NOTICE: Citizendium is still being set up on its newer server, treat as a beta for now; please see here for more.
Citizendium - a community developing a quality comprehensive compendium of knowledge, online and free. Click here to join and contribute—free
CZ thanks our previous donors. Donate here. Treasurer's Financial Report -- Thanks to our content contributors. --

Nathaniel Fick

From Citizendium, the Citizens' Compendium
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and not meant to be cited; by editing it you can help to improve it towards a future approved, citable version. These unapproved articles are subject to a disclaimer.

Nathaniel C. Fick is Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), who was promoted from Chief Operating Officer when the co-founders, Michelle Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, took policy-level positions in the Obama Administration's U.S. Department of State. He is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Fick is considered one of the intellectual advocates of the counterinsurgency doctrine articulated by GEN David Petraeus, although, writing with John Nagl, CNAS President and one of the coauthors of Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency,[1] he believes the subject is ever-developing and needs modifications for Afghanistan. [2]

His ideas have been strongly influenced by his undergraduate major in classics. "..the idea that we as members of a free society bear an obligation to serve in its defense, at least for a little while. Cincinnatus traded his plow for a sword ... and then back for a plow. It's why I joined the Marines, and then returned to the civilian world--but I learned more in those five years than during any other period in my life."[3]

While at Dartmouth College, he chose the Marines after hearing an interaction with Thomas Ricks, speaking on his book about the Marines, and an instructor who asked "How can you support the presence of ROTC at a place like Dartmouth? It will militarize the campus and threaten our culture of tolerance." Rick replied, "Wrong. It will liberalize the military." In his 2005 2005 New York Times bestseller One Bullet Away, Fick remembers Rick using "words such as 'duty' and 'honor' without cynicism, something I'd not often heard at Dartmouth." [4]

Fick began his career as a United States Marine Corps officer in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. In Iraq, he was in Force Reconnaissance, a special operations unit. He left as a captain, dissatisfied with command and policy trends. His book, however, was designated as required reading, by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, for Marine officers deploying to United States Central Command.


"Afghanistan is not Iraq." One counterinsurgency plan cannot cover both situations: [2]

  • Iraq: "mostly urban, largely sectarian, and contained within Iraq’s borders.
  • Afghanistan: "intrinsically rural, mostly confined to the Pashtun belt across the country’s south and east, and inextricably linked to Pakistan.

Iraq was a conventional war with no significant support of Saddam Hussein. Although foreign fighters later infiltrated, they had no sanctuary, as in the Vietnam War or as with several countries surrounding Afghanistan, most importantly Pakistan. A Iraq War, Surge will not solve a regional conflict. Two myths permeate the view of Afghanistan:

  • "the notorious border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan is ungovernable." It may be ungovernable in the sense of a Western central government, but "the Pashtun tribes along the border have a long history of well-developed religious, social, and tribal structures, and they have developed their own governance and methods of resolving disputes. Today’s instability is not the continuation of some ancient condition; it is the direct result of decades of intentional dismantling of those traditional structures, leaving extremist groups to fill the vacuum."
  • Afghans are committed xenophobes, obsessed with driving out the coalition, as they did the British and the Soviets." They wrote that Afghans want security, but they "cannot understand why the coalition fails to provide the basic services they need. Afghans are not tired of the Western presence; they are frustrated with Western incompetence."

Nagl and Fick insist the U.S. needs to follow, in Afghanistan, what may be paradoxical guidance from the manual:

  • Paradox 1: "Some of the best weapons do not shoot." Economic development and infrastructure, of roads above all, is the most important factor in stabilizing Afghanistan
  • Paradox 2: "Sometimes the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be."
  • Paradox 3: "The hosts doing something tolerably is often better than foreigners doing it well."
  • Paradox 4: "Sometimes the more force is used, the less effective it is."
  • Paradox 5: "Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction."

Marine Corps

Fick entered the Marines through a program in which he took Officer Candidate School in his junior year summer, and had a choice, after graduation, to commit or not to four years of service. He took the oath of service on 12 June 1999.

Military advisor

After his uniformed service, he stayed involved with military matters, and was a civilian instructor at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy,


In 2007, he wrote that "There are five items on my foreign policy wish list, shaped both by pride at having served alongside our nation’s flag in Afghanistan and Iraq and by the reality of having buried too many comrades beneath it:"[5]

  • Restore the American ideal in the world, recognizing that force is part of the national arsenal, not its only means of implementing grand strategy
  • Dclare "explicit the threeway relationship between energy, the environment, and national security."
  • Prevent nuclear terrorism with strong counterproliferation efforts, controlling poorly accounted nuclear materials as well as complete nuclear weapons
  • Insert necessary ambiguity into U.S. policy toward Iraq. "We must draw down while keeping sufficient forces in the region to deny al-Qaeda a safe haven and to prevent genocide in Iraq. Total withdrawal is irresponsible, and so is talk of deadlines."
  • "Call on all Americans, not only on political loyalists, to serve...If our policies are to reflect our ideals, then the military, the Foreign Service, the intelligence community, and all the other arms of our government must be diverse cross-sections of American society."

He spoke at 2008 Democratic National Convention and later served on the Obama administration Presidential Transition Team at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.


  1. John Nagl, David Petraeus, James Amos, Sarah Sewall (December 2006), Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency, US Department of the Army
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nathaniel C. Fick, John Nagl (January/February 2009), "Counterinsurgency Field Manual: Afghanistan Edition", Foreign Policy (magazine)
  3. Nicole Perlroth (18 June 2009), "Nathaniel C. Fick On Power Ambition Glory", Forbes
  4. Nathaniel Fick (2005), One Bullet Away: the Making of a Marine Officer, Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0618556133, p. 5
  5. Nathaniel Fick (June 2007), "How a Democrat Can Get My Vote: Ask Americans to Serve", Washington Monthly