APL Colloquium

June 15, 2012

Colloquium Topic: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan

The U.S. military has proven itself to be adept at preparing for the next "big war," but much less capable in equipping itself to fight successfully in a "small war" environment.  As a result, the American military of 2003 was organized, designed, trained, and equipped to defeat another conventional force; indeed, it had no peer in that arena. It was, however, unprepared for an enemy who understood that it could not hope to defeat the U.S. military on a conventional battlefield, and who therefore chose to wage war against America from the shadows, its fighters indistinguishable to the untrained eye from the general population.  Given continued American conventional military superiority, globalization, population growth, and the increasingly ability of networked citizens to challenge overstretched governments, it is very likely that future conflicts will again be, to use British General Rupert Smith's phrase, "wars among the people."  To succeed in these wars, it is essential that the American military understand the languages and the cultures of the societies in which it will fight; the consequences of ignorance include lost American and foreign lives, misspent treasure, and even lost conflicts with an attendant increase in risk to the American people.

Colloquium Speaker: John Nagl

 Dr. John Nagl is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the Minerva Research Fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy as part of the Department of Defense Minerva Initiative program.  He was previously the President of CNAS. He is also a member of the Defense Policy Board, a Visiting Professor in the War Studies Department at Kings College of London, a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.  Dr. Nagl has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Commission on Wartime Contracting and served on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel (the Hadley/Perry Commission).  He sits on the advisory boards of Mission Essential Personnel, the Spirit of America and the Journal of the Royal United Services Institute.  Dr. Nagl is also a member of the Joint Force Quarterly Advisory Committee, a Young Leader of the French-American Foundation and the American Council on Germany and a member of the Diplomatic Finnish Sauna Society of Washington.

 Dr. Nagl was a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy Class of 1988 who served as an armor officer in the U.S. Army for 20 years.  His last military assignment was as commander of the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor at Fort Riley, Kansas, training Transition Teams that embed with Iraqi and Afghan units.  He led a tank platoon in Operation Desert Storm and served as the operations officer of a tank battalion task force in Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning the Combat Action Badge and the Bronze Star medal.  Nagl taught national security studies at West Point’s Department of Social Sciences and in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program and served as a Military Assistant to two Deputy Secretaries of Defense.  He earned his Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he received the George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate, and his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

 Dr. Nagl is the author of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam and was on the writing team that produced the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. His writings have also been published in The New York Times, Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, Parameters, Military Review, Joint Force Quarterly, Armed Forces Journal, The Washington Quarterly, and Democracy, among others. He was profiled in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Magazine.  Dr. Nagl has appeared on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, National Public Radio, 60 Minutes, Washington Journal and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He has lectured domestically and internationally at military war colleges, the Pentagon's Joint Staff and Defense Policy Board, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, major universities, intelligence agencies and business forums.

 His areas of expertise include counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, national security strategy, organizational learning and change management, and U.S. military forces and operations.