On July 19, U.S. Senator John McCain released a statement announcing he has been diagnosed with a brain tumor cancer after undergoing a surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye. U.S. lawmakers and politicians including President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and former senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have publicly offered their support, describing the 80-year old senator as a “fighter,” “warrior,” and “as tough as they come.”
Support for Senator McCain has been echoed in the country of Georgia, where the public views him as a champion for Georgia’s sovereignty and democratic development. On Facebook, Georgians have reacted with sadness and expressions of admiration for the U.S. Senator.
Since becoming a senator for Arizona in 1987, McCain has been actively engaged in shaping U.S. foreign policy and has paid close attention to Georgia’s international issues. After Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2004, John McCain nominated then-President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili for a Nobel Peace Prize for “guiding Georgia to a peaceful change of power that ended a decade of endemic, government-supported corruption.”
During a 2006 visit to the Senaki military base in western Georgia, McCain thanked members of the Georgian military for their contribution to peacekeeping operations in Iraq and stated that Georgia was the United States’ “best friend.”
Although NATO did not grant Georgia membership at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that the issue of Georgia’s membership was “a matter of when, not whether.” The timeline of Georgia’s accession into NATO remains unclear and the threat of Russia’s creeping occupation into Georgia continues. Against the backdrop of Russian aggression, Senator McCain has been a firm ally of Georgia. Naturally, McCain’s comments in May 2017 that “Putin is the greatest threat to global security” have resonated with a population who has constantly endured Russian aggression.
As conflict between Georgia and Russia unfolded in 2008, Senator McCain called President Mikheil Saakashvili and offered his support for the “brave little nation,” saying that “today, we are all Georgians.” In a televised address, Senator McCain blamed Russia for the conflict and called upon its leaders to "immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory.”
For his continued support, Senator McCain was awarded in 2010 with the Order of the National Hero - Georgia’s highest state honor. Only two non-Georgian citizens have ever received this award.
While the Ukrainian Crisis caused many to reconsider, or at least delay potential NATO membership for Russia’s neighbors, Senator McCain stated in 2014 that the U.S. should respond by “accelerating the path of Georgia (and Moldova) into NATO.“
Senator McCain has made repeated visits to Georgia, most recently in January 2017. Together with fellow Senators Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Senator McCain visited the Khurvaleti region near the occupation line between Georgia and South Ossetia. Addressing the people of Georgia, Senator McCain stated:
“These are very difficult and challenging times. We will continue to do everything we can to support the total independence, freedom, and territorial integrity of the country of Georgia."
McCain added: “Thousands of people had their lives destroyed by Russian aggression and we must always remember that these people deserve to have their life back and never forget them.”
Reacting to the recent news of Senator McCain’s health, former U.S. President Barack Obama offered support for Senator McCain, calling him an “American hero.” For all he has done and how he is viewed in Georgia, he just might be a “Georgian hero,” as well.