The Atlantic

The Death of Political Courage

Commitment to principle, despite its costs, is what America has lost with John McCain’s passing.
Source: Ross D. Franklin / AP

More than a decade ago, Senator John McCain sought to stop the Bush administration’s attempt to weaken the protections offered by the Geneva Conventions. The provision at issue was obscure, the matter legally complicated, and the White House was ready to fight. But McCain was determined.

At the time, I served as the senator’s foreign-policy adviser. Talking in his office, we went over the issue one more time. It’s important, I said, but few understand it. You may well lose if you choose to fight this. Even if you win, you’ll get no credit for the victory, and the matter will soon be forgotten. But, I added, I think it’s the right thing to do.

“They are threatening to weaken the Geneva Conventions,” McCain responded. “I can’t let them do that. I’ll fight them to the end—even if it costs me everything.”

in late 2006, included the Republican presidential nomination, for which the senator was preparing to announce his would also be his last and best shot at the White House, a position to which much of his career and life seemed to lead. might mean his standing with Republicans, many of whom already looked at the senator from Arizona with curiosity or dismay when, a year before, he had led the fight to bar torture of terrorist detainees. Some of the senator’s political advisers warned that a fight over this issue, and with this president at this time, would result in votes he’d never get and dollars he’d never raise.

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