Commentary Magazine


Rejecting Nagl

I’ve blogged before about Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea to create an Advisor Corps within the army that would focus on producing training teams to work with foreign militaries.

I thought Nagl made a convincing case for such an unorthodox approach, and he certainly knows what he is talking about: He is in charge of a battalion at Fort Riley, Kansas, that trains advisors for Iraq and Afghanistan, and he has concluded, based on that experience, that the current training and manning system for advisory teams is too haphazard and too small to meet all of our national security needs.

Not surprisingly, the army doesn’t see it that way. The newsletter Inside the Pentagon reported on September 13th that the army has officially decided, in the words of a public affairs officer, “that is not the way to go.” The army would prefer building cookie-cutter Brigade Combat Teams and relying on a small number of Special Forces to specialize in the training mission. This decision comes, by the way, in the face of copious evidence that there are not nearly enough Green Berets to meet all the demands thrown their way.

There are certainly good arguments that can be made against Nagl’s proposal. But my suspicion is that the army’s view is simply the default position of a lumbering bureaucracy averse to new thinking—even when it comes from within its own ranks. (Perhaps especially when it comes from within its own ranks.)

The larger problem here is the difficulty that the armed services have in assimilating and rewarding brainy officers like Nagl (author of a much-cited book on counterinsurgency lessons from Malaya and Vietnam) who don’t fit the standard mold. Others in that category include a pair of Ph.D. colonels—H.R. McMaster and Peter Mansoor—who have both earned stellar reputations not only in the academy, but also on the battlefield. But they are both in danger of not being promoted to general. Mavericks like them deserve support from the outside—especially on Capitol Hill—to help transform the military in spite of itself.