President Donald Trump on Saturday completely dismissed the significance of the resignation of Brett McGurk, the presidential envoy to the coalition battling the Islamic State. The president called it a “nothing event” by a “grandstander.”
McGurk informed the administration Friday that he was leaving Dec. 31. The notice came a day after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also tendered his resignation in the wake of the president’s sudden decision to yank all American troops out of Syria.
McGurk, who planned to leave his post in mid-February, moved up his resignation in protest over Trump’s decision. Earlier this month he called any decision to draw down Syrian troops “reckless” in the fight against ISIS, and was concerned about abandoning longtime allies in the region, particularly the Kurds, CNN reported.
“The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” McGurk said in an email to his colleagues, The New York Times reported. “It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered. I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity.”
Trump tweeted that he “didn’t know McGurk” and that the “fake news” media was making a “big deal” out of a “nothing event.” Trump’s “grandstander” insult was similar to an ugly, but fatuous, dig against former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump also called a “grandstander” — as well as a “showboat.”
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
In fact, McGurk’s high-profile resignation and angry warnings about Trump’s decision are a “big deal” to international observers and Middle Eastern experts. McGurk is a seasoned professional with a profound understanding of ISIS and its role in the Mideast. McGurk is largely credited with working with the regional coalition to slash the territory controlled by ISIS in half by the time Trump took office, according to the Times.
Now ISIS has just 1 percent of the territory it held at the height of its power. That led Trump to declare earlier this month that ISIS was “defeated” in Syria. But experts have warned that the job is not completed, and if ISIS is given more leeway it can resurrect as a major force again in the region and around the world.
McGurk’s predecessor, Gen. John Allen, told the Times that the departures of McGurk and Mattis from the administration “will leave us less safe at a moment when this president seems unwilling to take, or unable to understand, the best advice of his leaders.”
Trump referred to himself in another tweet Saturday as “your favorite president,” and said anyone else who brought troops home would be considered the “most popular hero in America.” Instead, he complained, he is being picked on by the media.
Mattis’ letter of resignation addressed his differences with Trump over several issues, one of them being the importance of strong international alliances.
“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.
Trump said in another tweet Saturday that he gave Mattis a “second chance” after he left the Obama administration, adding: “Some thought I shouldn’t” have.