Pro-Barack Obama blogs are raving wild with the accusation that John McCain does not know where Spain is.
This "news and analysis" seems to have as its source the liberal Talking Points Memo blog, which spent more than 48 hours minutely dissecting an exclusive interview that McCain gave to Radio Caracol Miami earlier in the week.
During the interview, which was focused mainly on U.S. relations with South America, the reporter turned the subject to Europe and asked McCain whether he would meet with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. To which McCain responded: "I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion."
The reporter then asked a second time: "Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government?" To which McCain replied: "Honestly, I have to analyze our relationships, situations, and priorities, but I can assure you that I will establish closer relationships with our friends, and I will stand up to those who want to harm the United States."
Enter TPM's Josh Marshall, who interpreted McCain's non-committal position vis-à-vis the Spanish leader as proving that: "John McCain either doesn't know who the Prime Minister of Spain is, thinks Spain is a country in Latin America, or possibly both." In a subsequent post, Marshall asserted: "Well, it doesn't appear to have registered in the American press yet. But the story keeps bubbling in the Spanish press about McCain's bizarre gaffe about the Spanish Prime Minister."
The story has now been dutifully picked up by the fact-checking MSM, which seems to be accusing McCain of provoking an international incident. The Washington Post says "McCain Slights Spanish Prime Minister" and Time magazine asks "Did McCain Diss Spain?" The Los Angeles Times asserts that "John McCain thinks Spain is a rogue state in South America" and the Boston Globe says "McCain Raises Eyebrows in Spain."
Except that none of this is true: The story does not keep bubbling in the Spanish press, McCain has not raised eyebrows in Spain, and Spaniards did not perceive McCain's equivocation as a "bizarre gaffe." (OK, maybe McCain did "diss" Spain just a little.)
Indeed, no one in Spain could have been very surprised about McCain's remarks and no one seems to have interpreted McCain's equivocation as meaning he did not know where Spain is located. This is because most Spaniards know that Zapatero has said publicly that he hopes Obama, not McCain, will become the next American president.
Moreover, almost everyone across the political spectrum in Spain knows (although not all will say so openly) that the Zapatero government is one of the most anti-American governments in Europe today. Hardly a week goes by in which Zapatero or one of his ministers does not accuse the United States for this or that problem. Indeed, Zapatero and his advisers know that anti-Americanism is smart domestic politics in a Spain that leans farther to the political left than any other country in Old Europe.
If anyone is responsible for the deterioration in U.S.-Spanish relations, it is Zapatero, who at heart is a leftwing ideologue opposed to everything the United States represents. Indeed, bilateral relations had been excellent for many decades, until Zapatero took office, and many of the old-guard Socialists, including former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González, have taken Zapatero to task for the Madrid-Washington breakdown.
Zapatero is one of the only leaders in Europe who has not been invited to visit the White House. But in the Byzantine logic of Spanish politics, that elusive visit to the Oval Office (to see an American president who is broadly despised by most Spaniards) also happens to be the main litmus test by which Spaniards will judge whether Zapatero gets promoted from provincial politician to international "statesman" during his second term.
In this sense, Zapatero's permanent non-relationship with the most powerful leader in the free world has become something of a media obsession in Spain, with the issue generating many miles of ink in national newspapers. McCain must have had this in mind when he made his comments about Spain.
Thus, it would seem to take some chutzpah to accuse McCain of somehow "slighting" the Spanish prime minister. At a minimum, it shows a failure to recognize that Zapatero does not consider himself to be a "friend" of the United States.
The Washington Post quoted McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Sheunemann as saying 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."
Scheunemann added: "In this week's interview, Senator McCain did not rule in or rule out a White House meeting with President Zapatero, a NATO ally. If elected, he will meet with a wide range of allies in a wide variety of venues but is not going to spell out scheduling and meeting location specifics in advance. He also is not going to make reckless promises to meet America's adversaries. It's called keeping your options open, unlike Senator Obama, who has publicly committed to meeting some of the world's worst dictators unconditionally in his first year in office."
TPM now seems to be backtracking. A subsequent post has another TPM blogger phoning the reporter who interviewed McCain.
She tells me she doesn't believe that McCain didn't know who Prime Minister Zapatero is or where Spain was. Instead, she believes that McCain was deliberately ducking the question of whether he'd meet with the Spanish Prime Minister. "I didn't get the impression that he didn't know who Zapatero was or where Spain was," the reporter, Yoli Cuello, told me. "Honestly, what I thought was that he didn't want to answer the question with a yes or no answer."
And yet another post has a sheepishly introspective Marshall trying to rationalize his accusations against McCain.
Instead of obsessing on McCain's knowledge of Spain, maybe the geography professors at TPM could remind Obama about how many states there are in the United States.