This is a time of testing for the nation’s media. Yesterday, Barack Obama challenged them to lift their game, to deal with the difficult issue of race as seriously and responsibly as he did in his speech at Philadelphia’s Freedom Hall. So far, many outside Fox News adherents appear to be rising to the challenge — and credit where credit is due, Chris Matthews. (ABC, CBS?)

On the same day, John McCain, whom the media treats with reverence and declares to be wise and experienced about foreign policy, showed he didn’t even know who’s playing the game. How will the media explain this:?

Was the old warrior just momentarily confused? Does that happen often? Or Did John McCain just illustrate he is as dangerously misinformed as the President? Neither man can sort out Sunnies from Shia, al Qaeda from the Iranians, and who hates whom, but both men are certain the lives and treasure they’ve sacrificed in fighting — whom? — were worth it.

Bush gave his most recent "why we can never leave Iraq" speech yesterday, warning that a US withdrawal would result in a scenario so implausible no one in the intelligence community would believe it:

"If we were to allow our enemies to prevail in Iraq, the violence that is now declining would accelerate and Iraq could descend into chaos," Bush said. "Al-Qaida would regain its lost sanctuaries and establish new ones fomenting violence and terror that could spread beyond Iraq’s borders, with serious consequences to the world economy.

"Out of such chaos in Iraq, the terrorist movement could emerge emboldened with new recruits … new resources … and an even greater determination to dominate the region and harm America," Bush said in his remarks. "An emboldened al-Qaida with access to Iraq’s oil resources could pursue its ambitions to acquire weapons of mass destruction to attack America and other free nations. Iran could be emboldened as well with a renewed determination to develop nuclear weapons and impose its brand of hegemony across the broader Middle East. And our enemies would see an American failure in Iraq as evidence of weakness and lack of resolve."

I think that translates to this: If we withdraw, the surge’s "success" in achieving reconciliation would evaporate, meaning it’s accomplished nothing. The 60-90,000 Sunni insurgents we’ve been paying to arm themselves against the Iranians/Shia but not fight us will join a handful of al Qaeda fighters they hate and previously rejected before the surge. After overwhelming the vastly larger Iranian backed Iraq army and huge Shia militias, including the Mahdi Army, and presumably the Iranian Army if needed, the minority Sunnis will take over Iraq and its oil fields. The defeated Iranians will then rule over the Middle East, and they will help Al Qaeda acquire nuclear weapons, because al Qaeda and Shia Iran are buddies.

The Iranians will cooperate in this fantastic scenario, because as John McCain said three times yesterday before being corrected by Graham and Lieberman (h/t Eli), the Iranians have been training al Qaeda and sending them back into Iraq to fight . . . someone.

When McCain returns, he will no doubt tout his foreign policy experience, and he may even show off his foreign policy team, using that clip. Perhaps he can get Senator Clinton to mention his readiness to be Commander in Chief, even though he’s a little confused about who his Army if fighting after taking over 30,000 casualties at his urging.

Yesterday, Thomas Fingar, deputy director of National Intelligence, told Congress the Bush Administration’s so-called "intelligence" on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was the "single worst product" he’d seen in his 38 year career in intelligence. It was like "a yearbook photo on your worst hair day ever," he noted. The WMD claims were as credible as the fabrication that Saddam Hussein had some meaningful link with al Qaeda, a lie Dick Cheney continues to spin even after the Pentagon has thoroughly repudiated it.

These men, often wrong, but never in doubt, now assure us that the war against Iraq was worth fighting, that losing 4,000 US soldiers, 28,000 wounded and a half trillion dollars — we don’t count Iraqi losses — based on ignorance, lies and delusions were the right decision.

Back in the real world, most Americans have come to a different conclusion. The latest CBS poll shows that 64 percent of American do not believe anything we’ve accomplished in Iraq was worth the loss in lives and treasure. And the Iraqis want us out. Wonder why.