Brett McGurk ’99

The Negotiator

Summer 2009

Brett H. McGurk ’99 always intended to serve his country. A would-be Army officer, McGurk was kept from the service by an old high-school hockey injury. Instead of fighting on the front lines, McGurk joined the U.S. government in helping the Iraqis draft an interim constitution and ultimately end the American occupation in the embattled country.

“I had the opportunity very early to work closely with Iraqi leaders in all communities,” McGurk says. “I really got to know them, to understand their competing visions, and to think through with them how those visions could be reconciled through a political framework.”

For the Bush administration, McGurk oversaw all aspects of U.S. policy relating to the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He successfully negotiated a long-term strategic framework agreement, as well as a security agreement that governs the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and aims to restore bilateral relations between Iraq and the United States. The process of putting both agreements in place took 18 months—and earned McGurk the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award.

When President Barack Obama took office, the new administration requested that McGurk stay on as a special adviser. McGurk has since taken part in the review of Iraq policy, which resulted in a scheduled drawdown of U.S. combat forces by the end of 2010. “So many Iraqis and Americans have lost their lives [in Iraq],” McGurk says. “I have known some of them, and I think about them often. But I believe Iraq is now on its way to a much brighter and more hopeful future.”