Ambassador to Iraq: Who Is Brett McGurk?

Saturday, April 14, 2012
The leaders of Iraq, on a rocky road to stability since the final departure of U.S. combat troops last year, will soon be welcoming a familiar face as the next ambassador from the United States. On March 26, 2012, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Brett H. McGurk, who has been involved in Iraq policy almost continuously since 2004, as the next ambassador to Iraq.
Born April 20, 1973, Brett McGurk is the son of Barry McGurk, an English professor, and Carol Ann Capobianco, an art teacher. Raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, McGurk earned his B.A. in Political Science at the nearby University of Connecticut in 1996 and a JD from Columbia University in 1999.
After law school, McGurk chose to commence his career by pursuing the “judicial clerk” track. He served as a clerk for Judge Gerard Lynch of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan) in 1999-2000, for Judge Dennis Jacobs of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (also Manhattan) in 2000-2001, and for Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist from 2001 to 2002. Admitted to the bar in 2000, McGurk practiced appellate litigation at the large law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in 2003.
Returning to government service, from 2004 to 2005 McGurk served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, focusing on issues of constitutional reform, elections, and government formation. He then served on the National Security Council staff from 2005 to 2009, first as director for Iraq and then as special assistant to the president and senior director for Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2007 and 2008 he was the lead negotiator of the Security and Strategic Framework Agreements with Iraq.
Asked to stay on as a special advisor to President Barack Obama, he also served as a senior advisor to Ambassadors Ryan Crocker, Christopher Hill and James Jeffrey in Baghdad. He has also been an international affairs fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and a resident fellow for the fall 2009 semester at Harvard University, where he lectured on the role of the U.S. Supreme Court and the National Security Council since September 11, 2001.
Some in the diplomatic community have questioned the nomination. At age 39, McGurk will be the youngest chief of mission ever appointed to run the embassy in Iraq, which is the largest embassy in the world. Despite senior advisorships to Ambassadors Crocker, Hill and Jeffrey, McGurk has never managed an embassy, especially one with thousands of staff. “Is the Senior Foreign Service so thin that they can’t find anyone from the career service for this job?” asked Domani Spero, the pseudonymous blogger who publishes the highly regarded Diplopundit blog. Other commentators have noted that McGurk’s relationships with Iraqi leaders can help bolster U.S. influence in the country. Opposition parties in Iraq have expressed concern that McGurk is too closely aligned to the nation’s current prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
-Matt Bewig
Brett McGurk to be Next Iraq Envoy? (by Al Kamen, Washington Post)
Brett McGurk ’99: The Negotiator (Columbia Law School Magazine)
Alumni Recount Experiences in Iraq (by Kenneth Best, UConn Advance)


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