U.S. Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants to merge Colorado Springs-based Northern Command with Southern Command — a unified combatant unit with a numbered Air Force squadron based near Tucson.

If successful, Arizona’s senior senator would alter the country’s homeland defense posture and move one of the country’s nine unified combatant units out of Colorado.

National defense experts can make little sense of his idea, as strategic missions of Northern Command and Southern Command have almost nothing in common.

“It would absolutely be dangerous for North America,” said retired four-star Gen. Victor Eugene Renuart, a former commander of Northern Command. “Our country would be less secure, no doubt about it.”

Renuart agrees with McCain’s assessment that our military should be better focused and more efficient. But combining headquarters of two commands with vastly different missions, he said, would not create focus, efficiency or any significant cost savings. It would confuse missions, frighten North American allies and weaken the military’s ability to respond quickly to attacks on North American soil.

So what is Sen. McCain’s motivation? Politics, most likely.

“Senator McCain is in the fight of his life. He is in big trouble,” said an Arizona-based Republican campaign consultant who asked to remain anonymous.

McCain, who has been in Congress for 33 years and will turn 80 in August, is in a close primary battle with physician, military wife and former State Sen. Kelli Ward. A May 17 Public Policy Polling survey showed only 35 percent of Arizona Republican voters approve of McCain’s job performance; 50 percent disapprove. His approval rating ranks among the worst in Congress.

“He has spent the past 20 years of his congressional career annoying Arizonans with his vitriolic, dicey personality,” the operative explained. “The people of Arizona have had enough of John McCain, especially the people within his own party.”

In the questionable event McCain survives the August primary, he will face U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. A Merrill Poll in March found Kirkpatrick within 1 percentage point of McCain in a head-to-head race.

“McCain is in such big trouble he needs to change the topic,” the operative said. “He needs to focus voters on his seniority, to make them believe his experience and connections can get things done. He needs to convince voters that incumbency has value. That’s why he is pushing for this merger. He wants Arizona to think big changes cannot happen without him.”

Polling data and recent news reports confirm McCain has an uphill battle to win another term.

An assortment of military generals, who have devoted their careers to the strategic defense of our country, believe McCain is wrong to push for merging Northern and Southern commands. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter considers it a bad idea, as do Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, a Democrat and Republican, respectively.

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said McCain’s idea will get no traction in the House Armed Services Committee, on which he has served for eight years. Lamborn said committee chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has expressed opposition to McCain’s proposal because it makes no sense fiscally or strategically.

Sen. McCain is a respected elder statesman and war hero who has done more than most to serve this country. He should back off this bizarre proposal and trust the experts in strategic defense. His plan looks like a desperate campaign stunt, beneath a man of his stature.

the gazette editorial board


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