The new ‘three ami­gos’ rid­ing into Trump im­peach­ment in­quiry

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa Mas­caro

WASHINGTON >> The “three ami­gos” used to stand for one thing in Washington — the pack of glo­be­trot­ting sen­a­tors led by John McCain who brought Amer­i­can ide­al­ism to the world’s trou­ble spots.

Now it refers to an­other trio, the Trump en­voys who pushed Ukraine to pur­sue in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Democrats and former Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

The shift rep­re­sents more than the appropriat­ion of a name. It also marks a de­par­ture from ef­forts by the late Ari­zona sen­a­tor to build bi­par­ti­san al­liances and fur­ther broad for­eign pol­icy ideals pur­sued by Repub­li­can pres­i­dents from Ron­ald Rea­gan to Ge­orge W. Bush. That ap­proach is un­rec­og­niz­able today as the GOP has be­come the party of Donald Trump and his “Amer­ica First” ap­proach.

“I knew the ‘three ami­gos’ and be­lieve me, these are not three ami­gos like we were,” said Joe Lieber­man, the former Demo­cratic, then in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tor from Con­necti­cut who was part of the orig­i­nal group with Repub­li­cans McCain and Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina.

Lieber­man said he be­lieves McCain, his long­time friend, would be “re­ally up­set about what’s hap­pen­ing in Ukraine now.”

The House im­peach­ment in­quiry has de­tailed how the self­de­scribed “three ami­gos” — Euro­pean Union Am­bas­sador Gor­don Sond­land, out­go­ing En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry and former U.S.

special en­voy to Ukraine Kurt Volker — op­er­ated an “ir­reg­u­lar” for­eign pol­icy chan­nel that was push­ing Ukraine to an­nounce the in­ves­ti­ga­tions Trump wanted. In re­turn, the White House would re­lease $400 mil­lion in mil­i­tary aid the East­ern Euro­pean ally needed to counter Rus­sian ag­gres­sion and would ar­range a cov­eted Oval Of­fice visit with Ukraine’s newly elected pres­i­dent, Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy.

Led by Trump’s per­sonal lawyer, Rudy Gi­u­liani, the trio as­sem­bled as a loose con­tin­gent of en­voys whose ac­tiv­i­ties were ini­tially un­seen by oth­ers in the ad­min­is­tra­tion spe­cial­iz­ing in Ukraine is­sues. But as their ac­tions be­came known, the ‘’ami­gos’’ set off alarms among diplo­mats and of­fi­cials who de­scribed them as pur­su­ing the pres­i­dent’s po­lit­i­cal agenda over U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­ests.

Fiona Hill, a former Rus­sia ad­viser to the White House, tes­ti­fied be­fore the im­peach­ment in­quiry that at one point she con­fronted Sond­land to ask on whose au­thor­ity he was op­er­at­ing in Ukraine.

The pres­i­dent, Sond­land re­sponded, ac­cord­ing to Hill.

State Depart­ment of­fi­cial David Holmes tes­ti­fied that Sond­land, Perry and Volker “styled them­selves as the three ami­gos and made clear they would take the lead on co­or­di­nat­ing our pol­icy and en­gage­ment with for the Ze­len­skiy ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Holmes said that ‘’over the fol­low­ing months, it be­came ap­par­ent that Mr. Gi­u­liani was hav­ing a di­rect in­flu­ence on the for­eign pol­icy agenda that the three ami­gos were ex­e­cut­ing on the ground in Ukraine.”

Pres­i­dents have of­ten used back chan­nels to fa­cil­i­tate for­eign pol­icy and lever­age U.S. re­sources to achieve their pol­icy goals, ex­perts say. The dif­fer­ence is that Trump’s ap­proach, as out­lined in the im­peach­ment in­quiry, ap­pears to be mo­bi­liz­ing U.S. pol­icy and re­source for per­sonal po­lit­i­cal gain.

The Ukrainian mat­ter is but one way the for­eign pol­icy land­scape has shifted dra­mat­i­cally in the Trump era. As the White House pur­sues an “Amer­ica First” agenda, the U.S. is seen as re­treat­ing from its tra­di­tional role of in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment and democ­racy build­ing and Trump is align­ing him­self with some of the world’s more au­to­cratic lead­ers, in­clud­ing Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Richard Fon­taine, a former McCain na­tional se­cu­rity aide who is now chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at the Cen­ter for New Amer­i­can Se­cu­rity, said the broader, bi­par­ti­san agree­ment on the U.S. role in the world has now be­come a “de­bate over fun­da­men­tals.”

Fon­taine said McCain’s ‘’ami­gos’’ be­lieved that “when the U.S. could act for the bet­ter­ment of peo­ple, it should act ... rather than try­ing to keep our nose out of things.”

It was former Army Gen. David Pe­traeus who called McCain’s group the “three ami­gos” as the sen­a­tors made fre­quent vis­its to Afghanista­n and Iraq. They be­came the chief pro­po­nents of the troop in­crease that Bush pro­posed in 2006 and that Democrats and some Repub­li­cans de­rided as pro­long­ing the un­pop­u­lar war in Iraq.

But the trio also trav­eled broadly, in­clud­ing in Ukraine, where McCain re­peat­edly ad­dressed democ­racy ac­tivists as the former Soviet state reached to the West.

Volker, who re­cently stepped down from his po­si­tion at the McCain In­sti­tute at Ari­zona State Univer­sity, dis­tanced him­self from his new ti­tle as one of Trump’s ami­gos.

“Much has been made of the term ‘three ami­gos’ in ref­er­ence to Sec­re­tary Perry, Am­bas­sador Sond­land and my­self,” Volker said in open­ing re­marks be­fore the im­peach­ment in­quiry.

“I never used that term — and frankly cringe when I hear it be­cause for me, the ‘three ami­gos’ will al­ways re­fer to Sen. John McCain,

Sen. Joseph Lieber­man, and Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, in ref­er­ence to their work to sup­port the surge in Iraq.”

Brian Kat­ulis, a na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pert at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, said McCain’s “ami­gos” are all but gone in the Trump era.

“They stood for a cer­tain vi­sion of Amer­ica’s role in the world — one that was more pre­dictable and re­li­able — and one we don’t have today,” he said.

“That was cer­tainly McCain’s legacy,” he said. “Like a lot of things in the GOP, it’s so far gone be­cause Trump has oblit­er­ated a lot of the ideals.”


In this Nov. 20 file photo, U.S. Am­bas­sador to the Euro­pean Union Gor­don Sond­land tes­ti­fies be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Capi­tol Hill in Washington.

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