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US Politics

Donald Trump attacks ‘grandstander’ Brett McGurk, US anti-IS envoy who quit over president’s Syria pull-out

  • Brett McGurk, who was slated to leave his post in February 2019, objected to Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria
  • Trump, for his part, tweeted that McGurk had simply moved up the date of his resignation and added: ‘Grandstander?’
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 1:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 December, 2018, 9:13pm

Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the anti-Islamic State group coalition, has resigned, capping a chaotic week that saw the departure of Defence Secretary James Mattis and Donald Trump’s stunning decision to pull troops from Syria.

McGurk’s resignation, effective December 31, comes on the heels of Mattis’s decision to quit the Trump administration over key disagreements with the US president, notably the Syria withdrawal.

Just last week McGurk, a Barack Obama appointee whom Trump kept on, said “nobody is declaring a mission accomplished” in the battle against IS – just days before the president blindsided politicians and allies with his announcement of victory against the jihadist movement.

Trump on Saturday said that the jihadist group “is largely defeated”.

“When I became President, ISIS was going wild,” the president tweeted.

“Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!”

Trump later took aim at McGurk on Twitter, referring to him as a “grandstander” who was quitting just before his time was up.

McGurk, 45, was set to leave his position in February, but reportedly felt he could no longer continue in the job after Trump’s declaration and on Friday evening informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of his intention to wrap up at year’s end.

His conclusion mirrored that of Mattis, who was seen as a voice of moderation in the mercurial Trump White House and quit after telling the president he could not go along with the Syria decision.

McGurk has served as the US envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, an acronym for the jihadist group, since 2015.

He also served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, and worked under Republican George W. Bush as a senior official on Iraq and Afghanistan.

James Mattis quits as Donald Trump’s defence secretary, laying bare their differences in a scathing resignation letter

Discussing the US role in Syria this month, he had told journalists that “it would be reckless if we were just to say, ‘Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now’.”

“I think anyone who’s looked at a conflict like this would agree with that.”

McGurk called Trump’s move to leave Syria “a shock” and “a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” in an email announcing his decision to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.

“It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered,” he said, according to the newspaper.

“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.”

Just after announcing his Syria decision, Trump again confounded international partners with plans to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan.

The momentous reversal of years of US foreign policy will leave the war-torn regions at risk of continued and potentially heightened bloodshed.

Mattis resignation raises risk of even more turbulence

In typical fashion, Trump said Saturday that the media was treating him unfairly over the Syria withdrawal decision.

“If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America,” he tweeted.

“With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!”

The departures of Mattis and now McGurk follow those of national security adviser H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly – leaving Trump, who has no political, diplomatic or military experience, increasingly alone.