Brett McGurk

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Brett McGurk
Brett H. McGurk (2).jpg
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
In office
October 23, 2015 – December 31, 2018
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
Preceded byJohn Allen
Succeeded byJim Jeffrey
Personal details
Born (1973-04-20) April 20, 1973 (age 45)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Spouse(s)Gina Chon
Children1 daughter
EducationUniversity of Connecticut (BA)
Columbia University (JD)

Brett H. McGurk (born April 20, 1973) is a lecturer at Stanford University and a former American diplomat who served in senior national security positions under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Most recently, he was the Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. He was appointed to this post by President Barack Obama on October 23, 2015,[1] and was retained in that role by the Trump administration. McGurk replaced General John R. Allen to whom he had been a deputy since September 16, 2014. McGurk had been slated to leave the post of Special Presidential Envoy in mid-February 2019,[2] but on December 22, 2018, in the wake of President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria, McGurk announced his resignation from his post effective December 31, 2018.[3]

McGurk also served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, at the U.S. Department of State, and from October 2014 through January 2016 led 14 months of secret negotiations with Iran that led to a prisoner swap and release of four Americans from Evin Prison in Tehran, including Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian.[4] This assignment, among others, reinforced McGurk's "reputation as a doer", according to the New York Times.[5] He earlier served under President George W. Bush as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan, and under President Obama as Special Advisor to the U.S. National Security Council and Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq. McGurk served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist during the Court's 2001 October Term.

Early life and education[edit]

McGurk was born to Barry McGurk, an English professor, and Carol Ann Capobianco, an art teacher, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on April 20, 1973.[6][7] His family later moved to West Hartford, Connecticut, where he graduated from Conard High School in 1991. McGurk received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut Honors Program in 1996,[8] and his Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School in 1999. While at Columbia, he was a Senior Editor of the Columbia Law Review, a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar, and won the prize for best written brief in Columbia Law School's Moot Court Honors Competition.

After graduation, McGurk served three consecutive clerkships at progressively higher levels of the federal judiciary: first, for Judge Gerard E. Lynch on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; second, for Judge Dennis Jacobs on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan); and, finally, for Chief Justice William Rehnquist on the U.S. Supreme Court. Following his clerkships, McGurk served briefly as appellate litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis as well as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law.[9]

Diplomatic career[edit]

In January 2004, McGurk returned to public service as a Legal Advisor to both the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the United States Ambassador in Baghdad. During his tenure in Baghdad, McGurk helped draft Iraq's interim constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law, and oversaw the legal transition from the CPA to an Interim Iraqi Government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. In 2005, he was transferred to the National Security Council, where he served as Director for Iraq, and later as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, McGurk became an early advocate for a fundamental change in Iraq policy and helped develop what is now known as “the surge,” which began in January 2007. In his book Decision Points, President George W. Bush refers to McGurk as part of his "personal band of warriors" that led to a new strategy and reset the trajectory of the war.[10] President Bush later asked McGurk to lead negotiations with Ambassador Ryan Crocker to establish a Strategic Framework Agreement and Security Agreement with the Government of Iraq, thereby ensuring continuity in policy beyond the end of his administration.[11] In 2009, McGurk became one of only three political appointees to survive the transition from George W. Bush to Barack Obama, serving as a Senior Advisor to both the President and the United States Ambassador to Iraq.[12]

McGurk left government service in the fall of 2009 and served as a Resident Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics, hosting a study group on "Highest Level (and Highest Stakes) Deliberations".[13] He also served as an International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He has also been a frequent commentator on several news outlets.[14] He was called back into public service twice, first in the summer of 2010 after a deadlock over formation of a new Iraqi government, and later in the summer of 2011, following a deadlock in negotiations with the Government of Iraq to extend the Security Agreement that had been successfully concluded in 2008.

In August 2013, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department.[15]

In November 2013,[16] and again in February 2014,[17] McGurk testified before the House Armed Services Committee about the emerging threat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). He is credited with being one of the first U.S. officials to warn about the rising threat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria.[18]

On June 9, 2014, McGurk was in Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, when ISIL overran the city of Mosul and approached Baghdad. He later flew to Baghdad and helped oversee the evacuation of 1,500 U.S. employees from the U.S. Embassy, while working with President Barack Obama and the National Security Council to develop the U.S. diplomatic and military response to the ISIL threat.[19] McGurk would ultimately play a leading role in facilitating the establishment of a new Government of Iraq, led by Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi, and removing Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, who had served as Prime Minister over the past eight years.[20]

