January 16, 2008

LTC John Nagl to retire

Readers of this blog will surely be interested in Tom Ricks' article this morning on LTC Nagl's pending retirement.

One of the Army's most prominent younger officers, whose writings have influenced the conduct of the U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, said he has decided to leave the service to study strategic issues full time at a new Washington think tank.


Nagl said in a brief telephone interview yesterday that he has filed his papers requesting retirement. "I love the Army very much," he said, but he added that he decided to leave after discussing his future with his family. "It's not the strain of repeated deployments," he said, but "a belief that I can contribute perhaps on a different level -- and my family wants me to leave."

He said he plans to become a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a centrist think tank recently founded by Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy, Clinton-era Pentagon officials. Nagl said he looks forward to working with them. "I hope to focus on national security for the remainder of my days," he said. "Obviously you don't have to do that in uniform."

Nagl's departure is a serious loss for the Army, said retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes. "He's a serious student of warfare, he's smart, he's articulate, he's successfully led troops in combat, and he's worked at the highest levels of the Pentagon," said Hammes, himself the author of a book on contemporary war. "The Army just doesn't have that many officers with his set of qualifications."

More commentary from both of your faithful bloggers later in the day.

Update: Abu Muqawama here, weighing in on this issue between sessions of a conference he's attending. On the one hand, it's easy to see Nagl's retirement as yet another scrap of evidence pointing toward both an Army going down the drain and the best and brightest packing up and leaving the service. On the other hand, though, a guy like John Nagl -- friend and mentor to both of your humble bloggers -- has been swamped with great opportunities outside the Army for some time now. He's more of a rock star in DC policy circles -- and among Daily Show viewers -- than he is in the active duty military. So is it a loss for the Army? Yes. T.X. is correct. But might John Nagl better serve the country in a position outside the military? Abu Muqawama certainly thinks so. So this isn't a "bad news" story. The U.S. Army could have better used and supported John Nagl, sure, but if he winds up as an Assistant Secretary of Defense in a few years, he'll be in a better position to affect policy and "fight" the good fight there than he would on some J staff in the Pentagon. Now if we can only rope Nagl into a guest spot on abumuqawama.com...

Update II: Charlie is in violent agreement with AM here. The announcement today, however, does beg two questions:

  1. Is LTC Nagl a canary in the coal mine?
  2. Should the Army have done more to try and keep him?

Charlie's answer to the first question is "no," which may surprise a few readers. As AM and TX Hammes mentioned, Nagl is a unique officer. Few share his soldier-scholar career path, and few share his zeal for the politics of the Long War. It also bears mentioning that Nagl was not passed over for promotion; to the best of Charlie's knowledge he was not "in zone" this year and did not sit for the 0-6 board. His 20 is up this year, his battalion command ends this fall, and there was a natural opportunity for him and his family to move on.

That said, while it breaks this blogger's heart to see him go, it's even more disheartening (infuriating?) that the Army probably doesn't mind. Instead of celebrating his energy, effort, and endless faith in the system, the Army was eternally irritated by the good colonel. Charlie doesn't think Nagl was ever punished or persecuted by his command, but he was certainly never rewarded for the sheer force of will he tried to leverage in winning these wars. We often mock him for it, but he would talk to anyone, anytime. (And has there been a bigger recruiting coup for the Army in the last 5 years than John's appearance on the Daily Show?) More of that is needed. So are more Nagl's. The Army should have bent over backwards to convince him to stay, instead they're hoping the door doesn't hit him in the ass on the way out. Duty first.

Update III: More at Intel Dump, SWJ Blog.

Update IV: There's a picture of Nagl in the Post today with his hands in his bleeping pockets. Did Abu Muqawama miss something? Is Nagl retiring from the Air Force?!

(We kid because we love.)
Update V: Frank Kaplan from Slate chimes in with his thoughts on Nagl's departure and the future of his training team mission at Ft. Riley. (and a dead sexy picture of him in battle-rattle). It's not Kaplan's best effort, but the issue of training the transition teams (MTTs/PTTs) is an important one. (High five: SWJ.)

And if Charlie can figure out how to do it, she'll post his wrenching / amazing review of Brian Turner's, "Here Bullet." (Ah, see here.)