The Essential 4GW reading list: John Nagl

This is an archive of work by Dr.  John Nagl (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army, retired), the newest chapter in the FM series about Modern Warfare’s Top experts.  Nagl is one of our top experts in insurgency warfare.

Previous chapters include:


  1. Biography of John Nagl
  2. Posts about Nagl’s work
  3. Articles in the mainstream media
  4. Articles in professional publications
  5. Interviews on radio and TV (no transcripts)
  6. Articles about Nagl

(1)  Biography

John Nagl is President of the Center for a New American Security, a Visiting Professor in the War Studies Department at Kings College of London, an Adjunct Professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program, and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Dr. Nagl was a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Military Academy Class of 1988 and served as an armor officer in the U.S. Army for 20 years, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  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.  He earned his doctorate from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, taught national security studies at West Point, and served as a Military Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense.  Nagl also earned a Master of the Military Arts and Sciences Degree from the Command and General Staff College, where he received the George C. Marshall Award.  He was awarded the Combat Action Badge by General James Mattis, USMC.

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, Foreign Policy, Parameters, Military Review, Joint Force Quarterly, Armed Forces Journal, and Democracy, among others.  He was also profiled in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times Magazine.  Dr. Nagl has previously appeared on 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.

Source:  Center for a New American Security

(2)  Posts about Nagl’s work

The central post about Nagl’s work:  How America can survive and even prosper in the 21st Century – part I, 7 June 2008.  Other posts:

  1. “America’s Greatest Weapon”, 25 May 2008
  2. Nagl gives a profoundly wrong vision for the US military, 22 June 2008
  3. The US Army brings us back to the future, returning to WWI’s “cult of the offense”, 13 February 2009
  4. A joust between two schools of American military theory, 19 May 2009
  5. Today’s volleys in the domestic battle about Afghanistan, 2 September 2009
  6. The three kinds of advocacy for the Af-Pak War, 15 October 2009
  7. Another sad little bit of agitprop, this time from John Nagl, 28 February 2010
  8. The key to success in Afghanistan: independence, 11 April 2010

(3)  Articles in the mainstream media

  1. “Defending Against New Dangers:  Arms Control of Weapons of Mass Destruction in a Globalized World”  World Affairs, Spring 2000
  2. “Wes Clark’s War”, The American Oxonian, Autumn 2001 — Subscription only.
  3. Institutionalizing Adaptation:  It’s Time for an Army Advisor Corps, Center for a New American Security, June 2007
  4. We Can’t Win These Wars on Our Own“, op-ed in the Washington Post, 9 March 2008
  5. A Battalion’s Worth of Good Ideas“, op-ed in the New York Times, 2 April 2008
  6. How Important Was the Surge“, The American Prospect, 28 July 2008
  7. Canceling Iraq’s Blank Check“, with Colin Kahl, Shawn Brimley, website of Foreign Policy Magazine, August 2008
  8. “Institutionalizing Adaptation: U.S. Counterinsurgency Capabilities Must Improve,” with Brian Burton, World Politics Review, 5 August 2008
  9. In It To Win“, book review in the Washington Post, 17 August 2008 — “A Vietnam veteran argues against an abrupt pullout from Iraq.”
  10. How to Exit Iraq“, with Shawn Brimley, Colin Kahl, op-ed in the New York Times, 5 September 2008
  11. Learning from the Triangle of Love“, blog of the Washington Post, 10 September 2008
  12. This Time, Things Are Looking Up“, Washington Post, 14 September 2008
  13. How to smooth the transition in Iraq“, with Adam Scher, Christian Science Monitor, 6 October 2008 — “The town of Mahmoudiya is ready for the next step: a Transition Task Force.”
  14. Striking the Balance – The Way Forward in Iraq“, with Brian M. Burton, World Policy Journal, Winter 2008/2009
  15. Ending the Neverending War“, Azure, Winter 2009
  16. The Expeditionary Imperative“, The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2009
  17. Intellectual Firepower“, Democracy, Winter 2009 — “New threats require new think tanks.”
  18. More Troops, and Lots of Them, blog of the New York Times, 26 January 2009 — About Afghanistan
  19. White House Hones its Strategy in Two-Front War“, PBS Online Newshour, 6 May 2009 — Discussion with Bacevich and John Nagl.

