just plain odd.

Of course, if McCain didn’t recognize Zapatero’s name (which is a real possibility) then that does damage his “foreign policy expert” cred. That he never took the repeated hints from the interviewer that she was talking about Spain raises the question of how well he was listening, if anything.

One can listen for oneself:

Source: TPM

Update: I think that Greg Sargent’s interpretation of the interchange is likely correct:

There is a way of interpreting what happened while allowing that McCain did know who Zapatero was. What could have happened is that on the first hearing of the question, he simply ducked it by returning to Latin America, as Cuello says.

Then, on the second hearing, where she repeated the name Zapatero without repeating “Spain,” he didn’t hear the name properly or was unable to track it back to the first mention of him. So he talked about Latin America again. Then on the third asking, when she stressed she was talking about Spain, McCain refused to answer because he genuinely doesn’t want to commit to meeting with this particular NATO ally.

This interpretation isn’t great for McCain, though, because it means on the second asking he hadn’t tracked the question and answered it by winging it even though he didn’t know who she’d asked about. And this isn’t even getting into the foreign policy implications of his answer.

Any other interpretation, of course, is worse.

Even so, I am unsure why McCain would have reversed himself on Zapatero, or why it would be worthwhile to do anything other than toss some insignificant niceties in the directions of Spain.

Update 2: Via WaPo’s The Trail:

McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann said McCain’s answer was intentional.

“The questioner asked several times about Senator McCain’s willingness to meet Zapatero (and id’d him in the question so there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred). Senator McCain refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero in this interview,” he said in an e-mail.

That is still weird. It isn’t as if McCain was being asked to get out his day planner to pencil in a state dinner for Zapatero. And since McCain said in the interview that “I’m willing to meet with any leader who is dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy and freedom and I will stand up to those who are not” are we now to construe that a McCain administration doesn’t view Spain as “dedicated to…human rights, democracy and freedom”?

That makes no sense.

Note: I will confess, btw, that part of my motivation in writing the post was the post title. However, I think that Lisa Abend of Time wins that contest: The Pain in Spain Falls Mainly on McCain.

Sphere: Related Content

  1. The interviewer did mis-identify Zapatero as Spain’s “President”. []

8 Comments »

  1. Either is an odd response.

    The thing I found most weird was after the interviewer made clear that she was talking about Spain and McCain said something along the lines of how he had a record of working with “leaders in the hemisphere” and “Latin America and the entire region.”

    Obviously (I assume), McCain knows that Spain is not in Latin America. I’ve always thought McCain is not a very curious guy, but this gaffe seems more like evidence of the decline of mental acuity.

    Can you see Spain from Alaska? If this guy gets elected, the Hockey Mom is going to have to get up to speed ASAP.

    Comment by Ratoe — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

  2. I am trying to be fair here, especially taking into consideration accents and telephones, but still, it did seem like (at a minimum) that he was BSing at best.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  3. There’s another theory positing that McCain thought the questioner was referring to Mexico’s Zapatista guerilla group.

    Comment by KipEsquire — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

  4. That occurred to me as well, but that is still odd, as the EZLN haven’t exactly been in the news of late, and even so, the discussion was in the context of regional leaders.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

  5. Besides, Zapatero is prime minister. Spain is a constitutional monarchy.

    (Yes, the Spanish term is Presidente del Gobierno, but I doubt McCain knows that, or meant that, or that his adviser did.)

    Comment by MSS — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  6. That occurred to me as well, but that is still odd, as the EZLN haven’t exactly been in the news of late, and even so, the discussion was in the context of regional leaders.

    Subcomandante McCain!

    The gaffe is also interesting from the standpoint that McCain is actually a native of Latin America.

    Comment by Ratoe — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  7. [...] given the whole McCain/Zapatero business a bit more thought, it really seems to me that the McCain campaign, and Randy Scheunemann [...]

    Pingback by PoliBlog (TM): A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » McCain’s Spanish Inquisition, Redux — Thursday, September 18, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

  8. I live in France, a European country.

    From here, we have the feeling that the american government is making war everywhere because he doesn’t know anything about the people of the world outside its borders.

    How can you have such power and be so ignorant?…

    I believe it’s not really ignorance but also a way of preserving a “way of live” regardless of all the disasters it may provoque (human or ecological)…

    But we hope very deeply that something will happen after these elections…

    Comment by Zappa Hero — Friday, September 19, 2008 @ 7:09 am

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