Diana West

Does "character" count? How about the more archaic notion of "reputation"? Not in the Obama administration, now standing tall behind what in Washington parlance is called the "troubled" nomination of Brett McGurk to be U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

McGurk's nomination foundered last week after the surfacing online of a tawdry series of private emails between McGurk, then married and the top U.S. negotiator of the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, and Gina Chon, then a Wall Street Journal reporter based in Baghdad. Their subjects? Sex and sensitive information, and the pair's mutually titillating practice of horse-trading both. If I think back to my Victorian novel class in college, I find the perfect word for what the 2008 exchanges reveal about the temperament and judgment of the man whom the administration and diplomatic establishment have unreservedly endorsed for promotion: unseemly.

Now that six GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee have asked the president to withdraw the McGurk nomination, we bear witness to the standard Washington power play. But we also see a more unusual clash of morals in the public square. The six GOP senators want a clean, new nominee. The Washington Establishment -- people for whom doors are opened, three or four kinds of forks are laid out, and all manner of manners are observed -- wants McGurk, someone who broke several elementary rules of professional conduct, not to mention the Ten Commandments.

In essence, the cultural Left, mopping up its war on traditional morality, is unconcerned with such rules and wants its man rewarded. The traditional Right, called to abide by such rules even as they recede into the past, still thinks breaking them -- or at least the poor "judgment" that goes into breaking them -- should have consequences.

To be sure, the backdrop of war sharpens the edge of the drama, injecting a note of disgust over the fact that even as Iraq fighting raged, Green Zone diplomats were having a grand old time. Then again, as McGurkites would say: They're only human. Which is well and good, and aren't we all. But does that mean that we as a people shouldn't demand more "fidelity" (another archaic word) from high-ranking representatives of the USA? Worth noting is that Chon, now married to McGurk, has resigned from the Journal for violating the Dow Jones Code of Conduct -- namely, sharing unpublished stories with her source and not revealing her source relationship. McGurk, however, continues to believe the brass ring is his for the taking.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).