26 January 2008

Messy and Slow

There's a troubling story in the Washington Post a week or so back, detailing how it seems that young up-and-coming officers are leaving the American army in droves. It's not hard to see what this'll lead to, as gifted officers leave and less able officers are promoted in their stead. Armies might march on their stomachs, but they still think with their brains, and if their brains aren't as good as they could be then they'll be in trouble.

It seems to me that whatever your views on the American army, American foreign policy in general, or the current mess in the Middle East, it's not in anybody's real interest for the world's most powerful army to be led by people who aren't absolutely at the top of their game, whether morally or intellectually.

Linked with that piece is a feature on John Nagl, who commanded a tank platoon in the first Gulf war, served as an operations officer in Iraq in 2003-4, worked closely with General Petraeus on the army's new Counterinsurgency Field Manual, and has since been commanding a battalion at Fort Riley in Kansas, teaching American soldiers how to train the Iraqi security forces. John has handed in his resignation papers, and is moving to Washington where he'll be working at a new think tank there.

In truth, it'll surely be an exciting opportunity for him and I'm sure he'll find a serious way to contribute to his country in his new role, but it's a loss to the army. I met John at a very strange conference a few years ago, nattering about Churchill, Wellington, and the upcoming Bush-Gore election, and was genuinely impressed by him -- and that impression has only been deepened by having read Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, his outstanding study on counterinsurgency warfare, and pretty much the only credible response to The War of the Flea that I've read.

I'm just hoping that he keeps contributing to Small Wars Journal.

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