No one who has read Allen Drury’s great novel, Advise and Consent, or seen the movie, can be surprised by how sordid Washington confirmation battles can get. Nevertheless, I am dismayed to see the treatment being accorded Brett McGurk, President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Baghdad, whom I met during his days as a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
McGurk is a controversial choice for U.S. ambassador to Iraq. He is young (39-years-old), he is not a Foreign Service officer, and he is not an Arabist. Rather, he is a former NSC official under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama whose experience in Iraq extends from 2004 to last year. He spent much of 2004 working for the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. embassy, and he returned frequently thereafter as an NSC official under Bush and subsequently as an outside adviser working alongside the U.S. ambassador. McGurk was an early supporter of the surge and had a central role in the negotiation of both the status of force agreement in 2008 (successful) and the one last year (unsuccessful). Critics claim he is too close to Prime Minister Maliki; the opposing Iraqiyah coalition has even come out against McGurk’s nomination, which could limit his effectiveness were he to be confirmed.