(4)  Articles in professional publications

  1. “Tank Destroyers in World War II”  Armor C, January-February 1991
  2. “A Tale of Two Battles.”  Armor CI, May-June 1992
  3. “Nearly War:  Preparing a Divisional Cavalry Squadron for Operations Other than War”, with Tim Huening,  Armor CV, January-February 1996
  4. “The Armored Gun System.”  Armor CI, July-August 1992
  5. Army Professionalism, the Military Ethic, and Officership in the 21st Century, with Don M. Snider and Tony Pfaff, US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, December 1999
  6. “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife:  British and American Army Counterinsurgency Learning during the Malayan Emergency and the Vietnam War”, World Affairs, Spring 1999
  7. “Si Vis Pacem, Pare Pacem:  Improving U.S. Army Training for Complex Humanitarian Emergencies”, with Elizabeth O. Young, Military Review, March-April 2000
  8. “Defending Against New Dangers:  Arms Control of Weapons of Mass Destruction in a Globalized World”  In James M. Smith, Ed., Searching for National Security in an NBC World.  Colorado Springs, CO:  Institute for National Security Studies, July 2000
  9. “A Strategic View of Where the Army Is:  Homeland Defense and Issues of Civil-Military Relations”, with Don M. Snider and Tony Pfaff, in Max G. Manwaring, Ed., To Insure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense.  Carlisle, PA:  US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, October 2000 — Here is the PDF, 32 meg)
  10. Combat Roles for Women:  A Modest Proposal“, with Kim Field, Parameters, Summer 2001
  11. Post Cold-War Priorities”  Military Review, July/August 2001, 104-106
  12. “Hitting Us Where We Don’t Expect It:  Asymmetric Threats to US National Security”,  National Security Studies Quarterly, Autumn 2001
  13. “Arms Control in the Year 2025.” In Jeffrey A. Larsen, Ed., Arms Control:  Cooperative Security in a Changing Environment, Lynne Rienner, 2002
  14. The Army Officer as Warrior“, with Paul Yingling,  Military Review, January-February 2003
  15. “The Army Officer as Warrior”, with Paul Yingling,  in Lloyd J. Matthews, Ed., The Future of the Army Profession(Second Edition), McGraw-Hill, 2005
  16. Foreword to David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare:  Theory and Practice, Praeger, 2006
  17. Managing Editor of Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency.  Department of the Army, 2006.
  18. Foreword to The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, University of Chicago Press, 2007
  19. Principles, Imperatives, and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency“, with Eliot Cohen, Conrad Crane, and Jan Horvath,  Military Review, March-April 2006
  20. A Better War in Iraq”  Armed Forces Journal International, August 2006
  21.  “New Rules for New Enemies“, with Paul Yingling, Armed Forces Journal International, October 2006
  22. Foreword to Instructions for American Servicemen in Iraq during World War II, University of Chicago Press, 2007
  23. Spilling Soup on Myself in Al Anbar, SWJ, 26 January 2007
  24. Moral Dilemmas in Counterinsurgency, SWJ, 30 March 2007
  25. It’s Time for an Army Advisor Corps, SWJ, 11 June 2007
  26. The Evolution and Importance of Army/Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency, SWJ, 27 June 2007
  27. “Desperate People with Limited Skills”, SWJ, 1 November 2007
  28. Ghost Stories”  RUSI Journal, December 2007
  29. New Answers to Hard Questions“, with Brian Drohan, Armed Forces Journal, April 2008
  30. Unprepared“, RUSI Journal, April 2008
  31. America’s Greatest Weapon, with Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. (Maj Gen, USAF), SWJ, 22 May 2008
  32. On Advisors and Advising, SWJ, 16 August 2008
  33. “Learning as We Go:  The US Army adapts to counterinsurgency in Iraq, July 2004-December 2006,”  with Brian Burton, Small Wars and Insurgencies, September 2008.
  34. Soundtrack of Dora: A Neighborhood Reborn, SWJ, 12 September 2008
  35. “Institutionalizing Adaptation:  It’s Time for an Army Advisor Command,”  Military Review, September/October 2008
  36. FM 3.07: Stability Operations (Updated With FM Link), SWJ, 6 October 2008
  37. Learning from Experience in Afghanistan, SWJ, 6 November 2008
  38. ISAF Campaign Plan Summary, SWJ, 19 November 2008
  39. Let’s Win the Wars We’re In“, Joint Force Quarterly, 1st Quarter 2009

