Yesterday’s Senate confirmation hearing for ambassador-to-be to Iraq Brett McGurk was depressing. Nobody really cares anymore about Iraq. I was reminded of sitting in elementary school, when for every Apollo moon shot launch we’d stop class to watch on a rolled-in B+W TV; it was a big deal. A few years later, space shuttle launches barely made the news at all.
No one cared anymore.
Real Issues Ignored
There are real issues surrounding McGurk’s nomination. Should the helm of the world’s largest embassy go to a 38 year old whose career is nothing but handmaiden to previous Iraq failures? McGurk’s not so private private life is a walking EEO crisis. US ambassadors to Baghdad tend to only stay on the job for a year or so at a time, a disruption to steady leadership. Iraq itself consumed 4484 American lives and trillions of dollars, for what? Senator McCain, who previously voiced some concern about McGurk, didn’t even bother to show up for the hearing.
Nobody Cares to Ask Any Follow-Ups
In contrast to past hearings on Iraq, which featured main stream media coverage and packed halls, McGurk’s was sparsely attended, and unreported even in the hometown Washington Post. His confirmation was efficiently combined with two others, the critical posts of Sri Lanka/Maldives and Tajikistan, all taken care of in a short 90 minutes.
A good portion of the hearings was wasted by the chair, Senator Casey, pointlessly blathering about each nominee’s vague ties to his home state of Pennsylvania. Questions to McGurk could not have been softer softballs, though he still stumbled over the Arabic names of Shia groups, completely exaggerated Iraqi oil output and lightly promised to do his best when he did not know what else to say. There were no follow-ups or cross examination for any of his answers. “The Iraqi government has not been able to degrade al Qaeda in Iraq,” McGurk said. “That’s a serious concern that we need to work with them on.” Yep, sure is, especially considering there was no al Qaeda in Iraq before the US invasion. Might have been worth a follow up query or two, yes?
A Few Tidbits
We did, almost by accident, learn a few things. McGurk finally ditched his Gordon Gecko hairstyle for a grownup cut. The US Mission to Iraq swallowed $6.5 billion taxpayer dollars in 2011, and will eat $4 billion this year. McGurk also said the State Department will cut the US mission in Iraq, some 16,000 souls, by 25 percent by next fall. The State Department had been denying this plan ever since a NY Times story broke it earlier this year.
McGurk did perhaps inadvertently throw out a single truthful statement. “There is no proportionality between our size and our influence (in Iraq). In fact, we spend a lot of diplomatic capital simply to sustain our presence.”
The other issues discussed briefly– oil revenue sharing, whither the Kurds, how to create an inclusive Sunni-Shia government– are the same problems that have plagued Iraq since 2003 and are the same unresolved issues that have been abandoned by the US. It was 2007 all over again, not that anyone cared to even acknowledge that.
And That was That
What once had been labeled America’s most important foreign policy issue, what still is the world’s largest embassy, what was a crusade that killed thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands Iraqis, a failed policy that is still sending waves through the volatile Middle East, is now so unimportant that it is lopped together with the Maldives as another bit of perfunctory business for the Senate to rap out before summer recess.
Nobody cares anymore.
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