May 28, 2018, © Leeham News: Today is Memorial Day in the USA, the holiday which honors US Armed Forces who died in active military service.
It seems fitting today to think about US Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is dying of the same brain cancer that took the life of Sen. Edward Kennedy.
McCain devoted more than 60 years of his 81 years to public service. The third John McCain—his father and grandfather of the same name were Admirals in the US Navy–McCain was shot down in 1967 during the Vietnam War and spent five years in a prison camp, tortured during his captivity.
His inability to raise his arms above the shoulders is a result of one aspect of the torture. He refused to be released by his captives ahead of other POWs, an offer made by the Vietnamese because he was the son of an Admiral.
Famously irascible, his war experience shaped his life. McCain steadfastly opposed President George W. Bush’s “enhanced interrogation” authorization, which infamously used waterboarding as one technique.
(US military were subjected to waterboarding in World War II by the Japanese. The US government labeled this torture and a war crime.)
McCain continued to oppose President Trump’s endorsement of torture. He opposed confirmation of Gina Haspel as director of the CIA this month because of her oversight of enhanced interrogation techniques during the Iraq war.
McCain held reliably conservative views throughout his long career in the US Congress. There were many positions with which I disagreed, but I admired his often, if inconsistent, “maverick” approach to politics. Unfortunately, he sometimes practiced situational maverick politics, pandering to the far right in 2008 to win the Republican presidential nomination.
McCain was a thorn in the side of many presidents, both Democrat and Republican.
McCain didn’t hesitate to take on the Pentagon for what he viewed as poor policies and wasteful spending.
This is how I come to deviate from LNC’s general practice of avoiding politics. McCain proved to be a thorn in the side of The Boeing Co.
After 9/11, Boeing struck a deal with the Pentagon to lease 100 aerial refueling tankers to the US Air Force. The airplane was then called the KC-767, and McCain thought the deal smacked of corporate welfare and taxpayer rip-off.
Through McCain’s protests and daylighting, the Pentagon procurement officer who approved the deal, and who later went to work for Boeing, went to jail. So did the then-CFO of Boeing. Phil Condit, the CEO at the time, resigned in disgrace.
The lease deal was canceled and a new procurement process begun. This time, instead of a sole-source procurement, competition emerged between Boeing and a combination of Northrop Grumman and EADS, as the parent of Airbus Commercial Aircraft was then known. The KC-767 was pitted against the KC-330, which was based on the A330-200.
McCain’s quest for rooting out what he saw as corruption in the tanker procurement process was tainted when it turned out some of his staff formerly worked for EADS, but this was a minor embarrassment compared to that suffered by Boeing during the lease deal scrutiny.
It was a bitter competition. To the shock of many, including me, the USAF awarded the deal to Northrop. Boeing protested, the award was overturned, and Boeing won the next round with a low-ball bid for its tanker, which is now called the KC-46A. Boeing has written off nearly $4bn and is nearly two years late delivering the airplane.
McCain hasn’t been seen around Congress for months and he hasn’t been in public view of any kind, either.
One can’t be in public service for more than six decades without stumbles here and there. But any objective assessment of McCain’s career clearly concludes that his served his country with honor and integrity.
His cranky demeanor, his maverick approach and calling a spade a spade will be sorely missed in a political environment where truth and honor are in short supply.