(5)  Interviews on radio and TV (no transripts)

  1. Book TV:  FM 3-24“, Sean Naylor, no date
  2. Vietnam and Iraq“, Charlie Rose, 31 March 2006
  3. US Turns More Attention to Training Iraqi Forces“, NPR, 5 December 2006
  4. Army Unveils Counterinsurgency Field Manual“, NPR, 15 December 2006
  5. Future Iraqi Advisers Face Hard Lessons“, NPR, 27 March 2007
  6. Advice to WWII Soldiers in Iraq Relevant Today“, NPR, 9 August 2007
  7. Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl“, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 23 August 2007
  8. US Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl“, NPR, 16 January 2008
  9. Interview with U.S. Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, NPR, 26 January 2008 — About Iraq
  10. Officers in Exodus“, NPR, 21 February 2008
  11. Beating Insurgents Takes Unconventional War“, NPR, 12 February 2008
  12. Army Focus on Counterinsurgency Debated Within“, NPR, 6 May 2008
  13. In Iraq, Tactical Theory Put Into Practice“, NPR, 22 July 2008
  14. Experts Discuss Strategies For Iraq Withdrawal, NPR, 16 August 2008
  15. Clear and Hold Showing Results 40 Years Later“, NPR, 31 October 2008
  16. The New President and the Military“, NPR, 4 November 2008
  17. Iraqi Lawmakers Evaluate US Security Pact“, Jim Lehrer News Hour, 17 November 2008
  18. In Afghanistan, New Spirit to Challenge the Taliban“, NPR, 18 November 2008
  19. Interview, PBS 12 December 2008
  20. Is It Time For A New Plan For Afghanistan?, interview on NPR, 4 February 2009
  21. White House Hones its Strategy in Two-Front War“, PBS Online Newshour, 6 May 2009. 

(6)  Articles about his work

  1. Professor Nagl’s War“, Peter Maass, New York Times, 11 January 2004
  2. US Counterinsurgency Expert Tests Ideas in Iraq“, NPR, 11 January 2004
  3. Learning from Vietnam, 30 Years Later“, NPR, 20 March 2006
  4. As Iraq War Rages, Army Re-Examines Lessons of Vietnam“, Greg Jaffe, Wall Street Journal, 20 March 2006
  5. The Cult of Counterinsurgency“, Tara McKelvey, The American Prospect, 20 November 2008
  6. Obama vs. Osama:  Has He Picked the Right War?”, Michael Crowley, The New Republic, 24 December 2008

3 thoughts on “The Essential 4GW reading list: John Nagl”

  1. Why don’t you write an opinion for once? Who cares what Nagl has to say? What do you have to say about Obama’s 17,000 man deployment?
    Fabius Maximus replies: (1) This is a reference source, the raw material from which opinions are made. (2) Nagl is one of the key authors of the US military’s COIN tactics. (3) My opinion about Afghanistan is evident in the 15 posts about it to date, which you can find at Iraq & Sub-continent Wars – my articles.

  2. Nagl writes refreshingly from first-hand experience, devoid of the usual cliches. However I was disappointed that he doesnt consider the wisdom of the wars in the first place. However unrealistic — physically, culturally, politically — it was to launch the Iraq invasion, Nagl now treats it as just another practical problem to be solved. If the strategy was wrong in the first place, how can better tactics make it right?

    I am basing this on only one article (A Battalion of Good Ideas), and may be understating his full range and point of view.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I suspect that as a soldier (he only recently retired), writing about the broader issues of the war was not appropriate. Esp as only a Lt. Col.

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