John S. McCain III, the senior US senator from Arizona who took a leading role in U.S. foreign policy, is no more. He was 81.
Diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer last summer, the senator’s family had announced just prior to his death that he would discontinue medical treatment.
McCain served as a Republican in the US Senate for over 30 years, taking office in 1987. That followed several years as a representative for Arizona’s 1st district, beginning in 1983.
From 2015, McCain was chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee. During his senate career, he received the nickname “the maverick” for his frequent breaks from his party on major issues – most recently for dramatically killing a GOP-led effort to repeal “Obamacare” in July of 2017.
The senator was perhaps best known for his advocacy of US foreign policy. Prior to his illness, he was a frequent guest on US television news channels, where he defended Washington’s many military interventions abroad, expansion of NATO, and was a vocal opponent of the governments of Russia and Iran, among others.
He was a strong supporter of overthrowing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad by force of arms, visiting and furnishing aid to Islamic militants invading Syria – some with links to Islamic State.
In March of last year, McCain accused Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) of “working for Vladimir Putin” after Paul objected to a treaty admitting the small Balkan nation of Montenegro to the NATO alliance.
In February of 2017, McCain and longtime ally Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) travelled to Ukraine where they urged the armed forces of the Kiev regime to go on the offensive and pledged to provide weapons for a war with Russia.
It was not the “maverick” senator’s first involvement with the former Soviet republic. In December of 2013 he addressed rioters and protesters on Kiev’s central square, offering them support and a “European future” if they would overthrow their democratically elected government, which had refused to sign a one-sided economic agreement with the EU.
He was an outspoken leader in US efforts to economically and politically isolate Russia, especially through sanctions after 2014. McCain also described Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin as a “thug” and a “killer.”
McCain was the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2008, but lost to the Democratic candidate, Barack H. Obama.
The senator was at constant odds with US President Donald Trump. One of his final public statements was issued in July 2018, strongly condemning Trump for his “disgraceful” summit in Helsinki with the Russian president.
Trump tweeted his condolences to McCain’s family regarding his death.
McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone – then a US territory – on August 29, 1936. His parents were naval officer John S. McCain, Jr., and Roberta (Wright) McCain.
His father commanded submarines in combat during World War II, sinking several Japanese vessels. Rising to the rank of admiral, he later became notorious among survivors of the USS Liberty, a ship attacked by Israel in 1967, for his role in ruling the attack an accident.
His grandfather John S. McCain, Sr., was also an admiral and held important commands in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
John McCain III followed his father and grandfather into the navy, graduating from the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, ranked 894 from a class of 899. During his academy days he first acquired a lifelong reputation for being irascible.
As a naval aviator, he served in Vietnam in 1967, where his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over Hanoi on McCain’s 23rd mission over the country. He landed in a lake and was rescued – possibly with assistance from Russian military advisers (one of whom later claimed to have shot him down).
The lieutenant-commander was reportedly jailed at the “Hanoi Hilton” POW prison, after receiving medical treatment for the two arms and leg he broke while ejecting from his plane. He was held until 1973, refusing an offer to return home early. He was reportedly subjected to torture.
Some fellow captives denied that McCain’s treatment was exceptionally severe compared to other prisoners. Some vets also accused Senator McCain of later using his position to block investigations into US servicemen missing in Vietnam.
In an interview with an Italian newspaper, the chief of the prison during McCain’s captivity denied he was tortured, saying he was under orders to safeguard McCain as the son of a high-ranking American admiral.
John McCain is survived by his mother Roberta, his wife Cindy, a brother Joe, and 7 children.