John S. McCain was remembered at the Atlantic Council’s Global Citizen Awards dinner in New York on September 24 as a man who spoke truth to power and was unafraid to stand up for the values in which he truly believed.
McCain, a war hero who served for thirty-five years in the US Congress—first in the House and then the Senate—died on August 25 after a battle with brain cancer. He was 81.
The Atlantic Council honored McCain with a posthumous Global Citizen Award.
The late senator dedicated the last few months of his life fighting for the values he held dear, recalled his widow, Cindy McCain, who accepted the award.
Noting growing competition from great-power rivals who believe the power of the state trumps the power of the individual, Cindy McCain said: “John knew, too, that there were growing numbers of Americans who doubt the transformative powers of our ideals and reject the responsibilities of world leadership. And he devoted his last months and the strength that was ebbing away from him to remind his fellow Americans that our exceptionalism is based in our idealism and our solidarity with mankind.”
“We are part of the main, he often quoted. The bell tolls for us,” she said.
The Global Citizen Award was also presented to Argentine President Mauricio Macri; Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg; and Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Chobani.
Cindy McCain said her late husband would have been humbled by the award. “John believed American citizenship conferred global responsibilities on our leaders… He was an American patriot who loved and served and sacrificed for our country. But his patriotism was in its essence a kinship of ideals that embraced solidarity with all humanity,” she said.
Retired Gen. James L. Jones, Jr., interim chairman of the Atlantic Council’s board of directors, introduced Cindy McCain. He recalled John McCain as an “authentic American hero,” a friend, and mentor.
“[John McCain] exemplified the brand of the democratic rules-based leadership that America seeks to project and inspire globally,” said Jones.
“John McCain understood deeply the perils confronting the United States and our allies and the urgent necessity behind US global leadership, a necessity that is particularly evident today,” said Jones. “His steadfast commitment to preserving these democratic values, which he feared are now at greater risk than ever, made him one of the staunchest advocates of the Atlantic Council’s founding purpose and mission of working together to secure the future. He was indeed our global ambassador, and more importantly, he was our collective friend and inspiration.”
Jones said that by bestowing the Global Citizen Award on the late senator the Atlantic Council hoped to “pay tribute to his enduring legacy, which will continue to guide us in our pursuit for a more peaceful and more secure future.”
“But beyond that we wish to honor his unparalleled brand of leadership that will continue to inspire us all to be better versions of ourselves,” he added.
McCain received the Council’s Freedom Award in 2011.
Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, recalled a phone conversation with John McCain in which the late senator argued passionately (and bluntly) for US leadership on ending the war in Syria.
“There was just a man—an American senator, an American patriot—who cared so much that he was not going to miss an opportunity to make a case for US leadership as he saw it,” said Power. “He was an American original, one we will not see again.”
Ashish Kumar Sen is deputy director of communications, editorial, at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @AshishSen.