When John McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, one thing got him and his fellow POWs through the toughest moments: hope, bolstered by the belief that the US government and citizens had not forgotten them. But in a Monday op-ed addressing human rights in the New York Times, McCain blasts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for sending a different kind of message to the modern-day oppressed: "Don't look to the United States for hope." The Arizona senator is referring to Tillerson's remarks last week that US foreign policy in the name of national security can't always rigidly align with our "values," which McCain says some may try (erroneously, in his opinion) to paint as a foreign policy approach "based on realism."
"I have certainly seen my share of the world as it really is and not how I wish it would be," McCain writes, adding that realism and idealism aren't "incompatible" and that it's wrongheaded to "consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality, and conscience." He points out that the US is a "country with a conscience," one that would surely "invite … enduring resentment" if we suddenly turned our backs on standing up for human rights everywhere—and that's because America doesn't hold the patent for those rights across the globe. "They cannot be rescinded by one government any more than they can be granted by another," McCain notes. "They inhabit the human heart, and from there, though they may be abridged, they can never be extinguished." His full column is here. (McCain's Vietnam cellmate died just last week at the age of 85.)