Should McCain apologize to Nigeria’s president?


U.S. Sen. John McCain addresses the press after a meeting with the Latvian president in Riga, Latvia, on April 15, 2014. (Ilmars Znotins/AFP/Getty Images)

It's not a surprise when Sen. John McCain calls for U.S.-led action in a far-flung part of the world. An inveterate hawk, McCain always champions  the U.S.'s ability to swiftly -- and often militarily -- change the facts on the ground in a crisis-spot, be it Iraq, Syria, Ukraine or anywhere else.

But comments he made Tuesday, demanding yet another American intervention, deserve scrutiny for another reason: rudeness.

When asked about the tragic abduction of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram, here's what McCain told the Daily Beast's Josh Rogin he would do if he was president:

"If [the U.S.] knew where [the kidnapped girls] were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country," McCain told The Daily Beast Tuesday. “I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan," he added, referring to the president of Nigeria.

Yes, that's right: he referred to the head-of-state of Africa's most populous nation as "some guy named Goodluck Jonathan" in the same sentence as he dismisses said head-of-state's right to control affairs in his own sovereign nation.

McCain is hardly the first person to find mirth in Jonathan's first name. But the comment is dismissive and smacks of a kind of contempt one wonders he would express for other world leaders. Would he call Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah -- whose government has presided over a terrifying public health crisis that may endanger the planet -- "some guy"? Probably not.

There are many reasons to find fault with Jonathan -- just ask Nigerians who have found this moment cause to rally against the perceived incompetence and callousness of their government. But his name is not one of them.

McCain goes on in his interview with the Daily Beast to claim that Nigerians wouldn't mind U.S. forces parachuting imperiously into their forests provided it led to the girls' rescue.

“I would not be involved in the niceties of getting the Nigerian government to agree, because if we did rescue these people, there would be nothing but gratitude from the Nigerian government, such as it is,” he said.

The Nigerian government has requested international assistance, but to assume there would be "nothing but gratitude" is simplistic, if not patronizing. No government, particularly one in a democracy, faced with a noisy opposition, wants to look helpless in the face of foreign powers. Jonathan's government must do more, but McCain's bluster hardly helps.

Ishaan Tharoor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. He previously was a senior editor at TIME, based first in Hong Kong and later in New York.
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Ishaan Tharoor · May 13