In Trump vs. McCain, trust the senator on national security

Sen. John McCain, left, confers with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., during an Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on Afghanistan.
Sen. John McCain, left, confers with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., during an Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on Afghanistan. The Associated Press

Although he needs Sen. John McCain’s support on defense policy, President Donald Trump persists in picking fights with the Arizona Republican, this time for commenting on a commando raid in Yemen.

We trust McCain far more on national security than we do Trump.

In what has become typically unstatesmanlike behavior, Trump on Thursday tweeted: “Sen. McCain should not be talking about the success or failure of a mission to the media. Only emboldens the enemy! He’s been losing so long he doesn’t know how to win anymore.”

Our frighteningly thin-skinned president is absolutely wrong to seek to muzzle McCain. As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain has a duty to speak out.

Trump also is wrong on the facts. The Jan. 29 raid, the first he ordered as commander in chief, was planned as an intelligence-gathering mission, but turned into an intense battle with al-Qaida fighters.

Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed. So were multiple civilians, including children. Yemen’s government reacted by pulling permission for the U.S. military to conduct ground operations on its territory.

Other than all that, the operation was a success.

McCain initially called the raid a failure, then said in a statement Tuesday that while many objectives were met, “I would not describe any operation that results in the loss of American life as a success.”

That prompted White House spokesman Sean Spicer to call out McCain, saying Wednesday that anyone critical of the raid “does disservice to the life of Chief Ryan Owens” – which, of course, isn’t true, either.

McCain and Trump have a history. During the campaign, Trump outraged veterans and fellow Republicans by saying McCain, who spent 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war, wasn’t a hero because he was shot down over North Vietnam and captured. It was even more appalling coming from Trump, who as a young man avoided Vietnam by gaining five draft deferments.

When McCain and his partner in skepticism on Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., questioned Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees, the president blasted them for “always looking to start World War III.”

McCain is a leading voice standing up for NATO and questioning Trump for his friendliness toward Russia and Vladimir Putin, taking seriously Russian interference in the election. Other Republicans should follow McCain’s lead.

On Thursday, McCain took the high road, not directly responding to Trump’s Twitter attack and saying he doesn’t plan hearings on the raid. As we know by now, Trump has no qualms about going low.

Far more concerning is that our commander in chief, who lashes out at any criticism, now has the power to order U.S. troops into combat and controls our nuclear arsenal.