It’s not uncommon to say (or type) “Iraq” when one means to say “Iran.” It’s a mistake I’ve made myself, and it’s generally not a big deal.

But when Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty screwed this up the other day, it was a more embarrassing gaffe.

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?

REPORTER: Exactly.

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 —

REPORTER: You mean Iraq not Iran, because Iran —

PAWLENTY: I’m sorry, Iraq, yes, yes. You said — did you say Iran or Iraq?

Now, if a candidate simply says “Iran” when he/she meant to say “Iraq,” it’s largely meaningless. Folks should strive, of course, to get this right, but it’s a common verbal slip.

But Pawlenty specifically clarified, asking the reporter, “You’re talking about Iran?” He then delivered a 137-word response about Iraq, saying “Iran” over and over again.

Not a good move for a former Republican governor who inexplicably claims to have foreign policy experience.

If candidate Barack Obama had done this in 2007, I suspect it would be cited for months, if not years, as evidence that he lacks the requisite knowledge and understanding of international affairs to be president.

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.