On September 12, 2014, Secretary John Kerry announced McGurk's appointment as deputy senior envoy with the rank of ambassador to General John Allen, who that day was named to the newly created position of Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.[21] On October 23, 2015, Secretary Kerry announced McGurk's appointment as Ambassador and Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.[1] Three days later, Ambassador McGurk met in the Oval Office with President Barack Obama and Allen to discuss the strategy for building a global alliance to defeat ISIL.[22] On December 3, 2014, in Brussels, Belgium, a formal alliance of 62 nations was formed to support Iraq and help the new government under Prime Minister Abadi fight ISIL along five military and diplomatic lines of effort.[23]

In his role as Special Presidential Envoy, McGurk has worked to organize a global coalition of nations as well as coalitions on the ground in Iraq and Syria to help eject ISIL from its strongholds. He was intimately involved, for example, in negotiating agreements between Arabs and Kurds to prepare for the liberation of Mosul.[24] He also helped lead negotiations with Turkey to open Incirlik airbase for counter-ISIL missions, and prepare the historic defense of Kobani in Syria by negotiating with Turkey to permit the Kurdish Peshmerga to enter the besieged city through Turkish territory.[25] McGurk has since visited the battlefields of Kobani where he met officials from the Kurdish Democratic Union Part (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG),[26] as well as the front lines in Mosul to meet with Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish Pershmerga prior to an offensive to secure the eastern side of the city.[27]

He has also helped rally the global coalition for military and financial contributions to support major counter-ISIL operations in Iraq and Syria, with emphasis on post-conflict stabilization and returning the displaced to their homes.[28] In August 2017, McGurk stated that the Trump administration had "dramatically accelerated" the U.S.–led campaign against ISIL, citing estimates that almost one-third of the territory taken from ISIL "has been won in the last six months." McGurk favorably cited "steps President Trump has taken, including delegating decision–making authority from the White House to commanders in the field."[29]

McGurk during the MSC 2017

During the Trump administration, he worked with Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson to develop the accelerated campaign against ISIS, which led to the liberation of Raqqa in October 2017.[30] He has also visited the battlefields of Syria multiple times to help organize the coalition of Arab and Kurdish fighters that has succeeded in defeating ISIS in its former strongholds.[31] Diplomatically, under President Trump, he has led talks with Russia and Jordan to establish a ceasefire zone in southwest Syria,[32] and spearheaded an initiative with Secretary Tillerson to restore ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq after nearly three decades of dormant relations.[33]

McGurk spent much of the summer and fall of 2018 shuttling between Iraq and Syria with a focus on finalizing plans to defeat ISIS in its last strongholds of eastern Syria and establishing an Iraqi government that would continue to welcome an American and Coalition military presence. For the latter assignment, McGurk faced off against Iran's IRGC spymaster Qasim Soliamani and was the target of Iranian-backed protests and assassination threats by Iranian-backed militias.[34][35] Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted on September 1, 2018 that McGurk was "doing a great job" in Baghdad while undertaking this difficult and dangerous assignment.[36] The new Iraqi government that formed on October 3, 2018, with McGurk’s active facilitation, has been characterized as the most competent and Western-friendly since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.[37]

From October 2014 to January 2016, he was lead negotiator over fourteen months of intensive and secret negotiations with Iran that led to a prisoner swap and the return home of four Americans, including Jason Rezain, Amir Hekmati, and Saeed Abedini.[38]

Awards[edit]

McGurk was awarded the Distinguished Honor Award by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January 2009 and the Distinguished Service Award by Secretary of State John Kerry in November 2016. These were the highest awards each Secretary could bestow in McGurk's capacity as a White House official under the Bush administration and a State Department official under the Obama administration. He has also received the Superior Honor Award from the U.S. Department of State,[39] and the Outstanding Service and Joint Service Commendation Award from the U.S. National Security Council while serving as Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.[40]

Ambassadorial nomination[edit]

On March 26, 2012, McGurk was nominated to become the next United States Ambassador to Iraq, succeeding James F. Jeffrey.[41] However, McGurk's confirmation hearings soon became embroiled in controversy after a series of his emails were leaked to the press and published on Cryptome.[42] Speculation remains as to who was responsible for the leak.[43][44] The illicit emails were exchanged with Gina Chon, then a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Critics claim that the extramarital affair cast doubt on his ability to lead and manage the embassy, while supporters argue that it was at most a momentary lapse in judgment and that McGurk and Chon were a married couple when the series of emails from five years earlier leaked.[45][46]

Chon was later accused of sharing articles with McGurk before publication, and was forced to resign from the newspaper. McGurk and Chon married in 2012.[47][6]

On June 18, 2012, McGurk submitted a letter to President Obama and withdrew himself from further consideration. "While we regret to see Brett withdraw his candidacy," Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, said in a statement later that day, "there is no doubt that he will be called on again to serve the country."[48] The position eventually went to Robert S. Beecroft.

