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6 GOP senators call on Obama to withdraw Iraq nominee

Six Republican senators, all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), have formally asked President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq. The committee has set a vote on the McGurk nomination for June 19, but that vote is now in doubt. The GOP senators’ ...

Six Republican senators, all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), have formally asked President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The committee has set a vote on the McGurk nomination for June 19, but that vote is now in doubt.

Six Republican senators, all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), have formally asked President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

The committee has set a vote on the McGurk nomination for June 19, but that vote is now in doubt.

The GOP senators’ concerns include that McGurk does not have enough experience for the job, that he was a key part of the unsuccessful  effort to negotiate a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq past 2011, that he isn’t accepted by some Iraqi political groups, and that his judgment and conduct in Iraq as exposed in leaked e-mails with a reporter he was dating have hurt his credibility.

"Recent information has surfaced that calls into question the prudence of moving forward with the nominee at this time," wrote Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), James Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and James Risch (R-ID). "As members of the committee, with the responsibility of providing advice and consent, we write to respectfully urge you to reconsider this nomination. There are strong concerns about Mr. McGurk’s qualifications, his ability to work with Iraqi officials, and now his judgment."

The letter was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.

The senators wrote that McGurk, who has served in Iraq and in the White House in various capacities over the past 8 years, has "little direct management experience," leaving him unprepared to head up the largest U.S. embassy in the world, in the center of an extremely volatile region. His most recent position was as a senior advisor to Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, focusing on the Status of Forces Agreement negotiations in 2011 that broke down over a dispute about legal immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq.

The senators also indirectly referenced a letter from Waheed Al Sammarraie, the D.C. representative of the office of former Iraqi prime minister and opposition leader Ayad Allawi, who wrote to Congress saying that his party would not work with McGurk due to the would-be ambassador’s allegedly close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That letter was later retracted and most Iraqi political groups have said they would work with McGurk if he becomes ambassador.

The senators also referenced the revelation that McGurk’s relationship with his current wife Gina Chon began while he was serving as a national security official in Iraq.  The Wall Street Journal accepted Chon’s resignation Tuesday, saying that she had improperly shared unpublished news articles with McGurk and failed to disclose their relationship to her editors.

"The public release of information detailing unprofessional conduct demonstrates poor judgment and will affect the nominee’s credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve… Together these issues cannot be overlooked," the senators wrote. "The U.S.-Iraq relationship is of utmost importance to us, and we respectfully request that you withdraw this nominee and nominate someone with the qualifications necessary to ensure success in this position."

The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) also did not immediately respond.

The Democrats hold a majority on the committee and could approve McGurk’s nomination over GOP objections. Then the nomination would then go to the floor, where it could face holds from any or all of the senators who signed the letter. McGurk also faces opposition outside the committee from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the McGurk nomination at his briefing today.

"The President has nominated Brett McGurk to be the ambassador to Iraq. We believe that our nation will be greatly served by his experience in Iraq, and we look forward to the Senate’s advice and consent on his appointment," he said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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