Remembering and Honoring Senator John McCain

Photo: Getty images

There have been many touching tributes to Senator John McCain this week as his family, his state and his country, prepare for final goodbyes.  Many of The Cipher Brief’s experts interacted directly with the late Senator in exchanges that were fiery, passionate, and often challenging.  Whether you were on his side or not, it is notable that even those who disagreed with him on serious issues continued to have a healthy respect for him.  We thought that the best Cipher Brief tribute to his service and his life, would be to bring you some of those direct thoughts from those who knew and worked with him.  All agreed that the late Senator will always be remembered as a great American hero.  That’s who John McCain was, and that is the legacy he leaves behind.

General Jack Keane (Ret.), Former Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army

“While Senator McCain’s six decades of public service is extraordinary, it is the character of that service and how he chose to live his life that truly differentiates him. He had a vocational-like calling to serve his beloved nation that fueled his energy, his drive and his intense passion.  Trying to get it right for America was his currency. As such, he worked with political opponents to get something done, he fiercely supported the defense department and their troops while he wire brushed defense secretaries and generals for their lack of a strategy to win a war. He challenged adversaries as well as Presidents as he fought for America’s ideals at home and abroad. He was as much America’s SON as anyone who ever lived.”


General Michael V. Hayden (Ret.), Former Director, CIA and NSA

“John McCain and I had some bitter clashes when I was the director of CIA. They were usually over our detention policy or what we were doing in Iraq.  Discussions got so heated that, at least in one instance, the Senator left the room only to come back later and apologize and continue the discussion. I disagreed with the Senator in these meetings and I disagree with the line in his recent book that George Tenet, Porter Goss and I misled him with regard to the effectiveness of CIA interrogations.  We stated the truth as we knew it to be.  None of this changes John McCain’s status as a genuine American hero, a man of great values, and one whom we should celebrate as a blessing for the American republic.  To portray him otherwise is a sign of pettiness, vindictiveness and envy.  After I left government I had many pleasant exchanges with the senator, usually at the Munich security conference, where we were both trying to deal with the problems of  a new security environment. He will be missed.”


General David Petraeus (Ret.), Former Commander of US/Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and of U.S. Central Command, Fmr. Director CIA

“Senator John McCain lived his life with extraordinary courage, unshakeable determination, and unwavering devotion to our country and those who defend it.  He believed deeply in the importance of the freedoms and values Americans have treasured over the years and of U.S. leadership in the world.  He was a man of great principle, character, integrity, and tenacity.  No one had the backs of our men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan as loyally and fiercely as he did. And no one did more to ensure that we had what was needed to prevail on the battlefield.”


James Clapper, Former Director of National Intelligence

“We’ve lost an icon…I certainly had my innings with Senator McCain, but in the end, came to hold him in the highest respect.  However irascible he could be, he was a genuine patriot and loved this country and what it stands for.”


Lisa Monaco, Former Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

“I will never forget a meeting we once had in his office – during which he pushed his strong belief in closing Guantanamo, (a maverick position in his party)— and he showed me a photograph of him being pulled out of a turbulent sea when he became a prisoner of war. Sen. McCain was an American original through and through. Strongly independent, a fierce defender of human rights, and a protector to all who can’t fight for themselves, his voice will be sorely missed.”


Michael Chertoff, Former Secretary of Homeland Security

“John McCain set an example of the highest standard of public service. As is well known, from the time of his military service through his Senate tenure, he embodied honor, courage, devotion to duty and patriotism in the best sense. I had the privilege to work with him as Secretary of Homeland Security and saw for myself his commitment to our national security coupled with genuine empathy for those struggling to make better lives for themselves. He represents the best of America: devotion to principle; straight talk; respect for the Constitution.”


James Stavridis, Former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO

“What is most important to me about John McCain — more than every other aspect of his long and eventful life — is how well he represented the seemingly forgotten center in American politics. We are so bitterly polarized today, but McCain could credibly reach out to both the left and the right. He could see both east and west, but he resolutely followed his own compass to true north. There are precious few in the American body politic who could claim that so truly as John McCain, and we are poorer for his passing in that regard above all else.  For all the times he flayed me in testimony or that I disagreed with some aspect of his views, I deeply honor the long voyage of his life and all that he stood for. He sailed true north through a long and vital life, and I hope to see him again across that distant sea we all must sail one day.”


John McLaughlin, Former Acting Director, CIA

“I did not know John McCain well, but I testified a number of times before congressional committees that included him.  Among the things he was known for was a sharp temper. I recall one occasion when I believe I was testifying on some aspect of Iraq, and he became quite agitated and angry with something under discussion. As many others have said, this is something that could pass quickly. In fact, once I answered his question – – which I knew to be factual and thorough – – he said very calmly “Got it — thank you for your service”.  The point is it wasn’t personal; John McCain was all about the substance and the mission. I never had a moment’s doubt about his integrity, purposefulness, or his honest defense of American interests. And that is a great senator, a great man.”


Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, Former Director, National Counterproliferation Center

“John McCain will be missed.  He was a hero who served his country with great distinction, as a naval officer, senator and private citizen.  His integrity and love of country were qualities that should inspire others to emulate.  He was a great American.”


General Philip Breedlove (Ret.), Former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO

“No matter what you think of some of the Senator’s “Maverick” approaches to politics, the fact is that he was a hero and a patriot.  Our nation is far better off for his service. Senator McCain played a huge role in saving Luke AFB from a death by encroachment.  During my tour as the Wing Commander at Luke, several cities that touched the base were pressing development inside the noise abatement and flight safety lines. This would have caused the loss of a critical national asset.  The Senator stepped in and the problem was solved.”


Saxby Chambliss, Former U.S. Senator (R)GA

“John McCain led a life that was directed by a bedrock of inner-strength. His voice will be missed in the Senate and around the world. His life will be remembered for the sacrifices he made for our country’s freedom and democracy.  I had the opportunity to travel abroad with John, and what stands out for me particularly, are our trips to Iraq and Afghanistan. From global leaders to the U.S. military, he was received by all as a hero and as an inspiration to so many.”


Nick Rasmussen, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center

“Senator John McCain left his unique imprint on nearly every foreign policy and national security issue of our time.  I suspect many of my Cipher Brief colleagues had the opportunity to engage closely with the Senator on difficult national security problems and like me, found themselves on the receiving end of some pointed criticism when he believed we were falling short.  His passionate advocacy of American ideals and values was a beacon of hope and a source of inspiration for people all over the world.  With all of the turmoil and political conflict we are experiencing, both here at home and around the world, his call to each of us to pursue a life of genuine service to a cause greater than ourselves resonates more strongly than ever.”

You will be missed, Senator. 



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2 Replies to “Remembering and Honoring Senator John McCain”
  1. The beginning, essence and totality of my deepest respect and affection for John McCain is his heroic military service. His bravery, heroism and actions as a Naval Officer leading, encouraging, counseling and motivating fellow POWs earned my lifelong respect, support, votes and guided my actions as a citizen and soldier.

  2. John McCain is the conscience of our country! An example of what an American must be like!
    I’m at a loss for words tonight. Both in the midst of war and in the halls of Washington, Senator McCain’s dedication to our country never faltered. In this era of talking heads and 24-hour news cycles, John McCain reminded us that we are not defined by our divisions or our disagreements but by our common bond as Americans. We can never replace him but we can honor him by continuing his mission.

    Thank you, Senator.

    Rest in peace – American hero!