McCain zapped by Spain question

Listening to the original English audio of John McCain’s already infamous interview with Radio Caracol Miami, it’s fairly obvious that McCain doesn’t intend to describe Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain as one of America’s enemies, he just has no idea what the interviewer is talking about: Interviewer: Let’s talk about Spain. If ...

Listening to the original English audio of John McCain's already infamous interview with Radio Caracol Miami, it's fairly obvious that McCain doesn't intend to describe Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain as one of America's enemies, he just has no idea what the interviewer is talking about:

Interviewer: Let's talk about Spain. If you are elected president, would you be willing to invite President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?

McCain: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are our friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion. And by the way, President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very tough fight against the drug cartels. I'm glad we are now working in cooperation with the Mexican government on the Merida plan and I intend to move forward with relations and invite as many of them as I can, of those leaders to the White House.

Listening to the original English audio of John McCain’s already infamous interview with Radio Caracol Miami, it’s fairly obvious that McCain doesn’t intend to describe Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain as one of America’s enemies, he just has no idea what the interviewer is talking about:

Interviewer: Let’s talk about Spain. If you are elected president, would you be willing to invite President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you?

McCain: I would be willing to meet with those leaders who are our friends and want to work with us in a cooperative fashion. And by the way, President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very tough fight against the drug cartels. I’m glad we are now working in cooperation with the Mexican government on the Merida plan and I intend to move forward with relations and invite as many of them as I can, of those leaders to the White House.

Interviewer: Would that invitation be extended to the Zapatero government, to the president itself?

McCain: I don’t…you know, honestly I have to look at the relations and the situations and the priorities but I can assure you, I will establish closer relations with our friends and I will stand up to those who want to do harm to the United States of America. I know how to do both.

Interviewer: So you have to see if he’s willing to meet with you, or you’ll be able to do it in the White House?

McCain: Again, I don’t…all I can tell you is that I have a clear record of working with leaders in the hemisphere that are friends with us and standing up to those who are not and that’s judged on basis of the importance of our relationship with Latin America and the entire region.

Interviewer: Okay, but what about Europe? I’m talking about the president of Spain.

McCain: What about me, what?

Interviewer: Are you willing to meet with him if you are elected president?

McCain: I’m willing to meet with any leader that’s dedicated to the same principles and philosophy that we are for human rights, democracy, and freedom and I will stand up to those that do not.

The interviewer has an accent and speaks somewhat quickly, so it’s possible that the Arizona senator didn’t really understand the questions and was just trying to wing it. It also seems like the name Zapatero didn’t really ring a bell for him (perhaps he was thinking of Mexico’s Zapatista rebels?), which is unfortunate given that earlier in the interview, he distinguishes himself from Barack Obama by saying, "I know the issues and I know the leaders."

Any way you interpret this gaffe, it doesn’t look good for McCain. If he honestly considers Zapatero to be in the same category as Chávez and Morales — which I doubt — he looks overly hawkish. And if he didn’t know who the prime minister of Spain is, it undercuts his credibility as a foreign-policy expert. If he was just having a "senior moment" and didn’t understand what he was being asked, well, that might be the worst.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

Tag: Spain

More from Foreign Policy

A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed  according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.
A worker cuts the nose off the last Ukraine's Tupolev-22M3, the Soviet-made strategic aircraft able to carry nuclear weapons at a military base in Poltava, Ukraine on Jan. 27, 2006. A total of 60 aircraft were destroyed according to the USA-Ukrainian disarmament agreement.

Why Do People Hate Realism So Much?

The school of thought doesn’t explain everything—but its proponents foresaw the potential for conflict over Ukraine long before it erupted.

Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.
Employees watch a cargo ship at a port in China, which is experiencing an economic downturn.

China’s Crisis of Confidence

What if, instead of being a competitor, China can no longer afford to compete at all?

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell testifies in the U.S. Senate in Washington on Sept. 24, 2020.

Why This Global Economic Crisis Is Different

This is the first time since World War II that there may be no cooperative way out.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang applaud at the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.

China Is Hardening Itself for Economic War

Beijing is trying to close economic vulnerabilities out of fear of U.S. containment.