John McCain: International Man, It's No Mystery

For the past week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been front and center on the world stage.

Last weekend, he traveled to Iraq, accompanied by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and Gen. David Petraeus.

From Iraq, he visited Jordan, where he conferred with King Abdullah, then to Israel where he visited the Western Wall and held talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

From Israel, he flew to London for a meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street.

That his whirlwind itinerary resembled that of a president visiting heads of state was hardly accidental.

"While Clinton and Obama are fighting each other viciously in America, McCain is overseas looking very much like a president, and that's what his campaign wants people to think of him as," said ABC News political consultant Mark Halperin.

"Anybody running not as an incumbent has to get the American people to think of them as president. McCain is getting picture after picture that's giving people at least the idea of what he'd look like as president."

International Man

Recounting his 45-minute meeting with Brown, McCain said they talked about such issues as fighting climate change.

But British reporters were more interested in his position on the Iraq War, which is very unpopular in the United Kingdom.

"We are now succeeding in Iraq and Americans, at least I believe, are in significant numbers agreeing that the present strategy of the surge is succeeding and they want us to succeed," McCain said. "And that will be, frankly, a very big issue in this campaign … whether we withdraw and have al Qaeda win and announce to the world that they have won or we will see this strategy through and have a stable democracy in Iraq."

Officially, McCain's overseas trip is a congressional fact-finding mission at taxpayer expense.

When asked a question about his presidential campaign, he insisted, "I am here as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and looking and discussing those issues concerning our nation's defense and security."

Foreign Policy Missteps

Unofficially, campaign aides said the international journey was an opportunity for McCain to appear statesmanlike as he confers with world leaders on issues of international importance, including national security and the terrorism.

The McCain campaign believes foreign policy issues are his strength in a matchup against either Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., or Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

But Wednesday in Jordan, while discussing the situation in Iraq, McCain misspoke several times, saying al Qaeda in Iraq was being supported by Iran.

There is no evidence of any link between al Qaeda Sunnis and Shiite Iran. On one occasion, Lieberman whispered into his ear, correcting him.

In a speech on Iraq that same day, Obama sought to exploit McCain's gaffe.

"We heard Sen. McCain confused Sunni and Shi'ite, Iran and al Qaeda," the Illinois Democrat said. "Maybe that's why he voted to go to war against a country with no ties to al Qaeda."

In London, McCain shrugged off the criticism with a jibe of his own aimed at Obama.

"Well, we all misspeak from time to time, and I immediately corrected it just as Sen. Obama said he was looking forward to meeting the president of Canada," he said.

Canada has a prime minister, not a president.

Far From the Trail … in Paris

Friday, McCain will meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace.

One of his running jokes at domestic campaign appearances is that France has elected a "pro-American president, which just goes to show you if you live long enough, anything is possible."

It's not likely he'll tell that joke in Paris.

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