If you watch the video tape, you'll notice two things: (1) there's a lot of background noise from all of the vehicles barreling down Massachusetts Avenue, and (2) the reporter's initial question was very convoluted. That's probably why (to my knowledge) none of the 50 or so reporters present at the press conference reported that Pawlenty made a gaffe.
Yes, Pawlenty referred to Iraq as Iran multiple times, even after saying "You're talking about Iran?" But considering the noise and the convoluted question, the gaffe wasn't much of a gaffe. To anyone who's spent three minutes talking to Pawlenty about foreign policy, Chait's suggestion that the former Minnesota governor has difficulty grasping the difference between Iraq and Iran is pretty ridiculous.
I don't understand this defense at all. Here is the exchange:
REPORTER: U.S. foreign policy towards Iran [unintelligible] how would you address contradictions in the U.S? On the one hand we are opposing Iranian policy, but on the other hand by U.S. reconfigurating that part of the world we made Iran dominating Iraq and now we are pinning it on dominating of Pakistan. How would you address this contradiction in our foreign policy?
PAWLENTY: You're talking about Iran?
PAWLENTY: Yeah, well I think the situation now in Iran is such that Secretary Gates is negotiating with whether the United States military will be there beyond the end of this year. And they're looking to the Iranians to see if they invite the Americans to stay, invite us to stay. And if they do invite us to stay at some very reduced level I think the United States will be wise, until we make sure that they get to the next level of stability, to accept that invitation. So if Iran makes that invitation by the end of the year, leaving a residual force, a greatly reduced force, but a residual force that would be there for a temporary amount of time. Until they could establish much better air security, until they can develop their intelligence —
If Pawlenty misheard the question due to traffic noise, then he would have simply started discussing Iran, or failing to answer the question in some other way. That's not what happened. He launched into his Iraq soundbite, only repeatedly calling it "Iran." The question or the outside noise has nothing to do with it.
You could ask me a convoluted, hard-to-hear question about either Teddy or Franklin Roosevelt, and the confusion or noise might make me bungle the answer. But no confusion or noise is going to make me start talking about how Teddy Roosevelt created the New Deal and won World War II, because I know the difference between Roosevelts too well to do that.