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McGurk. Photo: Jordan Pix/Getty Images

Ankara — The appointment of Brett McGurk as Middle East coordinator on President-elect Biden's National Security Council has already set alarm bells ringing in Turkey.

Why it matters: McGurk, who served as counter-ISIS envoy under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, is considered a staunch critic of the Turkish government’s policies in the Middle East and an outspoken advocate of America's partnership with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS.

  • The SDF is seen by Turkey as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Flashback: In 2017, the Turkish government called for McGurk to be removed from his post over his close ties with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.

  • In 2019, McGurk suggested Turkey might have been sheltering ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 
  • In the same year, after a fiery speech from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, McGurk tweeted: “Erdoğan called on Muslims to 'unite against the west' at the very moment Turkey is hosting U.S.-designated-terrorist Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas in Istanbul."
  • McGurk was also very critical of Turkey’s plans to establish a safe zone in Syria, claiming it would “effectively extend Turkish border 30 kilometers into Syria, including areas of Christians, Kurds and other vulnerable minorities.”

What they’re saying: A critical op-ed by academic Talha Abdulrazaq was published on the website of Turkey's state-run TRT World network on Jan. 9, arguing that the appointment of McGurk meant “more terror to fight terror." Abdulrazaq described McGurk as the mastermind behind the arming of the Syrian Kurds.

  • “In the name of fighting ISIS, McGurk was the architect behind eschewing state-actors and long-time NATO allies such as Turkey in favor of using terrorists to fight other terrorists in Syria,” it reads.

What to watch: McGurk will be responsible for coordinating U.S. policies not only in Syria, but also in Iran, Iraq and Libya — all of which are of importance to Turkey.

  • However, the Syrian battleground has changed a lot since McGurk left his post in Dec. 2018, with Turkey's area of influence expanding and America's narrowing.

The bottom line: McGurk will have to find ways to work with Turkey.

Go deeper

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

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