John McCain's Legacy is destruction
After Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, died Saturday, virtually every media outlet and politician portrayed him in a glaringly positive light. Voices ranging from Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, to CNN anchor Jake Tapper echoed at least one common sentiment: That McCain, despite all political differences, believed in and fought for America, especially when it was tough. McCain, they said, embodied what it meant to be an American: military service, a deep love for his country, and a reputation for crossing party lines.
In some sense, they’re right. McCain’s military service, relentless advocacy for war, and perpetual defense of crimes committed by allied regimes are deeply American—but they’re not something we should be proud of.
McCain’s political career, unbeknownst to him, started as a pilot in the American invasion of Vietnam. In 1967, a missile took down his plane; he spent more than five years as a POW, enduring terrible conditions and torturous interrogation. His heroic mission on the day of his capture, however, amounted to razing a light bulb factory full of women.
McCain rose to fame as a proponent of U.S. military intervention around the world. After the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy, he became a leading figure in promoting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He championed the now-debunked, manufactured theory that Saddam Hussein was actively building weapons of mass destruction to expand his influence in the Middle East.
In a 2003 New York Times op-ed titled “The Right War for the Right Reasons,” he justified his hawkish stance on Iraq. After explaining what the first strike would entail, and asserting that it would result in fewer innocent dead bodies than in past U.S. interventions, like Japan in the 1940s, he wrote: “The force our military uses will be less than proportional to the threat of injury we can expect to face should Saddam Hussein continue to build an arsenal of the world’s most destructive weapons.”
Later, he claimed that, “No one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values… Our armed forces will fight for peace in Iraq -- a peace built on more secure foundations than are found today in the Middle East.”
Well, the facts are in. Despite our efforts, Iraq saw vast increases in extremist terrorism, the destruction of basic infrastructure, and soaring cancer rates since the overthrow of Hussein’s regime. Estimates place Iraqi deaths caused directly by the invasion upwards of 150,000. Indirectly, it may have resulted in as many as one million deaths and counting.
McCain’s position on intervention falters across the board, especially in Libya. In 2011, he delivered a Senate speech lauding President Barack Obama for explaining why the intervention in Libya was “both right and necessary.”
“But the fact is, because we did act, the United States and our coalition partners averted a strategic and humanitarian disaster in Libya.” Similar to Iraq, since the intervention and in contrast to pre-2011 Libya, the country has become a bastion for extremism and slavery. “If we had allowed Gaddafi to slaughter Arabs and Muslims in Benghazi... America’s moral standing in the broader Middle East would have been devastated. Al-Qaeda and other violent extremists would have exploited the resulting chaos and hopelessness… That’s why Libya matters—and why we were right to intervene.”
In the same speech, McCain offered a lens through which we should conduct foreign policy: “When governments, both friend and foe, use force and oppression to crush peaceful demands for universal rights, we need to be clear in our condemnation, and we need to support the aspirations of all people who seek greater freedom, justice, and economic opportunity.”
Unfortunately, McCain missed his best chance to support those exact aspirations when he lead an effort to block a bill that would prevent arms sales to Saudi Arabia in light of its U.S.-enabled genocidal war in Yemen. In fact, McCain often defended Saudi Arabia and voted in favor of expanded military aid.
At best, McCain’s foreign policy ambitions constitute gross historical negligence regarding U.S. intervention. At worst, McCain represents a monstrous military industrial complex seeking to protect American imperialism and oil interests, no matter the human sacrifice necessary.
Last year, McCain wrote an admittedly refreshing New York Times op-ed stressing the importance of a foreign policy based on human rights — right after arming Syrian terrorists and promoting another regime change in Iran.
“In a recent address to State Department employees, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said conditioning our foreign policy too heavily on values creates obstacles to advance our national interests,” McCain wrote. “With those words, Secretary Tillerson sent a message to oppressed people everywhere: Don’t look to the United States for hope. Our values make us sympathetic to your plight, and, when it’s convenient, we might officially express that sympathy. But we make policy to serve our interests, which are not related to our values. So, if you happen to be in the way of our forging relationships with your oppressors that could serve our security and economic interests, good luck to you. You’re on your own.”
I only wish his policy had reflected his rhetoric.