On Thursday morning, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, inserted himself into the dispute between President Donald Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over refugees from Australia with a phone call to Australia’s ambassador, Joe Hockey.
McCain released a statement after his conversation with the Ambassador of Australia:
On the Fourth of July 1918, American and Australian soldiers fought side-by-side at the Battle of Hamel. In the century that followed, our two nations struggled and sacrificed together in World War I and World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. Those of us who took part in the conflict remember well the service of more than 50,000 Australians in the Vietnam War, including more than 500 that gave their lives.
Today, Australia is hosting increased deployments of U.S. aircraft, more regular port visits by U.S. warships, and critical training for U.S. marines at Robertson Barracks in Darwin. This deepening cooperation is a reminder that from maintaining security and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region to combatting radical Islamist terrorism, the U.S-Australia relationship is more important than ever.
In short, Australia is one of America’s oldest friends and staunchest allies. We are united by ties of family and friendship, mutual interests and common values, and shared sacrifice in wartime.
In that spirit, I called Australia’s Ambassador to the United States this morning to express my unwavering support for the U.S.-Australia alliance. I asked Ambassador Hockey to convey to the people of Australia that their American brothers and sisters value our historic alliance, honor the sacrifice of the Australians who have served and are serving by our side, and remain committed to the safer, freer, and better world that Australia does far more than its fair share to protect and promote.
McCain is alluding to the dispute over President Barack Obama’s agreement to accept some percentage of the roughly 1,250 Middle Eastern refugees Australia has been holding in island internment camps for the past several years because Australia does not want to allow these refugees onto their soil.
Both Trump and Turnbull have said the reports of an “acrimonious” conversation between them were exaggerated, but Trump has continued to criticize the Australian refugee deal as “dumb” in public comments. Various U.S. officials have said Trump intends to take the refugees as agreed, although “extreme vetting” will be applied for security risks.
Sky News reports that while McCain was rushing to offer reassurances to Australia, Turnbull’s colleagues were praising him for “putting Australia first and pushing for the US refugee deal during the hostile call.”
“Malcolm Turnbull stood up to it and the reality is Australia’s interests are being put first,” declared cabinet minister Christopher Pyne.
Perhaps Senator McCain’s next reassuring statement could be made to the American people, and he could explain why putting Australia first is good but putting America first is not. He could also explain why it is acceptable for Australia to house refugees in prison-style camps for years but unacceptable for the United States to build a protective fence along its southern border.