McGurk resignation reflects wider disarray
WASHINGTON – The government of US President Donald Trump fell into chaos as another top administration official resigned over Syria, large parts of the federal government closed and the US stock market suffered its worst weekly losses in a decade.
The cascade of shocking events put Trump further on the defensive over his controversial policies and exasperated his own allies in the Republican Party. Financial experts warned that the US economy might fall into a recession for the first time in 10 years, and diplomats feared that the US was alienating allies throughout the Middle East including its closest ally, Israel.
“We’re pretty much flying here without an instruction book,” Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri, told CNN.
The latest fallout from Trump’s surprise decision to withdraw US troops from Syria came on December 22 with the resignation of Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. McGurk held a key role in the US State Department as leader of the coalition of 79 nations that the US brought together in 2014 to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
McGurk did not announce or comment on his resignation, unlike Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who released a scathing eight-paragraph letter denouncing Trump’s decision in Syria when he announced his resignation December 20. But the New York Times published an email that McGurk sent to his colleagues explaining that he was quitting because of Trump’s latest move in Syria.
“The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” McGurk wrote. “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.”
McGurk had been scheduled to leave his position in mid-February to take a job at Stanford University in California. But by deciding to leave early – his resignation is effective December 31 – McGurk brought another round of warnings from Washington diplomats.
“His departure further eliminates experience, judgment & great knowledge from USG [the US government],” Jonathan Weiner, former US special envoy for Libya and current scholar at the Middle East Institute, wrote on Twitter.
Trump tried to downplay McGurk’s resignation, writing on Twitter hours after the news broke:
“Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President [Barack] 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!”
Several former top US officials blasted Trump for asserting that he doesn’t know McGurk while also pointing out that he worked for President George W. Bush, a Republican.
“The fact that you say you don’t know Brett McGurk speaks volumes about your commitment to fighting ISIS,” Susan Rice, the White House national-security adviser under Obama, wrote on Twitter. “Why don’t you know the man who has done more than any civilian to degrade ISIS? I can assure you Barack Obama knows him well.”
Ben Rhodes, who was Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, wrote on Twitter: “In addition to the fact that Brett McGurk did more than any person to build the coalition that fought ISIS, the fact that you [Trump] don’t even know who your counter ISIS coordinator is proves you are an incompetent, dangerous and narcissistic fraud.”
As much of the United States began vacations in anticipation of Christmas Day on December 25, the US Congress and Trump remained deadlocked over a federal budget for 2019. When the two sides failed to reach an agreement by the end of the day on December 21, the federal government ran out of money, forcing the closure of several major departments including the Department of Homeland Security. Essential employees such as border agents will continue workers.
Trump is demanding $5 billion to build a wall along the 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico, but Democrats in Congress are offering much less money – roughly $1.5 billion. The amount of money in dispute is trivial in the context of a $4 trillion federal budget. But it has become a politically symbolic fight over Trump’s effort to crack down on illegal immigration and Democratic efforts to promote a more tolerant policy
But the partial government closure symbolized the dysfunction in Washington. “The shutdown is a symptom of the fact that our government is simply not functioning to make policy in an orderly, sensible way,” Alice Rivlin, a former White House budget director, told the Washington Post.