Resignation from anti-ISIL post[edit]

On January 19, 2017, President-Elect Donald Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer announced that the incoming administration would retain the Obama-appointed McGurk in his role leading the counter-ISIL campaign.[49] McGurk indicated in a December 11, 2018, press briefing that the war against ISIL in Syria was not over, stating, "It would be reckless if we were just to say, well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now."[50] On December 22, 2018, in the wake of President Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria, McGurk announced his resignation from his post effective December 31, 2018.[3] McGurk had been slated to leave the post in mid-February 2019.[2] In response, Trump wrote that he did not know McGurk and questioned if McGurk was a "grandstander".[51][52] His position was succeeded by US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey on 4 January 2019.[53]

McGurk criticized Trump's Syria withdrawal order explicitly in a Washington Post opinion piece on January 18, saying Trump's decision was made "without deliberation, consultation with allies or Congress, assessment of risk, or appreciation of facts." He endorsed the view that America's adversaries will take advantage of the power vacuum created by a premature pullout from Syria, writing: "...the Islamic State and other extremist groups will fill the void opened by our departure, regenerating their capacity to threaten our friends in Europe — as they did throughout 2016 — and ultimately our own homeland".[54][55]

Later career[edit]

On January 2, 2019, Stanford University announced that McGurk had accepted a two-year appointment as distinguished lecturer at its Institute for International Studies.[56]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Obama names Brett McGurk as envoy to coalition fighting Islamic State". Reuters. October 23, 2015. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Hudson, John (December 22, 2018). "US Envoy to Colition Fighting Isus Resigns in Protest of President's Syria Decision". Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Shaw, Adam (December 22, 2018). "Brett McGurk, US envoy to anti-ISIS coalition, resigns in wake of Trump decision to pull troops from Syria". Fox News. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  4. ^ Wright, Robin (January 16, 2016). "Prisoner Swap: Obama's Secret Second Channel to Iran". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  5. ^ Landler, Mark (January 19, 2016). "Iran Negotiations Add to Special Envoy's Reputation as 'a Doer'". The New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Caroline Wong and Brett McGurk". The New York Times. March 12, 2006. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  7. ^ "Ambassador to Iraq: Who Is Brett McGurk?". allgov.com.
  8. ^ Best, Kenneth (April 25, 2005). "Alumni Recount Experiences in Iraq". UConn Advance. University of Connecticut. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  9. ^ "Brett McGurk, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan, National Security Council". The White House. Retrieved December 16, 2015 – via George W. Bush White House Archives.
  10. ^ Bush, George W. (2010). Decision Points. Crown. p. 371.
  11. ^ "Brett McGurk". Roger Hertog Program on Law and National Security. Columbia Law School. Archived from the original on June 25, 2018. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  12. ^ "Brett H. McGurk". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved December 16, 2015.[dead link]
  13. ^ "Brett McGurk". The Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  14. ^ "Brett McGurk". Brett McGurk. Archived from the original on January 9, 2016. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  15. ^ "Biography, Brett McGurk". U.S. Department of State. September 16, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  16. ^ "Testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa Hearing: Iraq" (PDF). U.S. House of Representatives. November 13, 2013. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  17. ^ "Testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing: Iraq" (PDF). U.S. House of Representatives. February 5, 2014. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  18. ^ Karl, Jonathan (September 30, 2014). "3 Times Obama Administration Was Warned About ISIS". ABC News.
  19. ^ "Statement for the Record: Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett McGurk: Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing: Iraq at a Crossroads: Options for U.S. Policy" (PDF). U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. July 24, 2014. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  20. ^ Solomon, Jay (August 13, 2014). "U.S.'s Man in Baghdad Key to Political Deal". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  21. ^ "Kerry on Iraq, Syria in Turkey (transcript)". U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. September 12, 2014. Retrieved December 22, 2018 – via U.S. Embassy to Syria.
  22. ^ "Readout of the President's Meeting with General John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Ambassador Brett McGurk, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy". The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. September 16, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2015 – via Obama White House Archives.
  23. ^ "Joint Statement Issued by Partners at the Counter-ISIL Coalition Ministerial Meeting". U.S. Department of State, Office of the Spokesperson. December 3, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2015.
  24. ^ Kalin, Stephen; Zhdannikov, Dmitry (October 3, 2016). "Exclusive: U.S. helped clinch Iraq oil deal to keep Mosul battle on track". Reuters.
