Brett McGurk

Fall 2009

Brett McGurk served on the National Security Council staffs of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, handling matters relating to U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

In the Obama administration, McGurk served as a special advisor to the National Security Council staff and then as a senior advisor to Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Baghdad.  In these capacities, McGurk participated in President Obama’s review of Iraq policy and assisted with matters pertaining to transition within the National Security Council.  He was one of only three NSC political appointees asked to remain for a period with the new administration.   

During the Bush administration, McGurk served as Director for Iraq and then as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan.  In this position, McGurk oversaw all aspects of U.S. policy relating to wars in both theaters.  In 2005 and 2006, he was an early proponent of the strategy now known as the “surge” and was a lead participant in the 2006 strategic review of Iraq policy, which led to the surge of U.S. forces into Iraq and significant changes to U.S. strategy there.

In 2007 and 2008, McGurk served as lead negotiator and envoy for negotiations with the Government of Iraq on both a long-term Strategic Framework Agreement and a Security Agreement (also known as a “SOFA”) to govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq and the normalization of bilateral relations between Iraq and the United States.  The Iraqi parliament ratified both agreements on November 26, 2008, and they went into effect on January 1, 2009.  In recognition for
this achievement, McGurk received the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice – the highest award the Secretary of State can bestow on a civilian not serving in the Department.

Prior to serving on President Bush’s National Security Council staff, McGurk served as a legal advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and then the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad under Ambassador John Negroponte.  In this capacity, he helped structure the legal framework for Iraq’s first nationwide election and was a key participant in the negotiation of Iraq's interim constitution.  He was identified in 2004 as “one of the heroes” of the CPA period by Atlantic Monthly magazine, and has since been recognized by leading commentators as one of the few policymakers who advocated the critical changes to U.S. policy that led to the surge and an improving situation in Iraq. 

McGurk has been a frequent commentator on matters relating to U.S. foreign policy, in both his public and private capacities, with appearances on PBS Newshour, CNN Late Edition, MSNBC, and FoxNews, and published commentary in the Washington Post and academic journals.  As an attorney in private practice, he practiced appellate litigation at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and was an adjunct professor of law at the University of Virginia, teaching a course on the international law of post-conflict transitions.

McGurk is a former Supreme Court law clerk, serving with the late Chief Justice Rehnquist on the Supreme Court's 2001-2002 Term.  He also served as a law clerk on the United States Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit with Judge Dennis Jacobs, and on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York with Judge Gerard E. Lynch.  He holds a B.A. in political science from the University of Connecticut, and a J.D. from Columbia University, where he served as a Senior Editor of the Columbia Law Review.

Brett McGurk’s Study Group:


Day: Thursdays
Time: 4:00-5:30PM
Location: Faculty Dining Room (FDR)

Learn more about Brett McGurk's study group \\

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Disclaimer: This information is accurate for the time period that this person was affiliated with the Institute of Politics.