The death of John McCain

Protest against US aggression towards Iran

The death of John McCain, a US Vietnam War veteran and political reactionary on 25 August was met by an outpouring of mostly inaccurate praise and sympathy.  Despite McCain’s disputes with current US president Donald Trump, he can only be viewed by progressives as a shameless warmonger.

Messages of condolence from such leaders as Britain’s Theresa May, President Macron of France and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel partly reflect an international recognition of splits in the US ruling class, as Donald Trump was pointedly excluded from McCain's funeral on 1 September while former US Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama gave eulogies. Praise for McCain also came from the US populist left, including ‘socialist’ presidential contender Bernie Sanders and rising star Democratic Socialist candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. McCain’s death was theatrically mourned by the anti-Trump section of the US political class, not as the death of a man but as the supposed passing away of decency and virtue in US politics. A closer examination of McCain’s history reveals a sinister and dubious life.

McCain was a pilot in the US Navy, who took part in Operation Rolling Thunder, a bombing campaign against ground civilian targets in Vietnam from 1965-68 which included an attack on a light bulb factory. This Operation was a crime under the Geneva Convention, yet McCain volunteered to do it. This was his last of 23 bombing raids, which likely caused the deaths of countless civilians. On this occasion his plane was shot down, and he suffered two broken arms and a broken leg as a result of his seat exploding and then the late opening of his parachute. He fell into a pond and was rescued by a Vietnamese man, Mai Van On, saving his life.  In a statement during his later imprisonment, he stated that he had been well treated: ‘The doctors were very good … I received very good medical treatment’. He signed a statement that he had been well treated in prison, despite his involvement in a bombing campaign which had murdered many Vietnamese people. And yet he later went on to fabricate allegations of torture, which have been accepted as fact by most Western media, a key ingredient in his public image in the USA as a brave war veteran.

McCain was released in 1973, at the age of 37, and at first carried on as a naval captain, but in a non-combatant role due to his disabled status. He became liaison officer for the navy with the US senate in 1977, where he distinguished himself by lobbying successfully for more aircraft carriers against then President Carter’s wishes, and becoming part of President Reagan’s social circle; for this he was officially rebuked by his military superiors. He left the Navy in 1981, viewing the possibility of a political career, especially after his marriage to his wealthy second wife Cindy Hensley. This marriage included a pre-nuptial deal whereby Cindy’s receipt of a $689,000 gift from her family would be kept secret from public scrutiny. With such financial support McCain was elected as a Republican deputy to the House of Representatives in 1982, and in 1987 became Senator for Arizona, a position he maintained until his death.

McCain’s politics were consistently right wing and his elite military background saw him take a leading role in campaigning for more aggressive US foreign policies. These included supporting the bloody Contras in Nicaragua, set up to topple the progressive FSLN government which had carried out land reforms and collaborated with Cuba which he hated. McCain and his associates also conspired to overthrow Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s progressive regime in Haiti, helping to reduce that country to the status of the poorest country in the Americas and a US neo-colony, wracked by disease and hunger. In Afghanistan, he backed the mujahidin against the leftist Najibullah government. In 1992 McCain’s connections saw him become chairman of the International Republican Institute, a post he held until a few days before his death. In this role he had links with the violent Venezuelan opposition, set up to topple the leftist PSUV government, and also the fascist Azov brigade in Ukraine, and the ‘Orange Revolution’ to bring the rightist regime of Ukraine president Poroshenko to power. McCain not only supported George Bush’s bombings of Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2001, but also the hideous sanctions against Iraq, which led to the deaths of half a million children and a million people altogether, as medicines and essential foodstuffs were blocked. More recently he supported the deadly bombings against Libya and Syria, and was filmed at a veterans’ gathering ghoulishly singing, ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran’ to the tune of ‘Barbara Ann’ by the Beach Boys.

McCain’s stance on US social and economic issues was no better. Early on his corrupt nature was shown in his belonging to the notorious ‘Keating Five’, a circle of US Republican and Democratic politicians who promoted the commercial interests of millionaire Charles Keating Jr, Chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. The Keating Five received a total of $1.3m in donations of which McCain got $112,000. McCain’s family reciprocated by investing $359,000 in a Keating-run shopping mall. In 2017, McCain supported the inegalitarian tax cuts pushed by Donald Trump’s presidency, this in a country where the top 0.1% own as much wealth as the bottom 90%. McCain consistently opposed comprehensive State funding for health care, and his collaboration with the Democrats in opposing Trump’s planned abolition of ‘Obamacare’ was based on his own local interests, not any principled stand.

McCain was an ambitious man, who never quite made it to the top. In 2000 he lost the Republican nomination to George Bush, as he couldn’t raise enough funds or support. In 2008 he finally won the Republicans’ backing as their official Presidential Candidate, only to lose to Barack Obama in the popular vote. Despite Obama’s betrayal of many of his supporters, the key reason for his first victory was a rejection of the wars, austerity and racism which McCain’s Republicans represented.

Martin Harrison