What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Mattis, McGurk shakeup leaves Syria in ‘state of uncertainty’

Following a decision to pull 2,000 U.S. forces from Syria in the coming weeks, President Trump also expedited Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation Sunday, and Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the global coalition fighting the Islamic State group, resigned. State Department reporter for the Wall Street Journal Jessica Donati joins Megan Thompson.

Read the Full Transcript

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Good evening and thank you for joining us. On the second day of a partial government shutdown, President Trump announced he is accelerating the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis. The president tweeted that Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019.

    Mattis was expected to stay in the role until the end of February. He submitted his resignation three days ago in protest of the president's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which has strained relations with international allies.

    The news that Mattis will leave immediately comes just two days after the top U.S. diplomat to the coalition fighting ISIS, Brett McGurk, also said he's leaving the administration early in protest of the troop drawdown from Syria.

    Joining us now from Washington, D.C., is Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Donati. Jessica thank you so much for being here.

    So what do we know about this tweet this morning where President Trump basically announced that Secretary of Defense James Mattis will be leaving two months early? What do we know about this decision?

  • JESSICA DONATI:

    I think, I mean this is really just speculation, but I would say that the president is probably frustrated with the number of leaks that have come out with the resignations this week, first General Mattis and then the presidential envoy as well.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The presidential envoy is Brett McGurk, who you just mentioned, we learned yesterday that he's also going to be leaving early. He was the U.S. special envoy in the fight against ISIS. What does all of this mean for the leadership in our fight against ISIS?

  • JESSICA DONATI:

    Well, I think it sends a message that the president has not been willing to listen to his top advisers, both on the military side and on the diplomatic side. And this will, I suppose, give him more freedom to pick people who are willing to carry out his view of foreign policy, which seems to be not wanting to engage in these conflicts overseas.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    So what does this troop withdrawal mean for things on the ground in Syria?

  • JESSICA DONATI:

    I think that it's left a lot of people in a state of uncertainty, because all of the American people in charge have been trying to get allies to step up and to ensure that Islamic State doesn't have a chance to come back. Many of them really just stepped up to the task because they were under American pressure to do so. So I think we'll have to look at what Saudi Arabia is going to do, what the United Arab Emirates are going to do, because they both pledged more money, but are they going to be willing to invest money into a place where the U.S. no longer has a footprint.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    President Trump yesterday basically said that Turkey can now take care of the situation. We learned today that Turkey is now massing troops along its border with Syria. I mean, what do we know about that development and how prepared is Turkey to take the mantle now?

  • JESSICA DONATI:

    I think that the threat of an invasion by Turkey is a huge concern, not just to the civilians living there but also to the huge number of aid workers that are delivering lifesaving food, water, electricity. Any kind of escalation in the conflict not only would force aid workers to leave the country but also you could look at a situation where you have another movement of people fleeing from the area and that just leaves a vacuum whereby there's a chance of extremist groups coming back. McGurk had a role in sort of getting Turkey to work with U.S. interests in that sense and not take action against the Kurds and that kind of thing. So I think there's a big question there over who's going to fill that gap diplomatically.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    How is all this affecting U.S. troop morale in Syria?

  • JESSICA DONATI:

    I think that there's probably a lot of, a large number of troops who are probably frustrated with these long conflicts, not just Syria but you have Afghanistan, Iraq, and so I think that this decision will probably be welcome to some. But on the other hand, to make a rapid withdrawal that risks throwing away the sort of effort to stabilize Syria and other parts and Iraq, Afghanistan, where there is a peace process underway, I think these kind of snap decisions are probably going to undermine morale for people who've lost colleagues and friends in this conflict.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Jessica Donati of The Wall Street Journal, thank you so much for being here.

  • JESSICA DONATI:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest