DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT GEOGRAPHY…. My friend Hilzoy showed great restraint last night, choosing not to post an item on this, waiting to see how it would ultimately shake out. Fair enough. I think at this point, however, the available evidence suggests John McCain has committed yet another fairly serious foreign policy gaffe.

Late Wednesday night, news made its way from the other side of the Atlantic that John McCain, in an interview with a Spanish outlet, had made a series of bizarre responses to a question regarding that country’s prime minister.

“Would you be willing to meet with the head of our government, Mr. Zapatero?” the questioner asked, in an exchange now being reported by several Spanish outlets.

McCain proceeded to launch into what appeared to be a boilerplate declaration about Mexico and Latin America — but not Spain — pressing the need to stand up to world leaders who want to harm America.

“I will meet with those leaders who are our friends and who want to work with us cooperatively,” according to one translation. The reporter repeated the question two more times, apparently trying to clarify, but McCain referred again to Latin America.

Finally, the questioner said, “Okay, but I’m talking about Europe — the president of Spain, would you meet with him?” The Senator offered only a slight variance to his initial comment. “I will reunite with any leader that has the same principles and philosophy that we do: human rights, democracy, and liberty. And I will confront those that don’t [have them].”

I don’t speak Spanish, so I’m not in a position to report on the audio of the interview, but Aravosis is fluent, and he reached an important conclusion: “McCain didn’t appear to know that Spain was in Europe, or that the leader of Spain was named Zapatero, even after he was told that Zapatero was the leader of Spain.”

Josh Marshall, who broke the story and has done a lot of the heavy lifting, explored the various possibilities: “The great majority [of those who have weighed in] appear to think the McCain was simply confused and didn’t know who Zapatero was — something you might bone up on if you were about to do an interview with the Spanish press. The assumption seems to be that since he’d already been asked about Castro and Chavez that McCain assumed Zapatero must be some other Latin American bad guy. A small minority though think that McCain is simply committed to an anti-Spanish foreign policy since he’s still angry about Spain pulling its troops out of Iraq.”

The options aren’t appealing. Either McCain was strikingly confused about Spain’s location and leadership, or he was deliberately taking a provocative and overly aggressive line towards a European and NATO ally.

As of very early this morning, Josh had tracked down another audio version from a Miami radio station, which makes it easier to hear McCain’s English responses. They only reinforced what appeared to be true initially: “It’s still a bit difficult to hear McCain since the translator is speaking simultaneously. But you can hear most of what he says. It’s pretty clear that McCain doesn’t remember who Zapatero is. And he keeps referring to his approach to Latin America even after the interview keeps pointing that she’s asking him a question a Spain, which is actually in Europe.”

What’s more, the Spanish press is treating this as a pretty humiliating gaffe.

I suspect the line from U.S. political reporters will be the same as their response to Palin’s “Bush Doctrine” flap — this won’t matter because most Americans may not realize that Spain is in Europe, and the typical voter doesn’t know who Zapatero is, either.

I’d argue that this misses the point. To hear McCain tell it, his principal qualification as a presidential candidate is his expertise on foreign policy. He was sitting down with a major Spanish news outlet — presumably he’d been prepped, at least a little — as part of his outreach to Latino voters. And McCain was, apparently, clueless.

That’s not ignorance we can believe in.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.