When President Donald Trump announced in a tweet that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria, his abrupt decision kicked up one of the most thoroughly bipartisan maelstroms of condemnation in his first two years as president. Trump had telegraphed his intention for months, if not years, but the sudden declaration on December 19 went against the advice, and public pronouncements, of his own national-security team. Republican allies in Congress protested loudly. The widely respected defense secretary, retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, resigned in protest the next day. Within two days, another top U.S. national-security official followed Mattis out the door. On Sunday, in a television interview and in a newspaper op-ed, he laid out his dissent—and his fears for the future.
Brett McGurk coordinated the U.S.-led coalition of more than 60 nations that fought the Islamic State terror group and gave international legitimacy to American involvement in a war-torn country where Iran and Russia were making headway. He was one of the rare Barack Obama appointees to keep his job in the Trump administration, but he came with an impeccable Republican pedigree.
Soon after finishing a clerkship for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a conservative icon, McGurk went to Iraq and worked as a lawyer for the Coalition Provisional Authority. He joined President George W. Bush’s national-security team and stayed on after President Obama’s election, winning enough confidence that the Democrat nominated him as ambassador to Iraq in 2012. He withdrew his nomination after a leaked racy email drew attention to his affair in Baghdad with a reporter, whom he had married by the time of his nomination.