McGurk’s bumpy road to Baghdad

Al Kamen
Columnist June 14, 2012

Brett McGurk, the White House’s pick to be the ambassador to Iraq, is slated for a vote Tuesday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But we’re hearing that the controversial nominee could get bumped off the panel’s agenda in the face of mounting criticism on and off the committee.

Six Republicans on the panel sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday asking that McGurk’s name be withdrawn. And the opposition to McGurk isn’t just coming from their side of the aisle. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the panel’s second-ranking Democrat, is said to have deep reservations about him as well.

“There are strong concerns about Mr. McGurk’s qualifications, his ability to work with Iraqi officials, and now his judgment,” the GOP letter states. It is signed by Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Mike Lee of Utah, James E. Risch of Idaho and Marco Rubio of Florida.

McGurk’s path to securing the nomination got more complicated last week when a racy e-mail exchange surfaced between McGurk and a Wall Street Journal reporter covering him. In the letter, the senators said that such “unprofessional conduct . . . will affect the nominee’s credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve.”

They also indicate that they were not previously aware of the e-mails, which were posted online anonymously last week. “The fact that this information was not disclosed to Senators is also disconcerting,” they wrote.


Brett McGurk, former member of the U.S. National Security Council in Iraq, is interviewed by Christiane Amanpour in April 2010. (YouTube)

The e-mail exchanges date to when McGurk was working in Iraq for the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. Reporter Gina Chon was stationed in Baghdad, and the two struck up a romantic relationship. They are now married, and Chon on Tuesday announced her resignation from the Journal.

In the e-mails, the two joke about McGurk providing Chon with information and access. And while the e-mails do not indicate that McGurk actually shared any sensitive information with Chon, they come at a time when the Senate is focused on stanching national security leaks.

The White House stood by its nominee.

“We believe the United States will be greatly served by Mr. McGurk’s experience in Iraq, which is substantial,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

Other concerns about McGurk predate the e-mail controversy. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had previously criticized McGurk’s handling of U.S. policy in Iraq, including the inability of U.S. and Iraqi negotiators to reach a deal that would have left a small U.S. military presence behind. All U.S. combat troops left Iraq last year after those negotiations broke down.

In the letter, the Republican members of the Foreign Relations Committee echoed that criticism, noting that McGurk played a “lead role” in the “botched” negotiations.

The color of modesty

U.S. forces in Afghanistan are working hard to train the country’s national police force and other folks as part of the administration’s plan to withdraw combat forces by the end of 2014.


Wall Street Journal reporter Gina Chon is seen in a screengrab taken from a May 30, 2012, video on WSJ.com. On June 12, Chon resigned from the paper. (The Wall Street Journal)

There’s obviously a concern that not enough security folks will be adequately trained by the time U.S. and allied forces withdraw. But maybe they’ll at least look snappy.

Our colleague Walter Pincus spotted an Army solicitation posted June 1 for some Afghan police and army uniforms and women’s clothing in a variety of sizes and colors — including 100 women’s burqas that “cover all, including the eyes” in a number of colors, including “hot pink,” purple and gold, as well as 100 head scarves.

The clothing, to be delivered to Fort Drum, N.Y., by June 20, lists 200 “Afghan National Police Uniforms,” including jackets, trousers and hats, with appropriate hat insignias and jacket insignias that have the Afghan flag on the right sleeve and the police emblem on the left.

The solicitation includes 200 “New Afghanistan National Army” uniforms with appropriate insignias and 300 turbans in assorted colors: green, gray, white, black, tan and brown.

And there are also 250 “Afghan Style Payraan Tumbaan,” or shirts and slacks, with cloth belts “that will adjust the pants to the desired waist size,” along with 250 maroon berets.

Hot-pink burqas? To drive the Taliban wild?

Lunar Rhyme Month?

It seems June has an identity crisis, our colleague Timothy R. Smith reports.

In quick order last week, President Obama, as he and other presidents have done in the past, declared June to be: African-American Music Appreciation Month; Great Outdoors Month; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month; National Caribbean-American Heritage Month; and National Oceans Month.

That’s a lot for a month with only 30 days.

And to complicate things, other folks have claimed the month for their own purposes.

Drivers given to road rage should know that June is Lane Courtesy Month, according to the National Motorists Association. Drivers distracted by audio books can blame Publishers Weekly, which claimed June as its month.

Papaya is king in June, according to a sampling of odd, edible commemorative months compiled by the University of Massachusetts. The National Turkey Federation touts June as Turkey Lovers Month — perhaps an effort to boost sales near their November highs. And somehow, National Fireworks Safety Month was scheduled for June, not July, despite the heightened concern about fireworks around the Fourth.

Perhaps we’ll have a National June Month to make June “just June” again?

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @Inthe LoopWP.

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