  25. ^ Özer, Verda (August 15, 2015). "We really can't succeed against ISIL without Turkey". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  26. ^ Davis, Julie Hirschfeld (February 1, 2016). "Senior U.S. Official Describes 2-Day Visit to Syria". New York Times.
  27. ^ El-Ghobashy, Tamer; Phillips, Michael M. (December 5, 2016). "U.S. Seeks to Maintain Fragile Anti-ISIS Alliance in Iraq". Wall Street Journal.
  28. ^ Baldor, Lolita (July 20, 2016). "Defense, foreign ministers to plan next steps against Islamic State". PBS. Associated Press. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  29. ^ DeYoung, Karen (August 4, 2017). "Under Trump, gains against ISIS have 'dramatically accelerated'". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2017.
  30. ^ "Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Mattis, General Dunford and Special Envoy McGurk on the Campaign to Defeat ISIS in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room (transcript)". U.S. Department of Defense. May 19, 2017. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  31. ^ Gordon, Michael R. (July 1, 2017). "In a Desperate Syrian City, a Test of Trump's Policies". New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  32. ^ Rozen, Laura (August 9, 2017). "US touts success of Syria cease-fire negotiated with Russia". Al-Monitor. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  33. ^ Rozen, Laura (October 20, 2017). "To counter Iranian sway, US promotes Iraqi-Saudi ties". Al-Monitor. Retrieved December 23, 2018.
  34. ^ El-Ghobashy, Tamer (September 25, 2018). "The U.S. and Iran are competing to shape Iraq's new government. Both are failing". Washington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  35. ^ Goran, Baxtiyar. "Iraqis protest against 'US meddling' in government formation". Kurdistan 24. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  36. ^ Mike Pompeo [@SecPompeo] (September 1, 2018). "Just spoke with @brett_mcgurk who's on the ground in #Baghdad representing me and @POTUS. Doing a great job. Forming a strong Iraqi government on national basis is essential to the enduring defeat of #ISIS" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  37. ^ "Iraq's Promising New Leadership". Bloomberg News. October 9, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  38. ^ Landler, Mark (January 19, 2016). "Iran Negotiations Add to Special Envoy's Reputation as 'a Doer'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2016.
  39. ^ "Brett McGurk '99". Columbia Law School Magazine. Retrieved December 16, 2015.[dead link]
  40. ^ "About Brett McGurk". Archived from the original on April 23, 2013. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
  41. ^ "President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts" (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary, The White House. March 26, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2015 – via Obama White House Archives.
  42. ^ "Ambassadorial Nominee Brett McGurk and WSJ Gina Chon Emails". Cryptome.org. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  43. ^ Kaplan, Fred (June 20, 2012). "Brett McGurk nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq ended because of leaked email messages". Slate. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  44. ^ Eli Lake (June 14, 2012). "The Man Behind the 'Blue Ball' Emails Scandal That Snared Brett McGurk". The Daily Beast. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  45. ^ Entous, Adam (June 18, 2012). "Brett McGurk Withdraws as Iraq Ambassador Nominee". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  46. ^ "Brett McGurk lands in hot water over racy emails with Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon". Daily Mail. June 10, 2012. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  47. ^ Hastings, Michael (June 15, 2012). "War Correspondent Gina Chon Defends Herself: "I've Never Felt So Vulnerable"". Buzzfeed. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  48. ^ Baker, Peter (June 18, 2012). "Facing Confirmation Fight, Nominee as Ambassador to Iraq Withdraws". The New York Times. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  49. ^ Gibbons-Neff, Thomas (January 19, 2017). "Trump keeps Obama appointee tasked with helping run the war against ISIS". Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  50. ^ Nordland, Rod (December 19, 2018). "U.S. Exit Seen as a Betrayal of the Kurds, and a Boon for ISIS". New York Times. Retrieved December 22, 2018.
  51. ^ Brennan, Margaret (December 22, 2018). "Brett McGurk, top U.S. envoy in ISIS fight, resigns". CBS News. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  52. ^ Horton, Alex (December 23, 2018). "'Very telling' that Trump didn't know his own anti-ISIS point man, former official says". Washington Post. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  53. ^ Ambassador James Jeffrey Assumes Role of Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS
  54. ^ McGurk, Brett (January 18, 2019). "Trump said he beat ISIS. Instead, he's giving it new life". Washington Post. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  55. ^ "Trump giving 'new life' to Daesh, former envoy says". Arab News. AFP. 18 January 2019. Retrieved January 20, 2019.
  56. ^ Feldman, Nicole (January 2, 2019). "Former Presidential Envoy to Defeat ISIS Named Payne Distinguished Lecturer" (Press release). Stanford University. Retrieved January 22, 2019.

External links[edit]

Media related to Brett H. McGurk at Wikimedia Commons

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Allen
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
2015–2018
Succeeded by
James Jeffrey