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McCain: War Hero


Let's go now to NPR's Tim Mak. He covers national security and politics. Tim, welcome. Thank you for coming.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Thanks a lot.

MARTIN: How did Senator McCain's military career influence his politics?

MAK: Well, as you heard just now, I mean, he had a very clear position on torture - firstly, that it doesn't work. And even if that - even if it did work, it would be immoral to do it. That was his view bred in that prison cell in Hanoi. Ultimately, he was able to pass into law, or help pass into law, a total prohibition on the use of torture by U.S. personnel - military or otherwise. And it was a legislative battle that stretched more than a decade. His experience as a former POW also gave him the moral authority for some of his foreign policy prescriptions. He was the most prominent of the national security hawks in the Senate and quite controversially was a leading booster for the Iraq War. Part of his logic was that minority populations in Iraq were being killed. He had this real sense of moral justice that led him to advocate on behalf of Syrian people and Ukrainian people and Kurdish people, people who were suffering. Ultimately, though, he would admit just this year that the Iraq War was a mistake, one that he had a fair share of the blame for.

MARTIN: How does his experience earn him respect among the people he met?

MAK: It's funny. He had a sense of humor about his experiences, even those that were really tragic. And it was not hard to chuckle along with him when he made some jokes. I mean, sometimes he would end an event by saying something like I haven't had so much fun since my last interrogation. One time, I was with him at an international conference right before Thanksgiving. He said he wouldn't be deep frying a turkey this year because he nearly set a deck on fire last year in a mishap. And then he added mysteriously, of course, I've seen worse deck fires. He was referring to the USS Forrestal incident, an incident he barely survived and that killed scores of people. He had that kind of humor. And among those who knew him, very, very few came away not liking him.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Tim, thank you so much.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.