Senator John McCain's radio interview this week, in which he could not distinguish Spain, or for that matter Europe itself from Latin America has set the international press ablaze:
The Guardian (London): calls it "painful" to listen to.
El Pais (Madrid):"At best, this is evidence of his ignorance about [President] Zapatero"
Le Monde (Paris): gives him the benefit of the doubt that he "seems ignorant of the existence of Spain's President" [Zapatero has been in office four and a half years] but that "perhaps it is because Zapatero pulled his country's troops out of Iraq (in 2004)."
And it's still breaking...
What does this really say about the Republican ticket? Frankly, I find it impossible to believe that John McCain doesn't know which countries comprise Western Europe, or for that matter, the members of NATO. If he doesn't, it's an unacceptable shortcoming in a potential President (we've seen how dangerous a willfully ignorant President can be). If he's forgotten, well, (to be polite and non-diagnostic) it's fair to question whether he's losing mental acuity, which is more sad than anything else. However, because he is running for President, and because he has as a running mate a woman who thinks proximity to Russia's mostly uninhabited easternmost islands is foreign policy experience, the cumulative diplomatic weakness in any potential Republican administration should frighten anyone paying attention. Because confusing major countries like Spain and Mexico is not an acceptable gaffe in a world leader.
Spain has the fifth largest economy in Europe, eighth in the world, and per capita income on par with Japan and France. It's not the level of country a presidential candidate might be given a pass on (in fairness, a "gotcha" question might be, "Who's the king of Swaziland?").
Listening to the interview is, as the Guardian puts it, painful in the extreme. McCain sounds like he's got a handful of cue-cards covering the Republican Party-line on Chavez/Venezuela, Morales/Bolivia, Calderon/Mexico, Uribe/Colombia, and of course, Raul Castro. But that's where the brain chip ends. So when he's asked about Spain, he can't answer, even when he answers (idiotically) that we will engage "everyone in the Latin America" at which point, he is reminded that Spain is in Europe (twice!) [and a member of NATO] -he seems baffled, and proceeds to talk about Mexico. So, when the interviewer asks him about Europe, he has nothing to say. He falls back on being willing to talk to any leader who shares "our views" [his views] on "democracy and free-trade." Even when discussing the topics on his cards, he is completely mixed up.
For example, when he says Morales is the same as Chavez, if you've ever seen or heard or even read anything about them, they couldn't be more different! Morales is a soft-spoken dove, who rose to prominence simply by a popular revolt against American multinationals (specifically, Bechtel) making Bolivians pay for RAINWATER! (Even if it fell on their own roof!). Now, some still-wealthy old-guard oligarchs are trying to destabilize his government, and being given assistance from the Kissinger school of American interventionists. So all Morales has in common with Chavez is being fed up with U.S. foreign policy getting in their hair. They have evicted the US Ambassador - because he was involved in subverting the Morales government. Bolivia has no oil, and Morales, therefore is in no position to bluster like Chavez, nor does he hold the same sort of strident worldview as Chavez. But, then, understanding that would involve nuance.