Gen. David Petraeus: Why I salute John McCain, a steadfast supporter of our military

This year marks five years since I retired from the United States Army. That anniversary prompts reflection on the privilege I had of serving for over 37 years with our men and women in uniform, on the honor of leading them in tough missions, and on the wonderful support for our troops from those back home, including many in Congress.  Of those congressional allies, there has been no greater champion than Senator John McCain.

The soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen with whom I was privileged to serve came from every part of the country and all walks of American life.

Like all of us, they had their own histories, their own personalities, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own opinions, and their own hopes and dreams.

They also had one thing in common – loyalty to each other, loyalty that became particularly fierce when in tough combat situations. 

Their example is worth recalling and celebrating at a time when political campaigns play on the differences that divide us rather than on the common ideals and sense of humanity that unite us.

To be fair, some of our elected representatives have risen above that stereotype, particularly in their support for the military.  Senator McCain is one. He and his friends Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman – the “Three Amigos,” as we called them – were steadfast in their backing during the challenging Surge in Iraq. We could not have achieved what we did without their unwavering support. 

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While I have chosen not to formally endorse – or oppose – candidates for public office since leaving government, I do believe it is appropriate to express my appreciation on rare occasions for public servants who share the values and virtues of our servicemen and women, and whose records speak to their dedication to those in uniform.  

I did so two years ago when a former Marine captain, who served impressively in the field in Iraq, reporting directly to me over multiple tough tours, ran as a Democrat for a Congressional seat.  And I do it here in expressing my admiration for Senator McCain.

I have known Senator McCain for over 20 years, engaging with him on many occasions before the Senate Armed Service Committee and during his numerous trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations in the U.S. Central Command area. I repeatedly found him to be one of the most experienced, knowledgeable, and principled members of that committee.

His political resolve has, in fact, been as noteworthy as the considerable courage he demonstrated while in uniform.  Nothing captured this better than when, in speaking of his support for the Surge, he observed, “I would rather lose an election (for president) than lose a war.” That support did cost him votes, but his judgment was ultimately vindicated. 

I have always respected Senator McCain’s intentions, his forthrightness, and his integrity – even on those occasions where we did not see an issue exactly the same way.  

Most importantly, I always admired and appreciated his sincere concern for and loyalty to the men and women of our armed forces. No one did more to see that our soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen had what they needed to prevail on the battlefield and to be prepared for other contingencies as well. 

I appreciated that deeply when I was in uniform, and I appreciate it deeply now. 

General (Ret.) David Petraeus concluded his military career with six consecutive commands, five of which were in combat, including command of all forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. He subsequently served as Director of the CIA. He is now a partner in a major global investment firm, a visiting professor at CUNY and USC, and a Senior Fellow at Harvard University.

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