Bret McGurk

State Department Negotiator Highlighted in Latest POLS Newsletter

Brett H. McGurkThe latest (Winter 2016) POLS Newsletter is out today! It highlights the recent achievements of faculty, undergrads, Grads, and alumni. In this edition, we profile the remarkable career of diplomat Brett H. McGurk (UConn POLS ’96), who skillfully served as President Obama’s lead negotiator in last month’s prison swap with Iran. He is building a reputation for cool, constructive pragmatism in the uneasy realm of foreign policy:

(The following is based on information found in The New York Times and other reports)

Brett H. McGurk (UCONN POLS ’96) was President Obama’s lead negotiator in a secret prisoner swap with Iran last month. By his own account, McGurk choked up as he boarded a Swiss government jet in Geneva on the night of January 16 and greeted three Americans who had just arrived from years of detention in Tehran. More than anyone else, he was responsible for their freedom. “It was an incredibly emotional moment,” he said.

For the 42-year-old lawyer who began his diplomatic career in 2004 as legal advisor to both the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and the United States Ambassador in Baghdad, it was a remarkable professional triumph — another chapter in a career that has prospered through Republican and Democratic administrations, and kept him at the heart of America’s most tangled relationships in the Middle East.

Even as Mr. McGurk was meeting furtively with Iranian officials over 14 months to negotiate the release of the Americans, he was leading a very public campaign as Mr. Obama’s special envoy to the global coalition fighting the Islamic State. He continues to be deeply involved in the complex politics of Iraq. The CPA which McGurk once advised was the American civilian administration that ran Iraq in the months after the 2003 invasion. “He’s a doer, who is nonideological, pragmatic, which very much meshes with the president’s approach,” notes Benjamin Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor.

“Over the years, the president has come to trust Brett’s judgment on things,” Rhodes said.

Mr. McGurk was later transferred home to serve as the director for Iraq on the National Security Council. In 2006, he came to President Bush’s attention after being one of the first to advocate a surge of American troops into Baghdad to stabilize what he called a “disintegration” in security. Mr. Bush made Mr. McGurk the lead negotiator of the Status of Forces agreement, which set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

“He had that combination of knowledge and passion, and then a prodigious work ethic,” said Peter D. Feaver, a professor of political science at Duke.

CNN and NPR Weekend Edition also discussed McGurk’s role in the tense prisoner release negotiations.