September 10, 2018

Essence of American Leadership: The Legacy of Senator John McCain

Insights from Richard Fontaine.

By Richard Fontaine

Trans-Pacific View author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject-matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers across the globe for their diverse insights into U.S. Asia policy. This conversation with Richard Fontaine – president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and former foreign policy advisor to U.S. Senator John McCain – is the 155th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.”

In what ways did the late Senator John McCain embody the essence of U.S. leadership?

Senator McCain believed deeply in American power as a force for good in the world. The United States possesses, he believed, unique responsibilities to lead in the world, both with action and by example. And so he supported strong alliances, a robust military, and the promotion of democracy and human rights in places where they are lacking. The Senator also believed, and pointed out repeatedly over the past few years, that U.S. leadership is an imperative – no benign power will simply step up in parts of the world where America chooses to disengage. And he thought that, however strong our country is in arms, it is stronger still in ideals – and we abandon our values not just at the world’s peril but our own.

What principles and values characterize Senator McCain’s leadership ethos?

Senator McCain believed in holding firm to a position where necessary and compromising when possible. He routinely crossed party lines, or bucked both Republican and Democratic presidents, in working on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues. He inspired people – his Senate colleagues and staff and voters, to be sure, but also others who were moved by the power of his exhortations.

He also was very aware of his flaws. Senator McCain was no candidate for sainthood, but unlike many politicians who never admit to errors, or to changing their minds or positions, or to second thoughts, he did. He made mistakes, learned from them, and then went on to make new and different ones. This too, I believe, is an attribute of genuine leadership.

Read the Full Interview at The Diplomat