- - Tuesday, May 30, 2017


John McCain has become a sad case. He was an authentic hero of the Vietnam War, entitled to the praise and gratitude of every American, including the gratitude of Donald Trump. The president was not only wrong, but scandalously wrong when he called the senator a “loser” for “allowing” himself to be captured when his fighter plane crashed into a lake in Hanoi.

Mr. McCain was anything but a loser, and he demonstrated bravery and courage in four years as a prisoner of war in the notorious prison the American prisoners called, with an irony their captors never quite understood, “the Hanoi Hilton.” The prisoners did not have luxury digs.

But lately the senator has become something of a sore loser of another kind, betraying an envy of the president for winning the presidency that eluded him. He had a small lead over Barack Obama when the nominating conventions were over in 2008 and the campaign was just beginning. He made a couple of early mistakes, Mr. Obama forged into the lead, and never gave it up.

Now Mr. McCain can’t resist looking for opportunities to take verbal shots at President Trump. That’s his right and privilege, as indeed it is the right and privilege of every American. But there’s a tradition that Americans, particularly ex-presidents, do not take shots at the sitting president when they are traveling abroad. It’s not illegal, but it’s in poor taste, like an ex-husband or an ex-wife cataloging the faults and sins of a former spouse to anyone who will listen.

Mr. McCain was at it again Tuesday in Sydney, telling an Australian audience that Australia was right in questioning whether America is still committed to upholding peace and justice around the world.

“Other American allies have similar doubts these days and this is understandable,” Mr. McCain, now 80, told an audience at the University of Sydney’s U.S. Studies Centre. “I realize that some of President Trump’s actions and statements have unsettled America’s friends. They have unsettled many Americans as well.”

Mr. McCain’s remarks followed President Trump’s successful overseas trip, through Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, the Vatican and concluding at the G-7 economic summit in Sicily, where he told NATO members who have fallen considerably short of paying their dues to pay up. Mr. Trump told NATO leaders they had fallen $119 billion short of what they owe to the alliance.

There’s no scarcity of ingratitude abroad. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a campaign event in Munich on Sunday that “the times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over.” She clearly meant the United States. You might think that Frau Merkel would be careful with such scolding, betraying a lack of taste and an appreciation of the ironies of the history of the century just past.

Sen. McCain further scolded the president for his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact that would put together an alliance of almost 40 percent of the global economy. Australia, he said, should not have to choose between an economic relationship with China and relying on ties to the United States for its security, and encouraged efforts to enact something like the Trans-Pacific Partnership without the United States.

Such an argument may be worth hearing, but the senator should remember who he is, and where he is, and wait until he’s standing again in America to play elder statesman with America’s allies. John McCain risks becoming a common scold and could be seen as an embittered old man. An authentic American hero deserves better than that.



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