Former Army officer, author, and counterinsurgency guru John Nagl will leave his post as president of the Center for a New American Security to become a professor at the Naval Academy.
"I'm sad to leave CNAS in a full time role, enormously proud of what we've done here, and pretty confident that the team here will continue to do a great job here without me," Nagl told The Cable in a Monday interview.
He said he will remain as a non-resident senior fellow at CNAS and continue to run its Next Generation Leaders Program. He will teach classes and seminars at the Naval Academy, and also start work on a new book looking back at the last ten years of American warfare.
"I wasn't looking to move. Leaving the presidency of CNAS after three years was a very hard decision, but I love teaching more than anything," Nagl said. "It's a great opportunity to do my favorite part of this job, step back from the administrative role, and recharge the batteries a little bit."
His first class, which begins this week, is called, "History of Modern Counterinsurgency," and will be informed by his doctoral thesis and book Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife. Nagl said that the new defense strategy review announced by President Barack Obama last week was an acknowledgement that the counterinsurgency-heavy era of warfare that U.S. troops have been engaged in may be coming to an end.
"The president's announcement on [Jan. 5] did mark an inflection point in the last decade of wars. We're thinking hard about how to capture the lessons of the last decade. So it's a good time for me to reflect on what I've learned and seen and capture some of those lessons," said Nagl. "One of the things I'm sure of is there will be future counterinsurgency wars, and it would be helpful if we started them better."
Nagl had been rumored to be in contention for the job of assistant secretary of Defense for special operations and low intensity conflict (SOLIC), but that nomination never materialized.
CNAS was founded in 2008 by current Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. After Campbell and Flournoy entered the Obama administration, they handed over the reins to Nagl and current CEO Nate Fick.
Recently, CNAS has picked up several Democratic foreign policy heavyweights, including Ike Skelton, former House Armed Services Committee chairman; Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department policy planning director; and Rich Verma, former assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl also returned to CNAS this month following his departure from the Pentagon.
Flournoy herself is leaving the Pentagon at the end of the month, but there's no word on whether or not she will return to CNAS. In fact, the think tank can't even discuss the issue with her due to ethics rules.
But Nagl told us that Flournoy is welcome to throw her name in the ring as CNAS searches for a new president.
"We're looking for somebody who is interested and engaged on national security policy, and has some administrative and fundraising chops," he said. "After she catches up on her sleep, if she's interested in kicking the tires, we welcome her interest."
In a Monday press release, the Naval Academy said that Nagl will serve as the Naval Academy History Department's first Minerva research fellow. The position is part of the Defense Department's Minerva Initiative program, a Pentagon-sponsored initiative launched by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2008.
"The goal of the Minerva Initiative is to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the U.S.," the release stated. "Nagl's primary responsibility as the Minerva Chair at the academy will be to investigate the influences of culture upon warfare."