Brett McGurk on Leadership and Fingertip Understanding of Iraq at the Senate

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) still has not put up the June 6 video and prepared testimony of Brett McGurk, President Obama’s nominee to take charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world.  The SFRC Minority Report on Iraq says that “The administration must continue to assign its most skilled and experienced Arabist diplomats to ensure Iraq’s complex problems are considered in the broadest possible regional terms.”

But that’s only the Minority Report, and here we are.

Rumor has it that the embassy staffing will be slashed by 25% next fall, which would make it a 12,000 personnel diplomatic mission. Still the largest embassy in the world. When it will be slashed by 75% — that will be news.  Yes, do please think about it, we’ll wait here.

Map of Iraq, where Yahya ibn Umar conducted hi...

Map of Iraq (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The c-span video of the hearing is here. Don’t worry, the entire hearing for three ambassadorial nominees only lasted 1 hour and 27 minutes.  Only two Dems showed up for the show, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico.  Only two GOP senators showed up for the show, Senator Jim Risch of Idaho, and Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana.  So out of 19 members of the  Senate Foreign Relations Committee only four senators bothered to come in for the hearing.  We’re sure they’ll watch it on c-span like we did.

Anyway, last week, the State Department in response to inquiries about the purported McGurk emails has the following:

MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, on the subject of the emails, they’re out there for everybody to see. I’m not going to get into emails between Mr. McGurk and the woman who subsequently became his wife. With regard to Mr. McGurk’s nomination, I think you know that he spent the better part of the last decade serving our country in and out of Iraq, working for a Republican administration, a Democratic administration. He is, in our view, uniquely qualified to serve as our ambassador, and we urge the Senate to act quickly on his nomination.

Uniquely qualified? Waaaaait a minute – wasn’t that the same thing they told FSOs when they did the prime candidate exercise? Everyone who received the letter were told they were “uniquely qualified” to serve in Iraq. Even an FSO who has done all consular work and no Arabic, was “uniquely qualified” to be a political officer somewhere in Baghdad. FSO ended up going on a volunteer assignment (also known apparently as “voluntold”).  But did FSO’s boss who had political officer experience and Arabic language, who’s never been to Iraq, also get the “uniquely qualified” notice to go to Iraq?  We don’t know but boss reportedly got stuck at a desk in Foggy Bottom with a mighty glue.

Over at The Common Ills blog, a transcript of some of the Q&A during the confirmation hearing last Wednesday was posted.  Mr. McGurk’s comment is so full of shiny cliché that we thought it could stand some improvement if we turn it into freestyle rap, or could also work as a chant. The full text of this segment of Mr. McGurk’s comment is posted here.

*

Leadership of the embassy starts at home
At the embassy  
I’ve served with all five of our prior ambassadors to Iraq
I’ve seen every permentation of the embassy from the very beginning to where it is today  
I have learned and seen and been involved with what it takes to lead in Iraq

*

And to lead in Iraq
you need a really  fingertip understanding
of the operational tempo in Iraq
of what it’s like day-to-day
of knowing when something is a crisis
and when it’s not
managing morale and keeping people focused on the goals 

*

It also takes a team  
I’d be inheriting a team of extraordinary talent and depth at the embassy  
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with every member of the country team in Iraq  
That team encorporates  individuals from across the government
just a whole government approach
from Commerce to Transportation
to Treasury
to State
to the Defense Community
to the Intelligence Community

*

Key members of that team have volunteered to stay on for another year
And, if I’m confirmed, would serve with me  
As Ambassador, the buck would stop with me
I have a very clear vision —
in coordination with the President and the Secretary
— of where we need to take this mission 
But I would be working with a very strong team

He totally forgot the boss person at the regional bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) in his “clear vision–in coordination with….” part of the response.

If he is confirmed those who volunteered another year would serve with him, of course.  But they have probably volunteered before he was announced as a nominee, anyway.   If he is not confirmed, those who volunteered to serve another year, will serve with whoever the Senate confirms as the new embassy boss.

Mr. McGurk’s experience in Iraq includes serving “all five of our prior ambassadors to Iraq,” but does not include Arabic language, or experience in managing a a budget, especially that in the billions of dollars; does not include managing dozens, or hundreds of employees (even if Baghdad is “rightsized” to 12,000, that’s a long jump from managing a few people to thousands of personnel) in what is still a dangerous zone.  And he was apparently our negotiator with Iraq on retaining a residual U.S. force there, which did not happen –  so ….

Frankly, we do not know what “uniquely qualified” even means anymore or if that will be enough, whatever that is, to keep Mr. McGurk in this embassy slot.  He is a political appointee, so presumably he is a White House pick, not a State Department pick.  We’ve heard about the official support to this nomination from the State Department but have not heard anything from the WH.   More from The Cable here today, with additional doubts and questions expressed.  And fallout at the Wall Street Journal with the resignation of Ms. Chon.

In related news, somebody opened an account in Tumblr under Brett McGurk’s name —  see http://brettmcgurk.tumblr.com/ — on May 4, 2012. Sorry, no interesting notes there but one nice photo with President Bush, Ambassador Crocker and General Petreaus. Part of the description does say: “Brett McGurk possesses a wealth of knowledge and insight regarding U.S. policy in Iraq with high-level posts spanning nearly a decade between both Baghdad and Washington.”  

Okay then.  The nomination has not been scheduled for a vote in the SFRC’s website but reportedly will come up for a vote sometime next week. 

In another related news, the senior diplomat who oversaw US policy over that region in turmoil, who speaks Arabic and had actually managed more than a handful of people at an embassy and a regional bureau has finally landed at the United Nations.  On June 11, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Jeffrey D. Feltman of the United States as the top United Nations official dealing with political issues, as part of an ongoing series of changes to his senior management team initiated at the start of his second term.  The announcement says that “Mr. Feltman will replace B. Lynn Pascoe, also a US national, as the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, overseeing a department that plays a central role in UN efforts to prevent and resolve deadly conflict around the world.”

Domani Spero

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