Friday, August 25, was a very busy news day. News organizations were trying to cover a hurricane slamming into a populous coast, the President’s pardon of a high-profile and controversial Arizona sheriff, a directive that forbids the enlistment of transgender individuals in the military (and mandates a study of what to do about those who are already there); there was also news about new Venezuela sanctions, and some news organizations (with anonymous sourcing) said that the administration was about to put a formal end to the Obama-era “Dreamers” program protecting undocumented aliens who had arrived in the country at age 15 or younger.
In the midst of all this, Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, an advisor on national security issues, got fired. Or quit. Or something. This is important, in that it shows that the departure of Stephen Bannon one week before wasn’t a one-time fluke. The White House is losing (or ridding itself of) what one might call the ‘Bannon wing’ of the Trump coalition.
Gorka sent a resignation letter to the President, and mysteriously a friendly news organization, The Federalist, received a copy.
But soon thereafter an “unnamed White House official” told reporters that Gorka “did not resign” and immediately confirmed “he no longer works at the White House.” In other words – the White House claims to have fired him, not to have allowed him to quit.
Right Wing View
What does all this mean? A natural place to begin is with Gorka’s letter, which at least has the tone one would expect of a resignation.
“[G]iven recent events, it is clear to me that forces that do not support the MAGA [Make America Great Again] promise are – for now – ascendant within the White House,” it says. “As a result, the best and most effective way I can support you, Mr. President, is from outside the People’s House.”
One of the precipitating events that concerns Gorka is the President’s recent address to the nation on U.S. military policy in Afghanistan. Gorka is unhappy that the speech “listed operational objectives without ever defining the strategic victory conditions we are fighting for.” His letter isn’t more specific about what kind of “strategic victory” ought to have been defined. But one might make a reasonable inference.
The conservative blog RedState said months ago that Gorka was positioned within the White House to “shake up the Islam-appeasement faction in US foreign policy.” Gorka has taken the view that Islam is inherently violent, so the strategic opposition to the West is … the entire Moslem world as such. That is presumably the strategic vision he found sadly missing from the Presidential address.
Nick Short, of the Phoenix based Security Studies Group, tweeted early Friday evening, “Almost 16 years since 9/11 & the corrupt foreign policy establishment is committed neither to victory nor to any purpose that transcends it.”
Dr. Gorka, though presumably busy about that time packing up his office papers, responded, that this was “perfectly said,” and a good precis of why Donald Trump won.
Left Wing View
The left sees Gorka’s departure as part of a broader narrative about how the wheels are coming off of the Trump White House, however exactly one cashes in on that metaphor.
One question related to this narrative: why did the White House go out of its way to deny that Gorka resigned? Paul McLeod and Kate Nocera, at Buzzfeed, said that their sources were saying that Gorka was planning to resign on Monday, August 28, which would have been his first day back from a vacation. It seems as if someone didn’t want to wait that long, in order specifically not to allow him to leave on his own terms.
Liberal groups have targeted Gorka as one of the fattest of targets around President Trump since the inauguration. A number of left-of-center advocacy groups held a press conference on August 13, announcing that they were calling on the President to fire three specific officials by way of disavowing “white supremacists and violent extremism.” The three targets were: Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Gorka. Only Miller remains.
George Takei, of Star Trek fame, tweeted thus (more than a week before Gorka’s departure):
The Significance of a Departure
In the spring, Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School, Tufts University, writing in the Washington Post, asked a straightforward question: what exactly does Gorka do all day in his office? His ideological commitment was clear but his actual duties seem never to have been well-defined. Drezner imagined himself asking Gorka, “Do you draft memos? Speeches? Planning documents? Do you have any authority in any area whatsoever?”
The significance of his departure depends on what the significance of his presence might have been. And that wasn’t, and still isn’t, at all clear.