Politico reports that Cindy McCain will be the next American to head the massive U.N. World Food Program, in spite of a checkered past marred by opioid theft and white saviorism.
The news outlet Politico is reporting that Cindy Lou Hensley McCain, provincial beer heiress and widow of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, has been tapped by the Biden administration to be the next executive director of the U.N. World Food Program (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian agency, which operates in more than 120 countries and territories
The news follows months of speculation that the Biden administration was ready to elevate McCain, 68, from her current role as U.S. ambassador to U.N. food agencies in Rome to lead the primary U.N. agency tasked with tackling hunger and malnutrition in the face of a global food crisis brought on in part by the war in Ukraine.
Though the appointment is officially the U.N.’s to make, the U.S., as the WFP’s largest donor nation, has de facto power over the decision. McCain’s previous, 2021 appointment as ambassador to the U.N.’s food agencies was seen by many as a reward from President Biden for her decision to endorse the Democrat in 2020 over Donald Trump, a fellow Republican and caustic critic of her late husband.
McCain’s pending promotion was hailed on Twitter by outgoing WFP executive director David Beasley, a Trump appointee, whose leadership and unprecedented efficacy as a fundraiser for the organization is credited with WFP’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.
“Ambassador, your extraordinary experience & leadership will be critical as conflicts, climate shocks & hunger soar,” Beasley Tweeted to McCain on Wednesday, promising a “seamless” transition when he departs the position in April.
But according to Devex, a media platform focusing on “global development,” there is some anxiety at the U.N. concerning the departure of Beasley, known as an energetic “money magnet” for raising $14.2 billion in 2022, up over the $6 billion when he accepted the role as WFP chief in 2017.
Ambassador, your extraordinary experience & leadership will be critical as conflicts, climate shocks & hunger soar. Look forward to working together, our transition will be seamless! pic.twitter.com/f9NQ1teseg
— David Beasley (@WFPChief) March 1, 2023
In a January profile of Beasley, Devex reported,
Some fear his departure could leave a gaping fundraising hole for WFP, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 under his leadership. His exit, originally scheduled for April 2022, was already delayed by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres after Russia invaded Ukraine early last year and food prices soared globally.
A subsequent Devex report in February about the McCain appointment noted, “One WFP watcher privately expressed concern about McCain’s lack of experience running a sprawling international relief agency.”
According to the piece, McCain “will be responsible for sustaining that level of financing for an agency still struggling to meet an ever-growing need” with “acute food insecurity” affecting 349 million people worldwide.
And there is good reason to be skeptical of what is an obvious political appointment to such a vital humanitarian position.
Cindy’s previous experience with an international nonprofit of her own founding, the American Medical Voluntary Team (AVMT), does not lend itself to faith in her current abilities as an administrator.
Founded by Cindy in 1988, AVMT flew medical equipment and personnel to areas ravaged by war and disaster. But in 1994, it was embroiled in scandal after a whistleblower, Tom Gosinski, revealed that Cindy was pilfering painkillers en masse from the non-profit to feed her addiction to opioids.
An exposé by the Phoenix New Times, “Opiate for the Mrs.,” detailed how Cindy also illegally filled prescriptions in the names of others.
The McCains retaliated against Gosinski, accusing him of extortion, but an investigation later cleared him of wrongdoing. The allegations against Cindy were investigated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. She reportedly entered into a drug treatment program to avoid charges of illegally obtaining controlled substances.
AVMT was shuttered in 1995. A doctor with the organization lost his license and never practiced again. Fawning media often portrayed Cindy McCain’s battle with opioid addiction in a positive light. Still, the story resurfaced during Sen. McCain’s failed presidential runs in 2000 and 2008.
A reexamination by the Washington Post in 2008 noted discrepancies in Cindy’s subsequent accounts of the scandal. In a first-person account for Newsweek, she claimed her addiction “began with Vicodin” in 1989 after she “ruptured a couple of disks carrying my 1-year-old, Bridget, in a pack on my back.”
But WaPo observed that “Bridget was not born until 1991,” and, “In other accounts, McCain said she hurt her back while picking up her son Jimmy, who was a toddler at the time of her injuries.”
Trouble in Mind
McCain also has exploited the issue of human trafficking for self-aggrandizement, and her actions and statements should give some pause to those applauding her new position at the U.N.
As co-chair of Arizona’s Human Trafficking Council and as a driving force behind the McCain Institute, Cindy promoted harmful myths and bogus statistics concerning human trafficking, such as the much-disproven canard that the Super Bowl is the “largest human trafficking venue on the planet,” or the debunked falsehood, based on junk science, that there are 300,000 children being trafficked in the U.S.
The McCain Institute has funded dubious research by infamous ASU professor Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, responsible for the debacle of Project ROSE, which used the Phoenix Police Department to coerce sex workers into religious-based diversion programs. And the institution has reportedly trained over 16,000 persons to identify human trafficking, with vague, imprecise indicators.
Indeed, Cindy’s own trafficking-spotting mantra of “if you see something, say something” went disturbingly awry in 2019 when she called the police on a mom and toddler at the Phoenix airport. Cindy suspected them of being involved in human trafficking, apparently because the child was of a different race than the mother.
Even worse, Cindy bragged about the incident on a local radio program, inventing details about it, only to be rebuffed when the police reported that an investigation revealed no human trafficking had been involved. She later apologized via Twitter for the goof.
The New Republic referred to McCain’s obsession with “suspicious men, particularly of a different ethnicity” seeking to enslave America’s young girls as Cindy’s “white mom’s burden.” The magazine also called into account McCain’s origin story of having seen hundreds of “little eyes” in the floorboard of a shop in India, where she assumed the “little eyes” belonged to girls being trafficked by a male shopkeeper.
Granted, Cindy McCain has a history of making bizarre statements that defy easy explanation. Take her public statement in 2020, before a conference in Florida, concerning the notorious sex offender and presumed suicide Jeffery Epstein: “We all knew about him. We all knew what he was doing . . .”
Or there was the time in 2017, before the Indian Affairs Committee then-chaired by her husband, that she claimed to have witnessed “with my own eyes six little girls lined up against a wall inside a casino just outside of Phoenix on display for customers.” (She says she informed the local constabulary, who supposedly did nothing about this ad hoc market in children.)
Being a multimillionaire and the surviving spouse of a prominent Republican politician evidently insulates Cindy McCain from any consequences or even follow-up questions concerning such outlandish pronouncements.
Will it be any different as she assumes the leadership of the world’s foremost humanitarian organization? One wonders. At the very least, Cindy’s sure to keep a legion of U.N. spin doctors on the edge of their seats for the next five years.
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