McCain's "Sometimes Hapless" Efforts to Showcase His Foreign Policy Cred

In her Wednesday story, "McCain Intensifies His Attack," lead McCain campaign reporter Elisabeth Bumiller called the Republican's efforts "hapless." How did he screw up this time? By calling the Czech Republic "Czechoslovakia" not once but three times in the course of a month on the campaign trail. (I 1993, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia broke up into the Czech Republic and Slovakia).



Bumiller can't get enough of McCain's "gaffes," hounding him for two days forhis Sunni-Shiiteconfusion at a Congressional hearing in April(a mistake McCain corrected on the spot).



Today she wrote:



Senator John McCain and his campaign sharply stepped up criticism of Senator Barack Obama on Tuesday as a craven and naïve traveler to the Middle East who, as Mr. McCain put it at a raucous town-hall-style meeting here, "would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign."


Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, vigorously condemned Mr. Obama for refusing to say, even as Mr. Obama acknowledged that security in Iraq had improved, that the surge in United States troop strength he opposed during the primaries had worked.


"He was wrong then, he is wrong now, and he still fails to acknowledge that the surge has succeeded," Mr. McCain said. "Remarkable."


Mr. McCain's advisers, who are seething about the extensive news coverage of Mr. Obama's trip, went further in a conference call on Tuesday when Randy Scheunemann, Mr. McCain's chief foreign policy aide, sarcastically asked if Mr. Obama's foreign policy credentials were based on his attendance at a junior high school in Indonesia or a trip he took to Pakistan during spring break in college. Mr. Scheunemann added that Mr. Obama "seems to forget that we have elections in this country, not coronations."


But at the public forum at the Opera House here, Mr. McCain also displayed the bumpy and sometimes hapless nature of his own effort to prove that he is the candidate with the sterling foreign policy credentials. While he calmly fielded angry questions about his Iraq policy from a member of the audience - and invited her twice to follow up as the audience booed her - he also referred, for the third time this month, to Czechoslovakia, a country that has not existed since 1993 when it was split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


This time Mr. McCain caught himself, although he was a few seconds too late.


"I'm very concerned about Russia," he told an overwhelmingly friendly crowd. "I'm very concerned that just recently, because the Czechs agreed with us on a missile defense system, that they cut the gas supplies, the oil supplies, to the Republic of Czechoslovakia - excuse me, the Czech Republic."


Mr. McCain then added: "The Czech Republic is a very staunch ally and friend. And as you know, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split years ago and from time to time some of us misstate and say Czechoslovakia, when the fact is, it's the Czech Republic."


Bumiller did take note of the yawning disparity of coverage between the two candidates:


Mr. McCain's advisers said he would talk this week about jobs and other bread-and-butter issues of concern to voters while Mr. Obama met with heads of state overseas, but Mr. McCain's campaign has in fact been in constant reaction mode to Mr. Obama's lavishly covered foreign trip, which continues on to Israel on Wednesday. (All three network news anchors are traveling to the Middle East and Europe for interviews with Mr. Obama. In contrast, no anchors and only two network correspondents traveled to Colombia and Mexico with Mr. McCain earlier this month, and no network anchors traveled for Mr. McCain's trip to the Middle East and Europe in March.)


When BarackObama made a gaffe on his world tour, the Times' Jeff Zelenybuffered him from criticism by suggesting his every misstatement would be picked apart by his critics.


Mr. Obama traveled on to Israel with a contingent of foreign policy experts. His statements will be carefully examined, with both sides searching for any hints of favoritism and critics looking for gaffes. Even a slight misstatement at the news conference drew attention. "Let me be absolutely clear," he said. "Israel is a strong friend of Israel's." (Aides said he had intended to say that the United States was a strong friend of Israel.)