John McCain & Return of Prisoners

Author: David R. Kotok, Post Date: May 9, 2018

The morning email (today) from my friend Dennis Gartman really struck home with me. Dennis and I have a standing agreement to grant each other permission to quote each other. So here is what I read in Dennis’ morning missive:

170602-N-XK398-009 CAM RANH INTERNATIONAL PORT, Vietnam (Jun. 02, 2017) Senator John S. McCain III is piped aboard during a visit to the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56). The U.S. Navy has patrolled the Indo-Asia-Pacific routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional peace and security. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Mortensen/Released)

“Senator John McCain has terminal brain cancer and shall soon pass from the scene. He was a hero in war; he was a hero in campaigns and he was a hero in taking the high road when then candidate Donald Trump said that he did not believe that Senator McCain was a hero or a winner because, in Trump’s very own terms, “Winners don’t get captured.” Mr. Trump was never in the position to be captured and tortured for several years as was young Lt. McCain at the time, for he avoided the draft and never served in Vietnam.

“Nonetheless, Mr. Trump referred to Senator McCain as a loser. It was at that point that we knew we were never going to be a Trump supporter, and although we voted for him we did so only because the other candidate was even more badly flawed.

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is unpatriotic.

“The Senator has asked that the President not attend his funeral, requesting that Vice President Pence attend in the President’s stead. We can fully understand. Were we Sen. McCain we’d not want someone who considers us to be a loser to be there supposedly to honor us in death.

“Sen. McCain was and is a great man, a great patriot and a great Senator. When he’s gone he will be sorely… very sorely… missed.”

Let me add some personal notes.

It is hard for anyone who has served in the armed forces in any branch not have the utmost respect and admiration for John McCain. I’ve had this discussion with many friends and have not found a single exception. While my military service in the Army came in the years 1966-69, my duty assignments did not include Vietnam. My personal visit to Vietnam came much later when I chaired a Global Interdependence Center Trip to Hanoi. During that trip some of us were able to break away from the meetings and visit the prison that held John McCain and see the cell he lived in. It was a moving experience.

We are now witnessing the return of three prisoners from North Korea. And no reasonable person would dispute that the release of these prisoners is a positive step. But their circumstances of imprisonment were different from John McCain’s. They weren’t shot down during a war. That said, we welcome their release as we would that of anyone held anywhere against their will and for doing nothing wrong.

History will note that the release of these prisoners from North Korea occurred on the watch of President Trump. And it has. But in our view, the reason why North Korea agreed to the release is secondary to the release itself.

These things happen when there is a détente. And right now there is an evolving détente underway between North and South Korea and directly involving the United States, China, and Japan. Reasonable people wish for that détente to succeed. Reasonable people want the risk profile of war lowered in the Asian region.

With regard to Senator McCain, Mr. Trump has a chance to demonstrate something that seems very difficult for him to do: He could apologize. He could show a side of his personality that might surprise some of his harshest critics. He could do it in the spirit of celebrating the prisoner release.

Wouldn’t it be nice of Mr. Trump to clear the air and offer an apology to John McCain while the Senator is still alive?

David R Kotok
Chairman & Chief Investment Officer
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