The Ukraine scan­dal has split the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion in un­prece­dented ways

The National - News - - OPINION - HUS­SEIN IBISH Hus­sein Ibish is a se­nior res­i­dent scholar at the Arab Gulf States In­sti­tute in Wash­ing­ton

All gov­ern­ments are di­vided but the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­vel­oped a set of schisms un­like any of its pre­de­ces­sors.

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Ukraine scan­dal has re­vealed a gov­ern­ment that is di­vided, not only in fa­mil­iar, vir­tu­ally in­evitable ways but along un­prece­dented lines that have of­ten ren­dered both pol­icy and im­ple­men­ta­tion in­co­her­ent and self-con­tra­dic­tory.

Ob­vi­ously, there will be a vast di­vi­sion be­tween any White House and the Congress, par­tic­u­larly when some or all of it is con­trolled by the op­po­si­tion. And there is usu­ally con­sid­er­able space be­tween po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees at the top of the pol­i­cy­mak­ing struc­ture in the ex­ec­u­tive branch and ca­reer public ser­vants who mostly im­ple­ment those poli­cies. Add to that ide­o­log­i­cal fac­tions and in­sti­tu­tional and per­sonal ri­val­ries.

There has never been a gov­ern­ment any­where that didn’t have such in­ter­nal rifts and con­se­quent in­fight­ing. Still, the US ad­min­is­tra­tion is split not just along these fa­mil­iar lines but be­tween se­nior po­lit­i­cally ap­pointed of­fi­cials, who are try­ing to im­ple­ment stated pol­icy within the law, ver­sus those fol­low­ing pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s most capri­cious im­pulses.

That is not the same as any of the tra­di­tional schisms. It is the dif­fer­ence be­tween of­fi­cials who take pol­icy se­ri­ously and those who are al­most en­tirely in­ter­ested in Mr Trump’s per­sonal agenda. The Ukraine pol­icy is the most dra­matic ex­am­ple but hardly the only one.

In that case, now mostly for­mer of­fi­cials such as Mr Trump’s two am­bas­sadors to Ukraine, Marie Yo­vanovich and Wil­liam Tay­lor, as well as na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staffers such as Fiona Hill and

Alexan­der Vind­man, among many oth­ers, strug­gled to im­ple­ment long-stand­ing and stated Ukraine pol­icy. That in­cluded pro­mot­ing an anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign in co-or­di­na­tion with var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries and oth­ers, and sup­port for Ukraine’s re­sis­tance to a sep­a­ratist push by pro-Rus­sian in­sur­gents. As they sought to im­ple­ment these poli­cies, these of­fi­cials found them­selves con­fronting an­other group, led not by a ri­val of­fi­cial but the pres­i­dent’s pri­vate lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani.

He was di­rect­ing a troika con­sist­ing of Ukraine en­voy Kurt Volker, en­ergy sec­re­tary Rick Perry and Euro­pean Union spe­cial en­voy Gor­don Sond­land, (who called them­selves the three ami­gos) in an ef­fort to sur­rep­ti­tiously pres­sure the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment to ini­ti­ate or at least pub­licly an­nounce a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a com­pany as­so­ci­ated with US pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den’s son and an­other into a long-de­bunked con­spir­acy the­ory sug­gest­ing that for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion came from Ukraine on be­half of Democrats.

To se­cure Mr Trump’s po­lit­i­cal agenda, this fac­tion was will­ing to sac­ri­fice stated pol­icy and ig­nore or try to cir­cum­vent the law. After ini­tially deny­ing it, Mr Sond­land now ac­knowl­edges he told Ukrainian lead­ers that a White House meet­ing with Mr Trump and $400 mil­lion in emer­gency mil­i­tary aid would not be forth­com­ing with­out such an an­nounce­ment. It’s easy to see why Mr Trump wanted that.

How­ever, in­sist­ing on a po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion runs di­rectly counter to decades of US anti-cor­rup­tion pol­icy. More­over, Congress had ap­pro­pri­ated the mil­i­tary aid pur­suant to Ukraine’s ob­vi­ously dire needs and the le­gal re­quire­ment to trans­fer it was con­sis­tent with pol­icy to sup­port Ukraine.

So the Gi­u­liani fac­tion was pur­su­ing a po­lit­i­cal agenda di­rectly at odds with the stated pol­icy of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Con­sid­er­able out­rage when these ac­tiv­i­ties became widely known within the gov­ern­ment prompted the whistle­blower com­plaint that ini­ti­ated the House in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has yielded damn­ing tes­ti­mony.

The law and pol­icy fac­tion, mean­while, sought to mit­i­gate po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on Kiev as much as pos­si­ble and find a way to pro­vide the mil­i­tary as­sis­tance any­way. Armed with a le­gal find­ing that the ap­pro­pri­ated aid could not be law­fully with­held or even de­layed with­out a set of for­mal ac­tions that were never taken, this group went be­hind the back of White House act­ing chief of staff and bud­get di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney, who was con­tin­u­ing to en­force a hold or­dered by Mr Trump, and re­leased at least $141 mil­lion to Ukraine.

So what was the Ukraine pol­icy any­way? When Mr Gi­u­liani and his three ami­gos were in ac­tion or Mr Trump was on the phone to Kiev, ap­par­ently it was to with­hold all forms of co-oper­a­tion pend­ing po­lit­i­cal favours. Oth­er­wise, it was to con­tinue to strongly back Ukraine against Rus­sia and sup­port gen­uine anti-cor­rup­tion ef­forts.

Sim­i­lar tus­sles over im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy have riven var­i­ous agen­cies in the depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. An ex­tra­or­di­nary num­ber of se­nior of­fi­cials have been ousted be­cause they re­sisted dra­co­nian anti-mi­gra­tion mea­sures that are use­ful to Mr Trump but con­trary to stated poli­cies. Fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion, long-term de­ten­tion of chil­dren, de­nial of the right to ap­ply for asy­lum, sum­mary de­por­ta­tions and other harsh poli­cies are still be­ing fought over be­tween of­fi­cials seek­ing to fol­low the law ver­sus those fo­cused on ad­vanc­ing Mr Trump’s na­tivist po­lit­i­cal agenda.

Mr Trump has re­port­edly even sug­gested ob­vi­ously un­law­ful mea­sures such as shoot­ing at the legs of would-be mi­grants and sum­mar­ily seiz­ing pri­vately owned land for his bor­der wall.

There are many other ar­eas of for­eign and do­mes­tic pol­icy where sim­i­lar ex­tra­or­di­nary di­vi­sions have emerged. The on­go­ing strug­gle over the US role in Syria and dis­putes over North Korea are two other ob­vi­ous ex­am­ples among many.

All this is new.

It may be unique to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause un­til now there has never been a US pres­i­dent who con­sis­tently and strongly priv­i­leged a per­sonal po­lit­i­cal agenda over stated poli­cies and laws. But it leaves ev­ery­one at home and abroad won­der­ing what agenda at any given mo­ment this ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­ally pur­su­ing and what it might do next.

To se­cure Trump’s po­lit­i­cal agenda, Gi­u­liani was will­ing to sac­ri­fice ac­cepted pol­icy


US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump with Ukraine’s pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy

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