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Brett McGurk | Jan. 29, 2019

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Assessing the Fight Against ISIS

Photos from the event can be viewed here.

Event Summary by Reiss Becker:

Mr. McGurk began the discussion by delving into his distinguished career of public service in the national security realm. He discussed how, prior to 2001, he was on track to become a lawyer after having completed several prestigious clerkships, most notably a clerkship with then Chief Justice William Rehnquist. However, when the tragedy of 9/11 struck, Mr. McGurk’s career trajectory was altered significantly. He then recounted how he began his career in national security through involvement in the Iraq War, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and, until recently, the Trump administration.

As the talk went on, Mr. McGurk delved into his expertise in regard to the fight against ISIS, detailing how he helped the Obama administration adopt a new, more limited strategy to fight ISIS that involved small numbers of American troops training far larger numbers of allied Syrian troops. Additionally, Mr. McGurk delved into how the plan for fighting ISIS was accelerated and intensified under the Trump administration. McGurk noted that this revised strategy was a success, with over 50% of allied gains against ISIS coming after its implementation.

Mr. McGurk also spoke about his experience with the Trump administration, discussing both the work he did for the administration and the dysfunction he witnessed while employed in the White House. In particular, Mr. McGurk explained why he resigned from his position late in 2018, explaining that his resignation had everything to do with the President’s lack of a coherent strategy regarding the Middle East and, in particular, with the President’s brash decision to remove American troops from both Syria and Afghanistan.

Mr. McGurk also gave an overview of the strategic interests and concerns of the present Erdogan regime in Turkey. He described Erdogan’s grand ambitions to create “buffer zones” in Syria and Iraq in order to expand Turkey’s regional influence and national security.  Finally, Mr. McGurk ended his time by reflecting on how much public service has meant to him and how he would encourage all the Duke students in attendance to test out a career in the public sector.