On Saturday, Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy to the coalition fighting ISIS, resigned in response to President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria. He follows Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned earlier in the week, citing the same reason. McGurk was originally planning to leave the administration in early 2019, but will now depart on December 31.
Trump, in an attempt to downplay the news, tweeted on Saturday evening that he does not know McGurk and accused him of being a “grandstander” by resigning in this fashion.
Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
The New York Times obtained an email McGurk sent to staff explaining his reasons for resigning. In it, he wrote: “The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” adding, “It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered.”
“I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity,” he concluded.
Former Obama national security advisor Ben Rhodes reacted to the news in a tweet, saying McGurk “did more than any person to build the coalition that fought ISIS.” And former UN ambassador Susan Rice asked, “Why don’t you know the man who has done more than any civilian to degrade ISIS?” adding that former President Barack Obama “knows him well,” a dig at Trump’s claim not to know McGurk.
In addition to the fact that Brett McGurk did more than any person to build the coalition that fought ISIS, the fact that you don’t even know who your counter ISIS coordinator is proves you are an incompetent, dangerous and narcissistic fraud. https://t.co/RQdjfhAHfk
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) December 23, 2018
The fact that you say you don’t know @brett_mcgurk speaks volumes about your commitment to fighting ISIS @realDonaldTrump. Why don’t you know the man who has done more than any civilian to degrade ISIS? I can assure you @BarackObama knows him well. https://t.co/OzvKRrmVF5
— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) December 23, 2018
McGurk, who first served under President George W. Bush, was appointed by Obama in 2015 to lead the fight to combat ISIS. McGurk also led secret negotiations with Iran for 14 months during the Obama administration to secure the release of four Americans from Evin Prison in Tehran, including Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh. On Saturday, Rezaian tweeted that “without [McGurk’s] relentless efforts, [Yeganeh Rezaian] and I would not be here. That’s a fact.”
As an American Citizen directly impacted by @brett_mcgurk’s work as a diplomat, I thank him deeply for his years of dedicated service. Without his relentless efforts @YeganehSalehi and I would not be here. That’s a fact. https://t.co/Ba0d9M8WVJ
— Jason Rezaian (@jrezaian) December 22, 2018
“Brett was able to get US coalition partners to commit troops based on a code of trust with allies that the US was in the fight with them,” a source close to McGurk told CNN. “So after this sudden snap decision by the President to get out, he knew he could not be the one carrying this out.”
According to CNN, McGurk had been unhappy with the Trump administration’s Syria policy and what he believed was a lack of strategy for a while. The withdrawal of troops was the final straw.